Ilana Ash knows that food is more than just a meal–it can bring people together and make them happy. In our modern-day pandemic environment, that connection is even more important. Ilana’s blog, Foodie Fun, has been her way of facilitating that connection, and she’s extended her reach through the use of her Instagram page.
But Ilana isn’t just a food blogger; she’s also a full-time caregiver and had previously worked in healthcare until May. Working in both of these fields while they combatted the COVID-19 pandemic, she was able to see the impact firsthand. In this interview, Ilana and I spoke about how these experiences shaped how she uses her blog to give back to the New Jersey community.
1. For nearly two years you’ve been a food blogger. What inspired you to become one?
I have always enjoyed trying new restaurants and recipes. I found a lot of friends and family reaching out for restaurant recommendations, and eventually, I decided to make an Instagram page to share my food adventures. This quickly blossomed into so much more.
2. You’ve primarily written reviews for New Jersey restaurants, but you’ve become quite successful on social media as well. How did you grow your channel, and what do you think makes it stand out?
Social media and connecting with new people has always been such an enjoyable thing for me. With my channel, I pride myself on making strong, interpersonal connections with the community and business owners I’ve met through it. Since day one, I’ve always given professional, yet honest, reviews, which is so important when it comes to food.
Being a blogger and influencer has opened the doors to endless possibilities. While a large majority of my reviews are based in New Jersey, I have recently had the opportunity to collaborate with small businesses and restaurants all over the country. It has given me the chance to continue chasing my passions for food, travel, and connecting with people.
3. You’ve said on your blog that you also work as a healthcare professional. Have you experienced any difficulty with juggling work and creating content?
My schedule is extremely hectic! That’s because currently I’m in my last semester of nursing school while also working full-time caring for the elderly and children with special needs. However, I make sure to find the time to continue creating content and to rejuvenate my mental health.
Specifically, going to restaurants or cooking gives me a moment to enjoy a meal with friends and family. Being as passionate as I am about my content and my blog, it’s incredibly important that I make the time to do both these things.
4. Undoubtedly, the pandemic has affected these two areas: healthcare and dining. And you’ve said you spent the pandemic working both fields. What was your experience like?
Working 60-70 hour weeks throughout COVID was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. While I was so fortunate to work in a wonderful urgent care unit during this time, it definitely took a huge toll on the staff. But, day in and day out, I went out of my way to help bring to the day the one glimmer of joy we needed: lunch! My coworkers joked, but they were so happy I was there to make food a priority. It really helped us all get through the day.
Since restaurants were only open for takeout, I took this opportunity to support them as much as I could. I would rotate each day, ordering lunch from different local small businesses. I also took extra good care of the delivery people, as we were so thankful to have them drop off our food!
5. Small dining businesses have been tremendously affected by all the restrictions that the pandemic has forced on us. How have you seen these businesses respond to these restrictions and changes?
It has been devastating to see so many small businesses go under because of the pandemic. But, the resilience of these business owners has been incredible. So many have created outdoor dining areas and social distancing tables to adhere to those restrictions. Everyone has simply been doing the best they can to survive.
6. How have you personally worked with these small businesses? What would you say has helped them the most?
At this time, I solely support small and local businesses. Other than supporting them by ordering food, I have tried to use my platforms and networking to share as much information as possible about these businesses with the public.
From speaking with so many small business owners, I’ve learned that word-of-mouth is so valuable to them. So that’s exactly what I do: when I find a business I love, I shout it from the rooftops! Some of my favorites across New Jersey include Sonny T’s in River Edge, Patrizia’s in Red Bank, and The Pastrami House in Berkeley Heights.
7. Going forward, how do you think restaurants will face the post-pandemic dining landscape?
At the end of this chaos, I truly hope that restaurants are able to take their emergency response concepts and use them to better their businesses even further. One business owner specifically told me she plans on keeping the social distancing and dining time limits throughout the restaurant, as her guest’s and staff’s safety is more important than her cramming as many people in at once. Many others have created make-shift outdoor dining patios that they now plan on keeping. They’ve become a wonderful asset to the business.
I would like to make a note that a lot of these small businesses are still having a hard time hiring staff. My hope is that once they are able to fill these spots, the business will be flowing again, better than ever!
8. For aspiring bloggers or influencers, what advice would you share? How would you encourage them to give back to their communities with their platform?
Organic connections and networking are so important in this community. When I began my platforms, I was completely on my own. I wish I had someone to answer random questions and share suggestions. But now, I act as the mentor I wish I had two years ago.
When I connect with a new and growing influencer, I encourage them to always be kind and use their platform for its best possible use. Believe it or not, I have found people that try to use the title of “influencer” as a selfish way to exploit small businesses. These are the type of people I avoid, yet from whom I learn what not to do.
9. What are some future events that you plan on doing or hosting to continue giving back to the community?
I knew for a while that I wanted to be able to use my platform to give back to the community. I’ve collaborated with local restaurants and I’ve also recently started hosting monthly NJ food blogger meetups. At the end of September, I plan on collaborating with the Community Food Bank to host my very first “Foodie Fun Charity Dining Event” at The Pastrami House in Berkeley Heights, NJ. All proceeds from each ticket purchased will go to the food bank. I definitely would like to continue hosting more charity events moving forward!
Feature image of Ilana Ash, courtesy of Foodie Fun.