Food for Thought with Krista Simmons

This week we sat down with talented travel writer and video producer Krista Simmons to talk about three of our favorite things: food, travel and the pursuit of creativity. She travels the world creating content for publications including Travel + Leisure, Departures, New York Magazine and the LA Times and just started a new venture as her own boss at Fork in the Road Media. Read on for an inside look at how video content and social media impact food and travel writing and the dream meals of an international foodie.

Krista Simmons

  1. How has traveling the world changed you the most?

    I’ve always said that traveling is the one thing that you can spend money on that actually makes you richer. It’s changed my life in so many ways, but what I’m most grateful for is that it’s given me a deeper sense of empathy. Experiencing other cultures has given me a sense of compassion towards how others grow up and the issues they face (especially as women). It’s taught me a deeper appreciation for the privilege I was born into. Simply having a US Passport is a real blessing in this day and age, and I always try to remember that in the way I view the world both at home and on the road.

  1. How have you seen food and travel writing evolve in recent years?

    I loved watching the evolution of 360 degree storytelling. Food and travel are such visual subjects, and it’s really inspiring to see how stories can be told in a way that gets viewers excited to hit the road and try new things. A few years back, it was a total uphill battle to convince editors that video and social were important. Fast forward and now it’s the most lucrative part of my business, so much so that I’ve started my own media company called Fork in the Road to tell these digital stories in a meaningful way.

  1. What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a travel writer or content creator?

    I always say the only way to do something is to do it. It’s so important to carve out time to nurture your creative side. It’s not an easy road, but it’s absolutely one worth taking.

  1. What’s the most underrated place you’ve ever traveled to?

    I honestly am all about traveling to the under-the-radar spots with bubbling culinary scenes that no one knows about. I’d so much rather be sitting on a little plastic stool slurping up curry in Yangon, Myanmar than a patisserie with a line out the door in Paris. I am always after what’s new and next. It’s exciting to know that you can help bring light to those places and stories, and hopefully bring business to deserving people who haven’t yet been discovered by my audience.

  1. What would be your ideal food day if distance was no limit (breakfast, lunch and dinner)?

    If I had one of those fancy PJ’s, I’d zip around the world for a three part tour. Breakfast I’d be back in Shanghai for soup dumplings with my younger brother Danny. We had such a blast shooting there together. For lunch, I’d be somewhere in the Sri Lankan tea fields stuffing my face with string hoppers and coconut-laden sambol alongside the locals. For dinner, I’d end up at Etxebarri in Basque Country with my girlfriends, looking out at the bucolic landscape while enjoying one of their perfectly prepared wood-fired steaks and a great glass of rioja.

Food for Thought with Dana Renee Ashmore

As 2016 winds down, we’re excited to share one last interview in the “Food for Thought” series. This week we welcome Dana Renee Ashmore to the blog. After years as a film and television producer, this inspiring lady used her great eye, florist chops and passion for giving back to found Gratitude Collaborative. The L.A.-based company offers curated gift boxes with a built in donation to provide meals to USA children in need. (It also happens to be the perfect holiday gift source if you’re panicking about what to get your boss/best friend/mother-in-law this year.) Read on for Dana’s insights on social media, creativity and what having a mission means for your brand.

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1. What do you look for when you’re searching for brands to include in the Gratitude Collaborative boxes?

We look at brands that we have tried and tested and love, and we love working with smaller brands and knowing the people behind the items we sell. We also trust our friends and people we work with. Every week we sit down and discuss new brands and see if we can find new ones to bring on.

2. How do you find inspiration when you’re in a rut creatively?

Step away and do something fun. Whenever I spend too much time trying to think of something to do, or feel like I’m in a rut, I just get out with friends and take my mind off of it. I think sometimes over-thinking can really make it worse. It’s really doing what feels natural instead of forced.

3. What are challenges you’ve encountered running a small business that aims to give back?

A couple things:  Our brand is that we are a gift company that gives back by providing meals to kids in the USA. In the beginning, our charitable efforts were well-intentioned but unfocused.  We provided art classes, after-school sponsorships and schools supplies to families that needed it. We still do more than provide meals, but at the time, people were really confused by what we were doing. They knew we gave back, but our brand wasn’t aligned with our mission. I think with a company that gives back, you just have to be clear on what you do, and make it easy to understand.

Second, what to do with the little money you have, and how to get yourself out there. Since your profits are not all going back to you or the company, you have smaller margins. It’s hard to make the right choices to help get your name out there. It’s hard when no one knows you and you are just getting started. It’s hard to try to sell yourself in an over-saturated and overexposed market.

4. How do you make sure your social media content is always on brand?

The best advice I have ever been given is to take 90% of my photos with a digital camera and the rest with my iPhone. That’s not for everyone, but for what we sell, we want the flowers to always be consistent in lighting and colors. In the beginning we tried a few things that didn’t work and then naturally fell into a place where we feel comfortable. I also use an app called Planoly; it helps me see my photos in a grid before they post so I can make sure they match with the other ones. This app has helped so much.

