Since launching nearly a decade ago, Instagram has done a good job of fundamentally changing the way many people consume, appreciate and understand media. At some point, the enormously popular platform gave birth to the influencer. Popularity swelled, with many people utilizing social media to gain insider access, brand sponsorship and incredible levels of reach and popularity. Though the meteoric rise has sometimes been like Icarus meeting the sun. Helped in part by the grand spectacle that was Fyre Festival, influencers have begun being received with greater distrust and well-warranted skepticism. Billy McFarland’s national Fyre failure revealed symptoms that existed amongst superstars and beyond.
This year saw the Federal Trade Commission crackdown on Instagram, forcing influencers to disclose when they received free stuff. Hashtags like #comped started popping up a lot more, revealing what most people already knew. While social media hasn’t favored sincerity, the four food influencers below have been continued to thrive due to an honest commitment to their craft and their audience. Below are some Denver food lovers who have continued to do it right — albeit quite differently — despite the dramatic changes that 2019 brought with it.
Active Since: 2015
The Lowdown: Alexa Morr had since a very young age loved taking pictures of food. Starting on a Cannon Powershot, M0rr had been documenting her culinary adventures since long before social media made it a near-ubiquitous part of the way much of the generation understands and appreciates dining. Worldismymenu was developed while Morr was still living in San Diego as a way for her to show people the many off the beaten path locations she would frequent. “I wanted to help my audience know where to go,” said Morr. “You need to eat this carne asada burrito no matter what it looks like,” she continued. Covering “everywhere to eat, drink, see and stay,” the account is a lovely window into Denver and beyond.
After Morr moved to Denver in March 2016 the account started to gain traction — she cites that year’s Denver Food and Wine Festival as a major turning point. Prior to that, she was primarily seeking out her own restaurants. In late 2016 more places started contacting her to cover openings and events.
This year appears to have slowed things down for influencers across the board. “I was growing 10K followers a year up to this year,” said Morr. “Instagram just changed, the algorithm affected everything,” she continued. “I’ve been taking a step back to figure out what my next steps are in the digital transformation world we live in,” she said optimistically.
Active Since: 2015
The Lowdown: For an influencer, a_fat_guy_in_denver appreciates his privacy. He is a successful restaurateur who chose not to disclose either his name or that of his restaurants and asks his followers never to ask for the information. He also always pays for his own meals, visits anonymously and refuses to attend influencer events. He truly enjoys eating out and does it almost exclusively. “My fridge has cold brew coffee and champagne, maybe waffles in the freezer,” he laughed. “I hate my house smelling like food.” Coming from the background of business ownership, he provides a unique perspective amongst a group that has increasingly been disparaged for their reliance on handouts. “I don’t want to ride on the back of small business,” he said. He’s polarizing, opinionated and has a great taste in food, much of which comes from places that are less covered.
In 2019, a_fat_guy chose to cut back mostly in hopes of separating himself from a new pack who he felt was giving the craft a bad name. This hasn’t stopped him from continuing with the intense level of engagement he credits for much of his popularity. “If you send me a message I will respond. If you comment I will respond,” he said. While his commitment to good ethics has ruffled a few feathers, it has also made him one of the most credible voices in the city.
Active Since: 2015
The Lowdown: It was a busy year for Bre Patterson. In addition to running her successful Instagram account and more in-depth blog, Patterson was commissioned to write Denver Food Crawls: Touring the Neighborhoods One Bite and Libation at a Time, a book covering nearly 100 restaurants in 17 neighborhoods across nearly 250 pages. Patterson has a degree in food science and a serious knack for business. This year her account saw 25 sponsored posts — strict paid collaborations which differ from #comped or #hosted posts. She carefully chooses her clients to best serve her audience, focusing mostly on food with some travel and lifestyle content mixed in. Patterson has been supportive of the changes made to Instagram, having even reached out to the FTC to help clarify the language used in the new regulations. “Let’s get the grey area black and white,” she said.
Patterson has successfully built a personal brand that allowed her to use the year to focus on other projects. While the Instagram account was not left out to dry, 2019 was certainly a quieter year than those prior. Now that the book is off to print, she excited to get back to it in 2020.
Active Since: 2016
The Lowdown: When Kayla Jones moved to Denver in 2016 she originally made the account to “keep herself accountable for going out.” Coming from Los Angeles, she had been a television writer and music video producer with a knack for producing and appreciating culture. With 1000thingstodoindenver she carefully curates content, presenting only two ads and a few food posts a month. Since the outset, she experienced a similar trajectory as the other successful influencers — first providing personal coverage, then being invited to events and openings and finally becoming discouraged by the increasingly disingenuous scene. “Businesses don’t trust Instagrammers,” she said, going on to mention “Instagram fatigue.”
Jones seems particularly unenthusiastic about the crass approach that has been taken by members of the new generation of influencers. In order not to get disheartened she’s continued to conduct her account with the community in mind. She’s harnessed her popularity for a variety of charitable ends — including gathering $5,000 in donated items to help raise money for Crema owner Noah Price’s wife Heidi’s cancer treatment.
Jones’ commitment to community extends into the kind of events she chooses and the posts she decides to make. “I was invited to over 400 places this year and I hit four,” she said. She has been able to develop and maintain such a large following due to her continued sincerity and has very real concerns for members of the scene who have been making contractually obligated posts that don’t reflect their real opinion. She hopes the FTC will help to bring increased credibility. In the meanwhile, it’s the personal interactions between her and her followers and a recently released guidebook that keep her encouraged. “The girl working here (Crema) told me she contacted me when she first moved here. I’ve been asked where to propose,” she smiled.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas and Madison McMullen.