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Pittsburgh Food Influencers Work Hard and Eat Well

Alex Goodstein
Alex Goodstein

Pittsburgh’s restaurant scene has been rapidly evolving for the last 15 years and so is the way many people discover restaurants. Before social media, new spots were found through word of mouth and traditional media. Now, Instagram is a major hub for restaurant discovery in Pittsburgh and beyond. This has given rise to food influencers all over the world, including here in Pittsburgh.

Jess Iacullo runs an account called @HungryJessBigCity, which she started in 2015 as a student at the University of Pittsburgh.

“I was a sophomore at Pitt at the time, and I honestly started it on a whim. I was going to start as an intern at Food Network Magazine that summer, so I wanted to have something to showcase my skills outside of the classroom. Plus, to be honest, it was a way for me to procrastinate writing my papers,” she said.

Iacullo has amassed a following of 36,000 followers with whom she shares both food and lifestyle content from Pittsburgh, her home state of New Jersey, and more.

Lobster Maki Roll at Gi-Jin Restaurant. Photo courtesy Alex Goodstein
Lobster Maki Roll at Gi-Jin Restaurant. Photo courtesy Alex Goodstein

Alex Goodstein started @alexeatstoomuch in 2017, because everyone in his life was constantly asking him what restaurants to visit. He now has over 14,000 followers coming to him for restaurant recommendations. He’s always loved food, so this was a natural move for him.

“I always enjoyed getting to go to restaurants as a kid. I was pretty open to trying most new foods. I definitely gained a greater appreciation as an adult and moving to a city where there are many more options,” he said.

With so many food influencers, it can be hard to break into the space. Both Goodstein and Iacullo have done this with much success. Alex noted that his following was gained through a combination of hard work and luck.

“Growing an account is not science. It is a lot of networking and self promotion and luck. I have been meeting people and telling people about my account and blog for years,” said Goodstein.

Iacullo agreed. She said social media has changed so drastically over the years that what worked for her then, wouldn’t work for her now.

A part of her growth came during her time at Business Insider as a food video intern after college. The dynamic videos she produced for the network had her Instagram handle linked to them, which helped make people aware of her account.

Iacullo now runs @HungryJessBigCity full time, but she wears a lot of hats under this umbrella. In addition, to producing content for her account, she is also a freelance social media manager for several different businesses and restaurants around Pittsburgh, including Umami, The Parlor Dim Sum, and Esquina Cantina. She’s also worked as a freelance TV show producer, food writer, and social media consultant.

“I love that I can take what I learn on my own channels and apply it to my clients, and vice versa. I have a lot of creative freedom with what I do, and I’m so appreciative of that,” she said.

On the other hand, Goodstein has a full time job as a mobile app product manager, while also running his account. He said it can oftentimes be a struggle to juggle both jobs, especially if he has a lot going on at work. Many of his food influencer activities are happening after his 9-5. He said he spends upwards of 20 hours a week visiting restaurants, going to events and creating content.

Alex Goodstein at Terrene Kamayan
Alex Goodstein at Terrene Kamayan

Both Goldstein and Iacullo keep their finger on the pulse of Pittsburgh’s food scene through local news outlets, social media, word of mouth and restaurants reaching out directly to them.

“Pittsburgh has so many restaurants and spaces around the city that there’s always something to discover, whether it’s a restaurant that’s been around for years or it just opened its doors,” Iacullo said.

Some influencers shoot their content on high quality cameras, which can be expensive and inaccessible to a lot of people. Both Iacullo and Goodstein opt to use their phones for the majority of their content.

“I find this type of content relatable, and I’m able to edit it to my brand and aesthetic with apps I love to use, such as Tezza, Foodie, and VSCO,” said Iacullo.

Goodstein said the only additional item he brings to shoots is a small LED light, as lighting is the key to a good photo and many restaurants have terrible lighting. He does own a GoPro for videos and a Sony Alpha mirrorless DSLR, but he often prefers to use his phone.

While being a food influencer seems like all fun and games, it’s a lot of time and money. Goodstein said constantly eating out for content can become expensive.

“The pressures of keeping up with others on Instagram can make it seem like you need to eat out all the time, but if you just want to document and share the one time on occasion you go out to eat, that’s fine too,” he said.

Iacullo said that contrary to popular belief, she’s not just eating all day. Most of her day to day is spent on her computer writing proposals, shooting and editing content, visiting clients, and more.

Iacullo believes that running her account has taught her so much about both herself and what it takes to have a successful business.

“Being authentic will get you farther than doing things just because you think you have to. Just because someone’s content is getting a lot of engagement doesn’t mean you have to jump into doing that too,” she said. “I’ve also learned that my work deserves to be compensated. A lot of time, effort, and skills go into creating content and being an influencer, and knowing your worth is key… because no one is going to do that for you.”

Despite all of the hard work, Goodstein genuinely loves exploring Pittsburgh through the lens of food.

“I’ve learned a lot about Pittsburgh and the cultures that are in the region through the foods that exist here… Pittsburgh has an amazing food culture, and the people in our city cooking our food and making our drinks are talented,” said Goodstein.

Iacullo said her account has brought her so much joy and has helped her to lean into her body positivity and body image perspective.

“It’s really turned into an extension of myself. The brand has evolved as I have, and it’s been a journey to see where it can go. It’s also brought me opportunities I could have never imagined, such as working with big brands I’ve always wanted to, and given me so much confidence.”

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