Meet the girl who is “eating for the insta” one restaurant at a time. Jess Iacullo is the grl behind the wildly popular foodie instagram @hungrygrl_bigcity, you probably are already following her for tips on the most instagramable food in the tri-state area. Inspired by her own camera roll of food pics, Jess launched her insta in 2015 as a way to share dishes she had eaten and also cooked herself. With now 30.5k followers and growing, her insta has led to amazing opportunities including an internship at Insider, freelancing at Forbes, and writing for Cosmopolitan. We are super proud of Jess as an eff.y.bee girl alum (she was our UPitt Brand Ambassador!) and all she’s accomplished, and excited to feature her in this weeks heart to heart series!
Tell us about yourself!
I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh April 2017 with a dual degree in Communications & English Non-Fiction Writing. I am from a small town in North Jersey which is conveniently about 40 minutes outside of the city, which opened so many doors for me with internships. I spent quite a few summers at BBDO, an advertising agency dabbling in account management and copy-writing, as well as spending a summer at Food Network Magazine as a sales and marketing intern.
After graduating, I took on an internship at INSIDER as a food video producer and am now freelancing as a Production Assistant at Women@Forbes and Social Media Strategist at a local marketing company called Red Root. I have also turned Hungry Grl into an LLC and freelance write for publications like Forbes and Cosmopolitan!
What inspired you to start @hungrygrl_bigcity?
I was inspired by my camera roll at the time: I was a sophomore at the time and realized I had a lot of pictures in my camera roll of dishes that I had eaten and cooked myself. Not wanting to post them to my “personal Instagram,” I decided creating a separate channel would be the best fit for my food pictures.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love that I have met so many amazing people along this journey. I have collaborated with restaurants, different brands across the board (including this one!), and have attended so many interesting events because of it. I love learning about why people are passionate about what they do, whether it’s owning and operating an Italian restaurant in NYC to creating their own clothing line. The opportunities are endless and it’s great to be a part of a community where collaboration is so feasible.
What have been some of the biggest milestones and opportunities brought to you through @hungrygrl_bigcity? What have been the biggest challenges?
There are truly so many milestones, I can’t name just one! It’s been truly amazing to see my Instagram weave into my writing passions, whether it’s publishing to Cosmopolitan or Forbes which are both two new features in my life, to having experienced working for INSIDER and creating viral social videos around amazing dishes in the world.
With these amazing and multiple milestones also comes challenges. Often I find myself putting Hungry Grl on the back burner because it isn’t my full time job, or sometimes finding a lack of inspiration and wondering why I keep up with this in the first place. But then someone comes up to me in a bar, or a restaurant, or DMs me on Instagram and thanks me for inspiring them, and I remember that I really do have an influence and relationship to my followers.
How did you grow your following? What advice would you give someone trying to achieve a social media presence?
People ask me if I pay for my followers, which makes me laugh because why would I pay for followers when I could be spending that money on food? I grew my following organically and authentically; being in a sorority helped at a medium-sized school because the word of mouth really helped grow my local following at the time. Living in the tri-state area also allowed me to connect to those in the same area that I lived in. My biggest piece of advice: connect with your followers, and never follow people in order to gain followers if you have intentions of just unfollowing them in the future. I have followers that have been following me since i started three years ago, and we support each other’s missions and goals.
What are your tips for taking the perfect food insta?
Lighting, lighting, lighting! I always use my iPhone to take my photos, and my best shots come from a lot of natural lighting and colorful dishes. I use VSCO to edit my shots and I always make sure to edit with filters that compliment the shot, not overpower it. Getting the right angle is also important, which comes in time after experience.
What are some of your favorite food places in NJ/NYC?
In NJ — my local bagel shop! Bagels are so important to me, and anyone that follows me knows that. I also love trying new cafes and coffee shops, and am currently obsessed with Jola Coffee in North Caldwell, which I will definitely meet you for coffee there if you are ever around. In NYC, I love Sunday in Brooklyn for brunch and Olio e Piu for Italian. I value great food and ambiance; dining out should be an experience!
You were an eff.y.bee girl during your time at college! How did joining our brand ambassador team inspire/help you?
Yes, I was! It really helped me connect to a mission similar to mine in a way: eff.y.bee also connects with college women to inspire them to take their next step and passions and prioritize themselves. With Hungry Grl, I wanted other college women to know that it is OKAY to eat pizza after a night of drinking, and self-confidence is so important. I also loved being connected with the other ambassadors and learning how the brand helped or inspired themselves.
Best advice you've ever received:
“For others to believe in you, you need to believe in yourself first.”
Putting yourself out into the world in capacity is in no way easy. When I started writing, I didn’t have a developed audience and had to promote my writing because I was confident in what I was writing, which was not easy when I first started out. Confidence in my abilities didn’t come overnight, but I can say today I know I am a good writer and am so humbled by how many people reach out to me about how my writing has helped them in some way.
Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently when you were starting out?
I think I would have started earlier on promoting myself to businesses for collaborations, for almost the first two years, I waited for others to reach out to me to work together, but now I realize that this can be a two-way street.
What's your vision for your future with @hungrygrlbigcity? (What do you hope for it to grow into?) or where do you see yourself in 5 years.
I would love to have my own video segment or show! I truly think “Hungry Grl, Big City” could be the next Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Doesn’t it have a nice ring to it? I also hope to develop even more (possibly paid) partnerships and a mission and gear towards more of a lifestyle page instead of solely food. I also hope to up the anti of my photos and invest in a camera for even better shots.
Favorite pieces by eff.y.bee?
I am currently OBSESSED with the “Girl Power” collection and cannot wait to buy pieces for my friends and family (and maybe even myself!).
Connect with Jess!