Dara Pollak has been in the business of blogging for a while now. In fact, 2018 is the 10th anniversary of The Skinny Pig! 10 years of eating insanely delicious meals from around NYC (and 10 years of looking good while doing it). She has seen the rise of Instagram and adapted as the platform changed to remain one of NYC's top food bloggers. Follow Dara at The Skinny Pig or at @skinnypignyc
Where did you grow up and where did this insatiable love of food come from?
I grew up in Queens, NY, and I’m half Greek, half Jewish, so I grew up with two grandmothers who happen to be amazing cooks. I learned a lot from both of them!
When did blogging become such a big part of your life and how did you start The Skinny Pig?
I started The Skinny Pig in 2008, so this is actually my 10-year anniversary, which is crazy. I was a dancer (ballet, tap, etc) and got hit by a car when I was 17 right before my college/dance auditions, and I nearly lost my right leg from the knee down. So all dreams of being a dancer on Broadway were out the window, even though I was lucky enough to keep my leg. I had to find a whole new career direction, and I ended up studying Advertising and Marketing Communications at FIT in Manhattan. I learned a lot from that school, but decided that I really didn’t love the Fashion industry, so I took my first job as a temp at Pfizer. I was so bored out of my mind with that job, so I enrolled in a food writing class with Andrea Strong, and after that I started The Skinny Pig. I worked in Digital Ad Sales my entire career after Pfizer, but I always kept The Skinny Pig as a fun hobby on the side. When my last sales job ended in 2015, I decided to throw everything into this and give it a shot.
You’ve recently taken on a PR role with HSC. How do you manage to juggle the demands from both the office and the blog?
It’s not easy! I get a ton of emails a day for my blog and Instagram, @skinnypignyc, so I do have an intern help out with certain things, but for the most part I wake up very early and tackle Skinny Pig stuff in the morning before working with HSC.
What is your approach to your feed on Instagram? Do you curate posts to balance food shots and portraits?
Honestly, I try to mix it up and I started having a curated feed where it was 3 food posts, 1 “me” post. It made my feed look nice in terms of layout because it was consistent. But lately I’ve fallen off the schedule because of sponsored posts and when those have to go up, they have to go up!
How do you decide who to work with and where to eat?? Do you reach out to new restaurants or do the restaurants invite you to visit?
Restaurants invite me usually. Occasionally I’ll reach out, but it’s usually to their PR company (if I know it).
What’s your favorite meal that you’ve ever had with The Skinny Pig? What was it, where was it?
Oh man that’s a tough one! So many to choose from. Timna is up there – I love that place, everything is beautiful and delicious. And Emily/Emmy Squared in Brooklyn – they have Detroit style square pizza pies and they’re so good. The Emmy Burger is also one of my favorite burgers around.
Have you noticed a change in your engagement on Instagram since the algorithm changes?
10000%. I absolutely hate it and I have no clue why Instagram hates it’s users. I used to average 5-10K likes per photo, when I had 20K or 30K followers. Now I have nearly 90K followers and I am lucky if I break 1,000 likes on a photo. It’s actually infuriating as a content creator to know that your stuff isn’t even being seen by more than 75% of your audience.
What type of posts have you noticed work the best in your feed?
The ones that look like a pile of crap? Just kidding. Sort of. But when I post a beautiful photo of beautifully plated pasta, in the right lighting, it’ll do ok. Then I’ll post a dark photo of a pile of pigs in a blanket and it will get 5K likes. I know I should do what works, but I’ve changed as a photographer and it’s frustrating that Instagram doesn’t LET ME grow.
What would you say is the best advice or tip to build your business/ following on Instagram?
Engage, be consistent, make videos. Since Facebook bought Instagram the algorithm lends itself to videos. That said, when I post videos, half the time they do terribly. But if it’s something ridiculous like a big cheese pull, it will crush it. It’s a gamble and you have to find what works for your audience.
In your opinion, how do you see the “business” of blogging changing over the next few years? Do you think that Influencers will always have such a strong role in marketing?
I think they will continue to grow! Influencers are the next generation of content creators and marketers. You can pay an established website $100K for a standard ad deal for one month and maybe get a few clicks on your ads, but how is that translating to sales? Unless there’s a specific call to action, it’s not any more measurable than posting a photo on Instagram, and influencers cost a lot less and sometimes have even more reach. My feed gets nearly 400k impressions/week.
And finally, any more advice for budding bloggers?
If it’s a passion and you love it, it won’t feel like work. It will take time (again, I’ve been doing this for 10 years!), but if it means something to you, you’ll be dedicated to it naturally. And be honest with yourself and write about what matters to you. Authenticity is key!