Utah County woman highlights local restaurants on TikTok
Amy Estes loves food. Not just food itself, but for the connections to different cultures and the stories attached to every bite. Estes is the creator, host and narrator for @EatFreaks, a TikTok account that highlights local restaurants across the state with a focus on Utah County and the Salt Lake area.
The account had almost 154,000 followers as of Sunday, the most for any Utah-based food influencers, according to Gastronomics SLC.
The videos, which take people everywhere from ice cream shops to food trucks and restaurants with Michelin star-level chefs. One thing rarely seen on the account, though, is Estes’ face.
“I want the focus to be on the restaurants and the business owners because that’s what’s by far the most inspiring and important,” she said. “You can just see the passion from them and I think that’s the thing I’ve loved most about this. I just want to be that middleman for my followers”
Estes hopes that by bringing food from local establishments to the people, they may be more inclined to step out of their comfort zones and try new places to eat, especially after starting the account in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She decides where she’ll go for videos through a combination of research, word of mouth and newness. Originally, she went place to place and did the videos as a creative endeavor.
“As I started going to these different restaurants, I realized how powerful TikTok became. Restaurant owners were reaching out to me, telling me, ‘Oh my goodness, thank you for posting this on TikTok; we sold out,'” she said.
The first restaurant posted on the page, William’s Dairy Bar, has since closed down, though. The video, posted in May 2020, has just over 191,000 views now. The most watched video, at 5.5 million views, does not include any homemade dishes. A look at Midvale’s cereal bar Stirs accounts for half of the total likes on the page.
Her connection to local businesses is also lifelong, growing up with parents who were entrepreneurs. They taught her the importance of small business and wanted the family to try new things.
Estes is a long-time resident of Utah County and films most of her videos in Utah, Salt Lake and Davis counties for the ease of travel. However, she would like to travel more and highlight more cities, including Ogden. On the Eat Freaks page are videos from Bow Tie Creamery, WB’s Eatery and Slackwater Pizzeria.
One reason she opted for TikTok as her medium of choice, in addition to the app’s surge in popularity since the start of the pandemic, was the amount of food content already on other social media platforms.
“I noticed, like at the beginning of the pandemic, I was on Tiktok scrolling for hours and I just noticed that I didn’t see a lot about food,” Estes said. “I was like, ‘You know what? I’m gonna take a risk here and just go for it.'”
The Instagram account for the page, @eatfreaks_ut, has just under 4,000 followers. Estes, though, believes the way content is presented on TikTok has allowed her to better connect with the audience. She can take people on the full journey from the exterior to close-up shots of the meals from every angle.
TikTok’s algorithm also encourages interaction and, she’s found, people interact with these extra steps on the culinary journeys. They also appreciate the extra information she can give about a dish’s history and the people in charge.
“If I recognize that something is female-owned or minority-owned, I want to point that out and sometimes I think it’s actually really important to the story of their food,” Estes said.
She mentioned a video on Provo’s House of Frybread, which has since closed, in which she said the owner was a Native American woman.
People dove into her comment section to thank her for pointing out the identity of the owner. One commenter added, “My first thought at the beginning of this video was ‘who owns it’ and then you answered it immediately [grinning face with sweat emoji] Good job!”
Another video with over 60,000 views from February showcased several Black-owned restaurants, including Joe’s Cafe in Orem.
It’s one way for Estes to communicate to the viewers the authenticity of a restaurant and a meal — that it is cooked by someone with a personal connection to the dish.
“This is a way for someone to preserve their lifestyle. That’s just how I see it — so cheesy I know, but it’s how I see food,” Estes said.
Estes doesn’t know for sure the future of the account, how long she can keep it going or if she’ll stay in Utah in perpetuity, but for now, she’s grateful for every opportunity, meal and story. And even 18 months after the first video and hundreds of meals eaten, Estes doesn’t have one that’s stood above the rest.
“I can’t say I have a favorite just because I have found something I love about every place I’ve been and I’ve learned to love so many new foods too. I can’t even tell you what kind of food is my favorite anymore because I’ve learned to love so many different things,” Estes said.