In a post-Kardashian world, every millennial thinks they have what it takes to go viral, but few consider what that online fame actually looks like in a person's daily life. In Elite Daily's new series Life Behind The Likes, we speak with the people you know on the internet — from the people behind major Instagram accounts to the Daaaaamn Daniels of the world who went viral for one remarkable moment of their lives — to meet the people behind the screens.
AJ Wolfe launched Disney Food Blog to celebrate one of the main reasons to visit the parks: the food. Her coverage has grown to include a Disney Food Blog Instagram account with more than 600,000 followers and a YouTube channel with over 500,000 subscribers. When Wolfe started Disney Food Blog (DFB) as a resource for park-goers in 2009, Instagram didn't even exist — and neither did a website dedicated to reviewing all the Disney eats.
"I wanted the website to exist. I wanted to read it, personally, and nobody had done it yet. I made it for people like me," Wolfe says. She was working as a grant-maker in a philanthropic foundation when she began her endeavor. "DFB just became my passion project that I worked on when I wasn't at my full-time job," Wolfe explains. Although Wolfe lives in Dallas, Texas, she began Disney Food Blog with pictures from her past trips to Disney Parks. Once she started the blog, Wolfe and her husband would visit the Disney Parks once every few months and plan their trips around sourcing food reviews for the site.
Before Instagram, the blog's success was first marked by an increase in people visiting the site in early 2010. Wolfe says she started to notice the site going viral as people began to interact more with social media. "People were getting smartphones and people were starting to pay attention to visual content in a bigger way than they ever had before.”
Wolfe didn't create a DFB Instagram account until 2012, but it got traction on Twitter before then. "That was hugely beneficial," Wolfe says. "Getting some of that mainstream media coverage; that was huge for us to kind of open us up to a broader audience." To date, the company has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Food and Wine, and Travel and Leisure. Wolfe says she was able to leave her day job "pretty quickly" for DFB full time in 2009.
I would walk into a restaurant with my DSLR camera and get weird looks because I was taking pictures of my food, and people didn't do that back then.
Now that Disney Food Blog has grown, Wolfe says, "I'm in a Disney Park at least once a month on average — usually more." Disney Parks announced closures due to the novel coronavirus outbreak on Friday, March 13, and are still closed as of publication. The Disney foodie's content reflects a mix of her personal Disney photos and those of her salaried staff reporters. As of publication, DFB has dozens of employees and freelance staff. Since its expansion beyond Wolfe and her husband, the company has teams of reporters in Anaheim, California, and Orlando, Florida, a writing team in Dallas, Texas, and freelance writers around the country. Even though the company has reporters in the parks every day while open, Wolfe uses and credits photos shared from fans once in a while.
Going viral was never the goal for Wolfe. She wanted to create a place which could offer helpful Disney content. "What I always wanted to do was be helpful and valuable to other people."
Wolfe sees Disney Food Blog as a way to help people plan their trips, especially in terms of food budgets. "People are going to the Disney Parks and spending insane amounts of money on food, on vacations," she explains. "Disney World, especially, can cost you several mortgage payments to take your family there," she says. "You have to plan what rides you are going to ride — and on what days — and make your dining and your food reservations six months in advance," which Wolfe says can make it extremely hard on people who only get to make the trip once.
Wolfe credits her success to focusing on sharing great food pics before it became the norm. "I would walk into a restaurant with my DSLR camera and get weird looks because I was taking pictures of my food, and people didn't do that back then. Literally, 10 years ago, people did not do that," she laughs. "I think we sort of saw the writing on the wall that visual branded content was going to become extremely, extremely popular," she explains.
I try not to think of myself as the demo too often, because I’m kind of a weird, introverted Disney geek.
Wolfe prides herself on providing the content Disney stans are looking for. "We almost expect to succeed, because we work so hard at it," she says. But she never gets overly excited when they achieve their goals. "It’s like, 'OK, great. Check that off, move on.'"
With all of the success, Wolfe has somehow managed to remain anonymous. "Because my face isn’t tied to it, it’s not a situation where it causes a lot of negative strain or stress on me as a person," she says. Wolfe's voice, on the other hand, does sometimes give her away — she provides the narration for DFB's YouTube channel. She says it's usually a very weird experience when a fan recognizes her in real life. "I always feel real bad, because I know my face is like a deer in a headlight," she laughs. "I'm like, 'It’s not you it’s me. I’m just awkward and introverted.'"
Her anonymity is what Wolfe believes lets every DFB follower know they can find the same food items in the park. The company also explicitly tells people when an item or event is sponsored, though most of their reviewed content is not. Sharing the new items at Disney keeps DFB feeling fresh, but Wolfe isn't only concerned with the newest items. "We’re the only site that’s really doing regular re-reviews of restaurants. We try to get to every restaurant in Disney World at least every couple of years," she emphasizes.
Make sure that you're creating something worth caring about.
Since starting the company, Wolfe has passed a lot of her duties to her employees, but she still manages the DFB Instagram account on her own because she likes to stay connected with the followers on the platform. The news posts, however, don't get mapped out ahead of time. "A lot of it is, here’s a big news item that just happened, or here’s the thing that we ate that we love, or here’s something that you guys need to be reminded of," Wolfe says. "I really don’t plan it out. I probably could and I probably should, but why would I make life easy?" Wolfe laughs.
Disney Food Blog reaches a varied audience, thanks to the widespread fandom for the amusement parks and Disney's legacy. Although Wolfe sometimes creates content she herself would be interested in, she also works to make content all Disney fans will enjoy. "I try not to think of myself as the demo too often, because I’m kind of a weird, introverted Disney geek," she laughs.
In the end, Wolfe is happy she's been able to provide a service that wasn't there before. "If you have something that’s useful and valuable to other people and they care about it, they will pay attention because you’re filling a hole that needs to be filled," Wolfe explains. Her best advice to creators, though, is pretty simple: "Make sure that you're creating something worth caring about."