WHO // Sarah Fennel aka @BromaBakery
WHERE // Detroit, MI
WHAT'S SHE DO // Full time blogger & mother of two cats
Running around her Detroit loft, snapping pictures of ice cream bars in her living room and without catching a breath, rushing to throw an arugula pizza into the oven - the 25 -year old Boston-native Detroit-er behind Broma Bakery is none other than Sarah Fennel. Having only met a few months prior, Sarah’s vibrant personality and genuine kindness made her extremely easy to befriend which is probably why so many people from around the country are in love with her. Her brilliantly composed food photography is striking enough to catch your eye but her relatable content makes Sarah the girl everyone wants to get to know. With 250k hits monthly on her blog, 61k followers on Instagram, 26k likes on Facebook, 25k followers on Pinterest, and a sold out food photography workshop on the way, you would have expected that this young entrepreneur graduated with a degree in business. However, you’d be surprised to find that Sarah actually studied Anthropology at NYU and finished her degree at The University of Michigan. How did she end up becoming a successful food blogger? I caught a few moments of her day in between baking and shooting to chat about how she got to where she is today. Of course, in between she required that I help hand model the finished pizza (pics above) and watch Pillow Talk by Little Dicky (not linked but you should go watch it). Here are some highlights from our conversation:
How did you get into photography?
When I was little, my dad, a TV reporter, was super into making home movies. It was so funny, he would create these elaborate 5 minutes vignettes of what was happening that day. He would fade in into a scene, get up close shots, and so many times my sister and I would say or do something and he would make us do it again for the camera. So I grew up always being fascinated by cameras and capturing a moment.
My freshman year of high school I chose photography as my creative elective and the course was all analog (all in film) and you would expose the film and develop it yourself. Having that initial background of working with film as opposed to digital really cemented an understanding of composition because you have to be deliberate with each and every snap that you take. There's a lot of effort and thinking that goes along with it. I had always been artistic, but I gravitated towards photography because you had this very tangible thing that you produced that was an interesting balance of being a product of imagination but also existing at a moment in time.
Social media wasn’t really around at that time and people didn’t really have iPhones. Because of that, the visual world, and photography was so much less accessible as a career choice. I didn’t think I could be a photographer. so I ended up applying to a regular liberal arts school. and I got a normal degree.
So then how did you get into the food industry?
From working at my town's ice cream shop at 15, to hosting in New York, when I came to Michigan I realized I was good at being in the restaurant industry. When I graduated, my plan was to go back to New York and work, but at the time I was working at Sava’s in Ann Arbor as their head host while also serving. The general manager at the time wanted to hire me to help start their catering business. I took the position so I could stay with my boyfriend Alex, who had a year left of college at that time.
Running the catering business was a phenomenal way to get an in-depth experience with food without actually being a chef. Eventually I wanted a break from the sometimes 60 hour work weeks, so I transitioned to doing marketing for the company which included social media for Sava's, Aventura, and Babo while also shooting pictures for their menus.
Doing social media for three different restaurants was good for me because I got to be photographing food everyday and in a variety of settings. Learning to work with different brand looks, styling food. and especially learning how to communicate with a fan base. I grew Sava’s Instagram from 60 people to 3,000 by the time I left. Aventura I grew it from 0 to 3,000. Babo I grew 400 to 4,500. I really learned how to give the people what they wanted, for lack of a better term.
So when did food blogging full time come about?
In college, I began my blog as a way for me to pick up on my photography and I missed my mom's recipes. I would make these recipes and photograph them as a creative outlet. I found myself in this really weird place where as soon as college was over I didn’t want to be in Ann Arbor anymore. While I loved it during college, as soon as I was out it felt suffocating. When I decided to quit my job I didn’t want to start a new job in Ann Arbor again but at the same time I wasn't ready to leave Alex and we had just signed a year lease on an apartment together.
I heard about bloggers making money and quitting their job but the difference was that they were quitting their job once their blog salary was matching their full-time salary. For me, I had never made a cent on my blog, it was literally just an outlet. I had saved up enough money at the time and I told myself I would try blogging for 2 months and if it wasn't working after that, I would go find a real job, but it just grew... My blog started in 2011, and I went full time in September 2014. I had no friends in Ann Arbor anymore, so for a year I was literally in my apartment baking and building my business. It was like everything fell into place in a way that made sense.
What does Broma Bakery mean?
I’m really bad at naming and when I was first starting my blog I went to a weird website which said "Broma" in Latin meant food, or things you eat. A few years later, I tried to find any translation of "Broma" in Latin and I couldn’t find it anywhere - so I guess that's my name now!
How to be a successful blogger: Advice #1
get a blog.
I get really frustrated when the term blogger is thrown around. Now-a-days people think if you have an Instagram you are a blogger. If this is something that you truly want, my advice is make yourself a blog and if you don’t want to do that, then it's something you're not serious about. One thing I really tried is to spread myself out into a lot of different avenues. If one goes away I am still able to fall back on these other things. If Instagram died tomorrow, I still have a blog that gets 250,000 page views. if my website got hacked, I would still have my social following. I think positioning yourself where you're utilizing your strengths in a variety of ways only exponentially adds to your success.
How to be a successful blogger: Advice #2
The first day I quit my job and decided to start food blogging, I looked up on google: "How can I make money off of a food blog?" I had no idea what I was doing. One thing I did that was incredibly helpful was reaching out to people. What is important when reaching out to have specific questions. You don’t want to be like, “What do i do..?” That's a waste of the other persons time. Ask "how did you get started with having brands pay you?" or "what ad company do you use?" There's really no books out there about how to start blogging, it's built on the idea of people learning from other people. In general, bloggers are willing to help because most likely they got help when they started too.
How to be a successful blogger: Advice #3
ask for help.
I’m a strong proponent of hiring out. I first brought on a girl to do all my social media. She sends out all my tweets and keeps me active on Pintrest. To stay active on Pintrest, for example, you have to pin 30 times a day, and that gets monotonous and it was taking me away from doing what I enjoyed, which was creating. At the time I was barely making enough money to support myself, and I didn’t even think of hiring in, but she was killing it. I knew it was important for me to put money into the business to get more money coming in the other way - and it did. It allowed me to do way more, and got the shitty things off my back. Any time there is something that is annoying and doesn’t suit you, have someone help you, you don’t need to do everything.
Granted when you start you will need to do everything yourself, but I think that's a huge reason why I’ve been successful, because I'm not afraid to have someone help me.
How to be a successful blogger: Advice #4
do new things.
In general, one thing that is very important is never being stagnant in what you do. in the beginning stages of having a business, you want to prove your concept and do something that works. However, once you’ve done that and you want a business that grows over time you'll need to slowly add on. For myself, I’ve started making posts about lifestyle and working out and people love it! They feel like I’m adding this personal dimension to what I’m doing. For those who are in an established and comfortable position, it can be easy to keep doing that but I think you constantly need to be challenging yourself. "What can I add to this to make it more well rounded?" "To be more interesting?" "To make it more accessible to a different group of people that maybe we didn’t hit yet?"
I think that's really important and fun because it gets you trying different things.
How to be a successful blogger: Advice #5
to stand out, you don't necessarily have to be different...
When I first started, I was really worried about what makes me stand out and what was my unique take on things. If you look at my blog now you can say I’m known for good photography and baked goods, but it's not like I’m a blog about recipes with just quinoa. I don't necessarily think you need to pigeon hole yourself into any niche in order to stand out. As long as you're doing the best at what you're doing, it doesn’t have to be the most unique thing ever.