Rayna Greenberg is one hungry Jew. Literally. Such is Greenberg’s Instagram handle, where more than 325,000 followers gleefully track her gastronomic exploits. Between saliva-inducing images of hickory smoked brisket, artisanal pizza and (yes) even avocado toast, Greenberg, 32, has carefully crafted a digital presence that is both “consistent” and “unique,” she explained.
“It has taken me years to figure out what content works well, what looks great, what resonates with an audience, but three and a half years later I think I have found a sweet spot,” she said.
Through her exquisite food photos and expanding digital presence, the former Squirrel Hill native and current New York City resident has become a coveted influencer. Accordingly, hotel groups, restaurants and chefs regularly invite her to document experiences in hopes that a positive review will generate business. Other times, Greenberg goes about the practice by introducing herself to public relations departments and requesting access to restaurants.
“People are super generous with it. Every city is a little different with it depending on how big it is,” she explained. “Cities like L.A., Chicago, New York have tons of food influencer-type people that do stuff like this so they’re very used to you reaching out.”
Alone in the Big Apple with a degree in business and journalism from Indiana University in Bloomington, Greenberg waited tables, worked with top chefs and taught herself how to take pictures.
Back then, “there was no such thing as an Instagram influencer or that type of thing. I had never heard of anybody monetizing a social media account,” she noted. “If you used to ask somebody to pay you to post something on social media they would laugh in your face.”
Nowadays, the climate has changed.
A 2017 survey of 4,000 active social media consumers aged 16-61 reported that “31 percent of consumers across the U.S. and Europe said they have purchased a product or service based on a social influencer post,” according to Business Wire.
Directing followers from Instagram has been “an amazing way to build the show, just to advertise through that platform,” she added.
Between regular posts and candid conversations, Greenberg lives a relatively exhibited life. Yet the exposure occasionally presents misunderstandings.
“A common misconception is that all of my photos come from me dining out, like I spend my whole day dining at these restaurants, but most of my photos come from photoshoots,” she said. Arranged beforehand, the sessions enable Greenberg to typically “walk in, the dishes will be ready and [I’ll] just hang out take some photos and get out of their way.” That way, “I’m not doing that in the middle of a restaurant with a light disturbing other guests while they are paying to enjoy their experience.”
A certain curiosity which Greenberg quickly clarified was the absence of Pittsburgh from her posts; despite mentioning Austin, Chicago and New Orleans, she failed to include the Steel City in her travel guides.
“When I come home to Pittsburgh I really want to do the things that I’ve always done, eat at the restaurants that are so nostalgic to me,” she said. So whether it’s feasting at a friend’s house, or at her parents’ home, “I don’t spend a lot of time in the dining scene in Pittsburgh because I just want those nostalgic things that I grew up with because I am there for such a short amount of time.”
Although she is only able to return to Pittsburgh a few times a year, there is a constant to her travels.
“My first job was at a restaurant in Pittsburgh called Pamela’s,” she said. “When I come to Pittsburgh, I go there every day. It’s my favorite restaurant.”
“It just was a silly hobby in the beginning. I always took photos of food with my cell phone and I just figured, ‘Hey I will put this somewhere,’” she said. “I was sitting in bed one day and had all these food photos and didn’t know what to do with them, and I was like I’ll call it One Fat Jew and that was not available so I picked ‘One Hungry Jew.’ That is how it was born.
“I didn’t think about the fact that I would have to formulate a business around this and would have to do things like call the bank and tell them that my email address is onehungryjew.”
But like a delightfully surprising dish, even those experiences have been enjoyable, she said. “You know everybody laughs, every time I say the name it always incites a giggle from somebody, and I love that.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.