Shayda Torabi is living her best life by seeking out the best food.
A marketing manager by day, Shayda’s work travels and passion for food adventures led her to launch Dine With Shayda, an Austin-based food blog. Her side hustle has her checking out the best new restaurants in town, getting to know the chefs behind the food, and snapping mouth-watering pics for her large and engaged following.
Below, she chats with us about how she got involved with blogging, the ins and outs of running a food blog, and her favorite restaurant in Austin.
Tell me about your background and what drew you to food blogging. Is blogging your full-time job or a side hustle?
I’ve always been a content creator. In fact, I grew up blogging and have been running a blog of some sorts since 2004. My food blog, Dine With Shayda, has been around since January 2015. It is my side hustle, but thankfully was inspired by, and kind of feeds into, my full-time day job as a marketing manager at a tech company.
It started when I was WP Engine’s Events Manager (WP Engine is actually a WordPress Digital Experience Platform, so we essentially host WordPress websites). I was traveling all over the country and challenged myself to not just eat what was convenient, but to truly explore the city I was in and that always ended up being through food. After doing that for a few months, I became known by my peers as the girl everyone wanted to follow on these trips because they knew I was going to go somewhere good. A friend in the WordPress community challenged me to start a blog on my adventures, and the rest is kind of history… haha just kidding. I’m definitely still just getting started, but it’s been a fun journey. So while my day job isn’t a “food blogger,” I still get to be active in the WordPress community, which is the platform my blog is built on.
What has been the most unexpected part about being a food blogger?
To be honest, I didn’t really have any expectations when I started. I didn’t do this to become famous, or to eat free meals. And although those are certainly nice perks when someone recognizes me out at dinner (it still humbles me that I have such engaged followers), or to be invited to try a restaurant’s new menu, I really just wanted to create a space where I could document all the cool, interesting and wonderful places that I had eaten at. And if someone else found value in that, that would be cool. I didn’t even launch Dine With Shayda with a social media presence, I was 100% blog for about the first five months.
Now, two years and some change into this, I think the most unexpected part is how much of it is a hustle. People are always so in awe of where I go and what content I create, and my response isn’t some magical answer. It’s hard work. I pride myself in building a genuine relationship with the restaurant owners, chefs, and publicists that I work with. And that all takes work. A great photo doesn’t just appear — think about the time it takes to go to the restaurant, to take photo after photo, to edit, to post. A single photo on Instagram takes about 1-2 hours of additional work, not to mention when you go write a full blog post! I do it all though (as a side hustle) because I absolutely love what I do. I love the experiences I’ve created, I love being creative, and I love food — plain and simple. Pretty hard to convince me NOT to go eat something delicious and not want to capture that on camera.
“I didn’t even launch Dine With Shayda with a social media presence, I was 100% blog for about the first five months.”
How do you see blogging and social media changing over the next few years?
I think we are currently in one of the biggest shifts, specifically with social media. Take Instagram, for example. You used to just post a single photo. Now you have the option to not only post a photo, but to go live, or to upload stories like Snapchat. People’s attention span is shifting — Gen Z is even more addicted to their cell phones than Millennials. How do you create content that engages with them at the right moment at the right time? It’s something I can’t say that I’ve mastered, but I’m trying. And I will say it’s important to try these new social platforms. They might not all work for you and that’s ok. Go where your audience is. I noticed I don’t have nearly as much engagement on my Facebook page as my Instagram, but my Twitter is even worse. Think about the type of content you’re creating and what social platform is best to showcase that content.
On the blog side, I personally don’t ever see a website as a standalone piece of content going away. In fact, I believe it’s even more increasingly important since social platforms come and go (Ahem: Myspace, AOL/AIM, etc.) that you have a place where your content exists in totality. I will say to be mindful of the laws and regulations these sites have when it comes to your content. For example, we spend so much time building up Instagram, but if Instagram goes down, there go all my beautiful photos, likes, and followers. It’s important to build that audience up in a place that isn’t going to disappear when the next new medium comes along.
You’ve had the chance to try so many restaurants in Austin! Do you have a favorite?
For anyone who knows me, they know what I’m about to say: Sway Thai. When people visit Austin, I get a lot of questions about where they should go. Tacos and BBQ should definitely be on that list, and of course, I have opinions for both (Veracruz or Taco Joint for Migas tacos, and La Barbecue for BBQ!) But if you want a delicious meal, in a beautiful environment, with fresh, bold flavors you absolutely must go visit Sway.
They’re currently located off South First street, but are expanding with 2 new locations — one in the Domain and then Westlake. It’s my go-to comfort food. When I have a bad day I want Sway, and when I have a good day I want Sway. Specifically: Tom Yum soup, Calamari, Half dozen oysters (some of my fav in the city), Son in Law, Blue Crab Fried rice, and do not pass up the Jungle Curry. My go-to seating spot, depending on if it’s warm outside, SIT ON THE PATIO! If it’s chilly, try to snag a seat at the chef’s table. You get to peer right into the kitchen and it is magical.
How do you define success?
I define success simply as “Am I doing what I love to do?” A more complex description might dive into, am I staying true to myself, am I on the right track? I never want to find myself in a position where things are out of my control. I don’t expect to reach the top of the mountain and that to be the end and success to be this big exhale feeling, but to take more notes of the ride — am I learning and do I have fun doing this still.
What’s your number one tip for aspiring food bloggers?
Remember that we all started from zero. I do tend to get a lot of questions from people who think I magically woke up like this, that this was handed to me, that I always knew how to take great photographs. But the reality is that I didn’t. Whether I learned and honed in on that skill over a decade, or I practiced until perfect on my nights and weekends, getting good at something takes time and can’t be rushed.
So remember that you don’t have to be destined for greatness, you have to wake up and choose greatness. Believe that you can do anything because why the hell not? That has been my biggest motivation in my own life and something I try to inspire and remind others of. The only way to get to the top is to start from the bottom, so just start!
Images from @DineWithShayda