Cheers TO Foodies! Instagram brand grows as founder shares the cream of the crop

@daniellefinest, Founder and Community Manager of @tofoodies.
@daniellefinest, Founder and Community Manager of @tofoodies.

Danielle Finestone is the Founder and Community Manager of TO Foodies, a Toronto-based Instagram account and blog that launched on July 11, 2014. Danielle had been freelance writing about local events and moved to Toronto in 2009, when she began following city food news religiously.

One morning while researching for a new brunch spot, I just felt like I could put my own spin on things by starting an account that went beyond bacon and felt like a fashion blog, for food,” Danielle said.

“Surprisingly, @tofoodies was available on Instagram, and it was the first and only handle that I tried,” she added.

Originally from London, Ont., and having moved to Ottawa at the age of eight, Danielle also says her fondest memory of growing up in southwestern Ontario would have to be spending days with family, friends and ice cream trucks at Gibbons Park in London.

We connected with Danielle to learn more about the makings of TO Foodies. See below for more:

1. Has appreciating food culture always been a part of your life?

It has. Even as a kid, I had an enormous appetite but I was particular (not necessarily picky) about what I wanted to eat. As I grew up and gained freedom, it obviously became a lot more socially acceptable and feasible for me to embrace my inner food-lover. 

2. In which Toronto neighbourhood do you live? Do you have a go-to restaurant there?

I live in West Queen West and I do wind up at Bar Fancy quite often – once a week, give or take. The staff is lovely. They’ve got a menu that goes until close (SHOUT OUT TO THE FRIED CHICKEN PLATTER!) and are open seven days a week, so it’s just about the best place ever for a drink and/or food at any given time.

3. What’s the best part about getting to share delicious food from the 6ix with the rest of the world?

The invitations to eat and drink! Sometimes I can’t believe my email inbox, in the best way. Not everyone enjoys event-hopping, but I really do love trying so many different offerings in the city and getting to share the experiences in real time.

4. What’s the hardest part about your role as founder of TO Foodies?

Staying organized. Toronto is booming, which means that there is a lot of ground to cover while I’m simultaneously trying to grow the business. It is a good problem to have. 

5. Are you a one-woman army? Or do you have others on your team to help with the TO Foodies brand?

Essentially, yes. I am the sole proprietor of TO Foodies and I am the one growing the various social media channels, negotiating partnerships, attending events, creating and/or providing art direction on every element that you see. As things have grown, I definitely do have people to lean on like a photographer friend (@thisistwigg) who will occasionally attend events on my behalf and my roommate (@drakecereal) who designed my logo. There are other arms of TO Foodies in the works. Basically, it feels incredible to build a brand yourself but eventually you recognize that you can’t be everywhere or learn every skill necessary while on a timeline. Pride aside, it can better for a project (and more fun) to get different perspectives and work with a team when necessary.

6. If you could tell the rest of the foodies in the world one thing that every food photo on Instagram needs to have, what would this one thing be? Why?

Good lighting! Natural lighting is prime. Honestly, you could be eating the most photogenic pastry, but if the lighting (and/or focus) is off then no one will be able to appreciate it. 

7. What are three rules you always follow when sharing content on Instagram?

i. I’m drawn to pictures with a maximum amount of white space.

ii. When reposting, I try to select photos that are from a real diner, not an official Instagram account or the chef that works there.

iii. Gotta use that #tofoodies hashtag ;)! But rules are meant to be broken, and there are other being factors considered too. 

8. What’s your favourite dish to make at home? Why?

I love making, “Company Fish.” I use the name because that’s what this recipe is called in one of my mom’s cookbooks – it’s for having company, so creative! Growing up, I liked it so much that I would offer to make the marinade to sway what we were having for dinner. Now I know how to cook the dish by heart and I’ve made my own adjustments. Basically, it is salmon baked in sauce, made of lime juice, soy sauce, Dijon mustard, black pepper, sesame oil and garlic, over a bed of onions. I change up the sides, but usually serve with some wild rice and green veggies like bok choy, asparagus or broccoli.

9. Do you hope TO Foodies will expand one day to celebrate food across the country? (I know you were recently in Montreal)

I’ve thought about this but for now, I’m concentrating on making the core brand as strong as possible. At the moment, I’d rather expand TO Foodies into different and emerging platforms than try to recreate the same thing elsewhere. TO Foodies also reads “To Foodies,” like “Cheers, to foodies,” so I think this makes it versatile, despite primarily identifying with one city. Instead, it’s time to start taking the TO Foodies brand around the world to cover different food expeditions. For starters, I’ll be in Los Angeles in late May!

10. What do you do when you’re not TO Foodies-ing? 

I’m a busy gyal. I work in marketing at a record label. If I’m not at the office, I am probably at a concert, catching up with friends and family, freelance writing, potluck-ing, cooking and eating recreationally.

11. What advice would you give to other foodies in across Canada with aspirations of becoming an influencer, like yourself, one day? 

If you want to start some kind of Internet project, have a look at what’s already happening. Understand what you like and what you don’t like about that ecosystem and find a way to make it better. Immerse yourself in the culture (IRL). Then, forget about your original research. Don’t copy anyone or better yet, just do things for your own reasons. Have something to say.

Thank you, Danielle! Readers, check out TO Foodies’ newly launched website – it just dropped like a Beyoncé album!

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