When you look at Victor Aguilera’s Instagram account, you’ll see a few selfies along with several photos of arepas, a griddled corn cake common in Venezuela. They’re pictured grilled, fried, filled with avocados and cheese, or steak and plantains. But Aguilera is not just an arepa enthusiast. He’s a professional chef, and for the past few months, his Instagram account has served as a way to drum up business.
Aguilera is just one of the hundreds of restaurant workers who were recently laid off due to the pandemic. Before launching his arepa enterprise, he worked at the Brixton, an American gastropub in San Francisco. As a way to make ends meet, he took to Instagram to sell food inspired by his home country of Venezuela. Interested customers can either DM or text him for orders. (He leaves his phone number prominently displayed right on his Instagram bio.) He then personally delivers the food by bicycle all over San Francisco, directly to the customer’s door.
After some recent press, Aguilera now has a regular clientele, and he says orders have been coming in nonstop. He is not the only chef who has turned to technology as a side hustle during the coronavirus pandemic. Adahlia Cole, who used to give custom food tours of the city, has compiled a list of former restaurant workers in the San Francisco Bay Area who have pivoted to Instagram to generate income. The range of cuisine listed has everything from Italian pasta to apple pie.
The selling-food-through-Instagram method varies, but in general, this is how it works: A chef posts what they’re offering, and then interested customers can call, text, or DM them to place orders. Sometimes there’s a link in their bio where people can order through an e-commerce site like Shopify. If the order is made via text or DM, the chef sometimes asks for payment through Venmo or a similar service. If the chef has offered delivery as an option, the customer would obviously provide an address.
Then, on an agreed-on day and time, an order of hot, tasty, homemade food arrives at the customer’s front door. Since the order hasn’t gone through a delivery service like Grubhub or Doordash, all of that money goes directly to the chef who actually made the food. Brilliant!