5. If you could speak to pre-business starting Dana, what advice would you give? Is there a piece of common advice given to small business owners that you would tell her to ignore?

Trust yourself and Customer Service is a must. Starting a small business is full of small decisions that can cost you lots of money.  You have to know ahead of time that not everything is going to be a win and leave financial space for that to happen.  As for Customer Service, we have someone that checks emails almost 24 hours a day to make sure we are available. Our customers are the reason any small business is running, and you have to remember that even when you’re tired, frustrated and hungry. Some customers will always think you are Amazon and have hundreds of people working around the clock. Instead, you have 3.

Keep up with Dana Renee at Gratitude Collaborative and on her beautiful Instagram.

Food for Thought with Leslie Stephens

We’re back with another “Food for Thought” this week featuring Cupcakes and Cashmere Associate Editor Leslie Stephens. The SPPR team met Leslie over a can of wine and immediately bonded with this friendly foodie. Leslie recently moved from New York where she was a Food52 editor. She now brings her adventurous spirit and an enthusiasm for food, fashion and décor to Cupcakes and Cashmere with fun and fresh coverage. Read on for a real look at what it’s like to turn a penchant for writing and a love of food into an awesome career.

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1. What’s the biggest difference between the NY and LA food scenes?

Historically in New York, the best food has always been equated with high-end restaurants opened by top chefs, like Thomas Keller’s Per Se or Daniel Humm’s Eleven Madison Park, even though there’s recently been a shift towards high-end restaurants opened by previously unknown, young chefs, like Contra and Semilla. In L.A. however, the hole-in-the-wall spots are much more celebrated, which is why you get this amazing culture of street tacos, food trucks, and tiny San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurants on Jonathan Gold’s 101 list of best restaurants.

2. What do you look for when you’re searching for Cupcakes & Cashmere content inspiration?

When it comes to writing for a lifestyle blog, content is everywhere. A meal at an amazing taco truck can become an article on the Best Tacos in L.A. the same way a simple, unique tradition can become a whole post idea. Since the blog is so interwoven with our lives, the content is really coming from everything we find interesting and engaging in our own lives.

3. What do you do when writers block hits or you’re in a rut creatively?

I feel like there’s no writer’s block or creative rut a quick conversation can’t fix. Even saying, “Hey, what do you think of this?” to my Editorial Director is often enough to span a back-and-forth conversation that can get me back on the right track or guide me towards a new, more interesting direction. To me, that’s the value of working with a tight-knit team.

4. We heard you’re a Pete Wells fan, anyone else you admire or look up to in the food industry?

Food writers are my celebrities: Kate Krader, Sam Sifton, Andrew Knowlton, Phyllis Grant, Adam Sachs, our contributor, Gaby Dalkin, Ruth Reichl, Mimi Sheraton, Dana Goodyear, Jonathan Gold—the list literally doesn’t stop.

5. What advice would you give someone hoping to have a career in editorial? 

Start doing it in any way you can. The hardest part of becoming a writer or editor is creating a body of work you can show as an example at an interview, so if you’re able to write your own blog or even pitch a few freelance articles, every piece of work counts.

Keep up with Leslie Stephens at Cupcakes and Cashmere and on Instagram.

Food for Thought with Jami Curl

We talk a lot about food at Soda Pop PR. The team is constantly swapping restaurant recommendations and deliberations for where to order our weekly team lunch start at 10 a.m. on Thursdays. Which is why we’re excited to announce our new interview series “Food for Thought.” Each month, we’ll explore the business behind the food industry and how foodie creatives find inspiration and get through tough times.

This week we’re kicking things off with SPPR client and candy-extraordinaire Jami Curl who is the founder of QUIN Candy- a small-batch, handmade candy company headquartered in Portland. Jami has been dubbed the “new Willy Wonka” by Bon Appètit and is listed as one of Fast Company’s most creative people in business. She is currently working with Ten Speed Press on a book ‘Candy is Magic: Real Ingredients, Modern Recipes.’ For sale in March 2017, Candy is Magic will share Jami’s candy secrets and best stories. Read on to work up a creative appetite.

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1. Staying inspired is EVERYTHING for a creative and we can all feel stuck sometimes. How do you get unstuck?

I am very thankful to have many things going on at once – so, if I’m stuck on something I’m writing, I can switch over to a recipe I’m trying to work out. Or, if a recipe isn’t quite working, I can walk away from it and focus a bit on marketing or something we’re promoting at QUIN.

I do tend to have zero separation between work and home – I work on work at home and I work on home at work. I work all hours of all days – whether it’s 6am on a Saturday or 11:30pm on a Tuesday. Because of this, ahem, “variety” of types of work and working hours, I rarely find myself stuck.

