Where in the world does the idea for a photo-friendly, customize-your-own churro restaurant come from? In the case of The Loop, a brand new Orange County, CA-based churro store, they have Instagram to thank.
I’m hungry, per usual, so I ask Jed, co-owner of The Loop, to meet me at the pho joint a few spots down from his new storefront. His place doesn't open for another hour, I figure that’s enough time for some dumplings and blistering hot soup.
Jed sits across from me frenetically checking mentions on his massive foodie Instagram account @DailyFoodFeed. Just over a year old, the account now has 300,000 followers all by jokingly starting the account to "test hashtags for his restaurant PR clients."
Now, Jed uses his account for various forms of market research — and in the most recent study, it helped him decide that opening up a churro-centric restaurant would be a smart business move.
Anyone who follows @DailyFoodFeed will see a healthy array of photos of Jed’s own clients and restaurants his friends and colleagues around Orange County own, Afters Ice Cream, Slapfish and Bagels & Brew included. All the photos follow a similar, food boner-throbbing aesthetic of cheese-pulls, aggressive color contrasting and carefully curated hashtags that generate an enviable amount of engagement.
Yet, beneath the surface, Jed is expertly surveying the engagement levels that different food items will fetch. Topographical burger angle doesn’t work not getting enough likes? Never posting that again. Not enough colors to catch the eyes of his followers in the busy Insta feed? Better hit it with some bright red Sriracha. Natural lighting is also a must, so Jed never takes photos of his food at night.
“So churro photos got more interaction than other desserts?” I ask between slurps of pho.
“By far. I ate through so many churros for research,” Jed says, putting his phone down to rest and acknowledge the dumplings that just landed on our table. As part of his research, Jed not only ate through whatever churro options were available in Southern California, many of which were soon to become his competition, but he would publish and tag the locations to his Instagram account.
I knew for a fact Jed would not be taking photos of the dishes in the restaurant we were at. The horrible lighting, lack of colors, despite the delicious pho and scrumptious dumplings, they didn’t pass the visual litmus test @DailyFoodFeed has adapted as rules for their own food photography.
A lot of people told Jed he couldn’t open up a restaurant like this, particularly from traditional restaurateurs who warned he didn’t have any experience to open up a restaurant.
“Do you think you’re working backwards?” I ask, making a reference to both his Instagram account, and Instagram accounts of fellow Orange County entrepreneurs Andy Nguyen and Scott Nghiem. Both Scott and Andy utilized their loyal Instagram followings to launch Afters Ice Cream, a line of successful Southern California ice cream shops.
“Yeah,” Jed started. “People think we’re just doing a hype product. But we have research, we want lines out the door — the trick is keeping them there. We’re fortunate to have this access to hundreds of thousands of foodies and we can see how they interact online to different food we post about before going into business.”
It’s a genius move — see how people react to food photos of the food you plan to sell, and have that play a large role in the food you create. Since they, along with many other strapped foodtrepreneurs, they want as much organic social marketing as possible, so why not create items worthy of the social platforms you’re hoping to be successful on?
These churros better not suck, I think, as we pay the bill and walk over to The Loop.
Upon entering, a few front-of-house staff are applying hangtags to bottles of milk tea. The farthest wall from the entrance is floor-to-ceiling grass, mainly because Jed loves taking photos of food against a colorful green background — so he figured his customers would want to do the same. There’s also a brick white wall for the same photogenic reasons. Everything in here is a Food Instagrammer’s wet dream.
The display case you walk into showcases all the different topping options, from Oreos to Fruity Pebbles. On the wall is a soft serve machine, a welcome addition to warm churros. In the back of house, where we promptly head, his team is frying up churros and mixing glazes for the busy day ahead. I dunk my finger in a cup of matcha green tea glaze and put it to my tongue, baller.
I fire up a Facebook Livestream, mainly because my co-workers back at the office probably think I’m jerking off at home by myself and it’s a great tool for self verification of my work. Also, it’s a pretty succinct tour of the location:
The churro was delicious, warm, crispy, a nice mix between the delicious kind you find at Disneyland and the crispier alternatives you might find at the Costco food court. The bed of cold soft serve ice cream is an absolute must. By the time I demolished my churro, drank my Jasmine milk tea and wished Jed the best, a line had begun forming out the door minutes.
Instagram did this guy good — don’t let anyone tell you you can’t upload pictures of food on the Internet and start a restaurant that only serves Churros and cereal.
Thank you, Internet.
9729 Bolsa Ave Westminster, CA 92683