ggarlic noodles, steak and shrimp laden fries, adult forearm-length crab legs – a brief scroll on Bayareafoodz’s popular Instagram account is enough to plunge you into a digital food coma .
In an area known as one of America’s culinary capitals and an Instagram foodie’s playground, Darion Frazier’s page stands out. It has gathered more than 126,000 followers, not with videos brilliantly produced in the most trendy restaurants, but with tributes to taquerias, greasy spoons and small joints of soul food.
âI live for the wear and tear of furniture and menus at mom and pop restaurants. It tells you the food is good as hell, âsaid Darion Frazier, the page owner, spots that hold a special place in his heart.
His playful personality and alluring imagery have drawn thousands of people who come to watch Frazier eat, sometimes donning a black Versace dress, and letting his followers know whether a dish is ‘bussin’ (really good) or a disappointment.
Now, Frazier is expanding its commitment to small, local restaurants with a food delivery service, Plate Pick, which will help home chefs and independent restaurants reach customers. Frazier says the site, which charges restaurants a 5% commission, is believed to be a viable alternative at a time when many restaurants struggle with operating costs on platforms like Doordash, GrubHub and UberEats, which are taking a reduction of 20% or Suite. Plate Pick also offers resources for home chefs for legal services and marketing assistance.
The Oakland native spoke to The Guardian about his hopes for the new business, the challenges of being a black influencer, and why he wants to be a positive force in the San Francisco Bay Area food scene and in the community at large.
“Our gastronomic scene is something special”
Frazier, 29, first encountered the rich Bay Area food scene with friends. He grew up in a low-income apartment complex in West Oakland and says sleepovers and games have exposed him to new smells, tastes and cultures.
âWe all lived in the same poverty, but at the end of the day everyone comes home with a different dish,â Frazier recalled. âI spent the night with my Filipino friend and ate adobo, fish and lumpia. Or I would be at my African friend’s house another night and we would eat foufou.
Traveling to France, Mexico and Thailand in early adulthood also helped him appreciate the Bay Area food scene. âWe have some of the best tacos in the world, then you can go somewhere else and get the best burgers of your life. You can get Chinese food, Indian food, Moroccan food, Jollof rice, âsays Frazier. âThere is something special about the Bay Area.â
With that in mind, Frazier launched Bayareafoodz in late 2014 to spotlight family businesses that have fed residents for decades and were losing business due to gentrification. âPlaces that have been around for years and that locals know no longer have their regulars, so I wanted to help.â
With the exception of the occasional selfies, Frazier rarely showed his face until he was two years deep in Bayareafoodz. But since it has gotten more frontal, the page has become a place where people go to hear Frazier’s unfiltered opinion. âMy personality is the secret weapon,â he says.
Toriano Gordon, the chef behind Vegan Mob, an always-busy Oakland restaurant that serves plant-based barbecues, soul food, and Creole fare, agrees that authenticity is central to Frazier’s appeal.
âHe doesn’t try too hard and that’s why he’s doing so well. His posts are always entertaining, but you can tell this is the real him, âsays Gordon. âIt’s a guide to Bay Area food, instead of going to Yelp you’ll have better luck with Bayareafoodz.â
Gordon knew about Frazier’s page through the Bay’s biggest food scene and the couple met in late 2019, shortly after Gordon opened Vegan Mob’s brick-and-mortar location in Oakland. Before starting a professional relationship, Frazier posted videos in front of the location and promoted new menu offerings. Then, once they had a chance to speak, Gordon and Frazier found common ground in their love of food and their dedication to uplifting and supporting others as they climb the ladder of success. .
âI am a big believer in unity, it is imperative that we support each other,â adds Gordon. “I can inspire him but he inspires me too, what he does is innovative and special.”
The challenges of being a black designer
This success has been built slowly over the past few years. At first, Frazier says he never saw the page as a way to make a living. But as his popularity grew, an offer of $ 3,000 for his page, combined with restaurateurs telling him about the sales increases that occurred immediately after a post, made him reconsider his decision.
Frazier chose not to sell the page and in 2017 started charging food reviews. Her first paid restaurant visit was for $ 25 at a San Francisco deli. Now he charges up to $ 700 for a review and earns income from food and beverage company sponsored posts and Facebook ads.
And recently, he decided to quit his day job at a Kaiser pharmacy to focus on his burgeoning food businesses. âI realized that if I was building Bayareafoodz with some of that time, I think I should get into something that I love to do,â he said.
But he says there have been plenty of challenges along the way, especially as a black creator on Instagram, which Frazier and others say can be barriers to their jobs. In recent years, black social media influencers on Instagram, TikTok, and other platforms have waged strikes and digital campaigns to expose wage disparities and alleged limitations that compartmentalize their content based on their race and stifle their exposure.
During the protests and racial calculation in the summer of 2020, Instagram said it will examine potential racial biases in the algorithms they use, but there has been little news of progress since.
âThe algorithms can guess the race of users and when they start associating it with black content, they can put it in a corner,â said Kalinda Ukanwa, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Southern California. “It is assumed that their content will not have a wider appeal, which creates a monetization problem as they don’t get that exposure.”
Frazier says he experiences this phenomenon firsthand. âI’m the only black foodie I know in Oakland and I’ve worked really hard, but these algorithms can make it difficult for a brand to develop,â he says, âbut I have to live with it. “
A platform for home cooks
With his next business, Plate Pick, Frazier is looking to leverage his social media fame to support home chefs in Alameda County. The county recently implemented a program that allows people to run a business from their kitchen, after California legalized these types of operations in 2018.
Frazier became part owner of the company in 2021 alongside tech CEO Andrew Fede. In addition to bringing Bay Area restaurants such as Vegan Mob to the website, Frazier and her team host “legal nights” with county health department staff and lawyers who can help people with get the permits and certification they need to sell food at home.
He hopes the business can succeed without charging home chefs the exorbitant price charged by other delivery companies. âI want to make sure we’re doing our best to help everyone in our community,â Frazier said. âWe’re here to say, ‘You can do it! But be legal.
Even with her business goals for the Instagram page and the delivery service, Frazier says her ultimate motivation is to be a positive influence in the Bay Area and a role model, especially for young and impressionable residents. In addition to his food work, he organizes business-boosting treasure hunts for local restaurants and increasingly speaks out on local issues such as gun violence.
âThere are a lot of talented people in the bay, especially young African American men and women. But young people only see where the light is shining and sometimes it’s on things that are not totally positive like guns, drugs and alcohol, âsays Frazier. “I want people to know that you can be a designer, you can be an author, you can be a photographer and still have a blast.”