That said, I never give much thought to inspiration. It might just be because of how serious I am about work – but I rarely sit back and wonder or think about what’s going to inspire me on any given day. Not to get too Psychology Today on you, but I think it has to do with the fact that I rarely seek outside “help” for inspiration or energy. I rely only on myself for that stuff. This self-reliance is threaded through my entire life, not just work life. I rarely ask for help, I don’t look to others for happiness, I know in my heart it’s my responsibility to make myself happy, fulfilled, inspired, and motivated. (Note: I am an INTJ (Myers-Briggs) – so that might explain a lot. And, if you haven’t Myers-Briggs’ed yourself, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND.) Anyways, all my motivation and ideas come from the inside – not the outside. I basically just keep working and ideas keep coming. I truly hope it stays this way for the rest of my days because there’s really nothing like it.

 2. Can you share one of your first “pinch me” moments when you realized QUIN’s success was real?

“Success” is tricky because it’s a word that is generally controlled and defined by outside sources instead of the internal self. My self-defined version of success is this: that I wake up each day happy. Happy to be where I am in life, happy that my job is this job in candy. I feel successful when I’m fulfilled. When the ideas in my head tumble out and they somehow make sense to others – these moments are my successful moments.

By that definition, I have to say that one of the “pinch me” moments has to be the first day of the QUIN cookbook photoshoot. A group of very talented women surrounding me, I explained a vision – and they set to work making it come to life in photos. On so many levels I couldn’t believe it was happening – it made the book more real, it validated my vision for the candy in the book, it solidified and made visual thoughts and ideas that previously only existed in my head. I wish I could explain how totally crazy that feels – but, let me tell you – IT FEELS TOTALLY CRAZY!

In terms of success for QUIN – I think the “pinch me” moments are smaller moments – little bits of positive news, or a great new account, or a good piece of press – all of these moments add up to this experience that is overall absolutely, definitely a “pinch me” situation. That QUIN works at all, even in our slow times, is still totally unreal to me.

3. You have a very fun, active social media presence. How do you “unplug” or turn off when you need to recharge?

Oh, thank you. I actually think I’m the worst social media person. The first problem is that I’m pretty much a conscientious objector to the use of hashtags. I can’t get over the full paragraphs of hashtags that people add to posts. I 100% understand their usefulness, but that still won’t convince me to do it. Still, I like to have fun with social media and I’m a total weirdo at home, so I share a lot of that.

I spend a lot of time every day unplugged and turned off because I love to read. When waiting for an appointment or meeting to start, for a coffee or for a table, instead of scrolling through my phone, I’m reading a book. I never, ever leave the house without the book I’m currently reading. Those minutes during the day of leaving my phone in my bag and grabbing my book instead – they’re super essential mini-breaks for me.

I also schedule a full hour of reading every night before bed – it’s my favorite part of every day because I read with my little boy – each of us in a side-by-side twin bed, reading our books. I push through each day to get to this most magic of hours, I love it and treasure the time with him so much.

One other thing – I take a long walk (about 5 miles) every morning. I’ll allow myself to listen to a Podcast or music, but I don’t allow myself to check social media during my walks. Walking is the best because it’s really easy, and it’s mindless enough to allow yourself to be mindful (I swear that makes sense if you think about it.)

4. There’s a lot of buzz around the “habits of highly effective people.” What are some of your own personal habits for productive days and helping QUIN run efficiently?

I don’t keep a calendar or a to-do list electronically. I write EVERYTHING down. On paper. I keep a physical paper calendar/planner with me – and I basically just check it often (super often) to make sure I’m on track. I’m pencil obsessed, so that helps, but writing out lists, calendars, ideas, goals – actually WRITING it (not typing it or merely thinking it) helps to keep me on target.

I don’t sleep in. I get up at 6 every day (even on weekends) and try to do at least three things right away that will make me feel like I’m on track for a productive day. This could be as simple as unloading the dishwasher or starting a load of laundry, answering emails or writing a thank you note, organizing receipts or working on book edits – just three things right away – I find it sets me up for success all day long (three things PLUS coffee, that is.)

5. As a veteran of Feast Portland, what are you most looking forward to this year?

I’m excited about the candy we’re doing for Night Market – something we’ve never done before that has our entire staff TOTALLY EXCITED. I love stuff like that – a super fun candy that we can all get behind.

I think it’s great that Feast is five this year and that they’re putting the effort into celebrating that fact. I am also so happy that QUIN is part of the celebration – we created a special candy to help Feast celebrate this milestone birthday, and I was so honored that they even asked us to do it. I think the feeling of celebration is what Feast is all about – celebrating food and creativity and the bounty of Oregon and the people who work so hard to put out great food in restaurants – it all combines and the result is this string of days that all seem like a party. It’s almost like college again – everyone in town is kind of focused on the same thing, and I love that feeling of crazy unity. I’m looking forward to that spirit settling in on the city for a few days, for sure.

Follow along with Jami’s adventures at Feast PDX and beyond here.