Insta Spotlight: Let Me Eat Cake

Nastassia Johnson has always been ahead of the curve. In 2009, she started a food blog called Let Me Eat Cake, before launching Los Angeles’ first Filipino food truck, The Manila Machine, and running beloved L.A. establishments like Joan’s on Third, Sotto, and Coolhaus.

In 2012, while Instagram was still in its infancy, Johnson launched the Let Me Eat Cake account, featuring sugary confections from around the world. In her first interview with The Gramlist, she shares her secrets for building a brand while navigating the ever-changing waters of social media marketing—and always leaving room for dessert.

#letmeeatcake #desserts #sweetlife #donutlover #willtravelfordessert #foodies #eeeeeats #instafood #losangeles #losangelesfood

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What was happening in your life when you decided to start Let Me Eat Cake?

[At the time], food blogs were very slowly becoming a thing. There were the Joy the Bakers of the world, but not many others, and there was really only Twitter as a social media platform. So I created a Twitter with the name “Let Me Eat Cake,” and started finding there were all these other like-minded foodies who could share different restaurant recommendations and recipes. It was such an amazing community feeling, and I started the blog shortly after that.

I didn’t have any vision in the first few posts. I think my first post was a savory recipe, even though it was called Let Me Eat Cake, and then I wrote a review for a random restaurant. But then I went to a restaurant known for serving donuts, and I had an epiphany: “Wait, I Iove dessert. Why don’t I focus on the really exciting part of the meal for me?”

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How have you seen Instagram evolve over the past five years? Have you seen a shift in the way your audience interacts, especially with the replacement of chronological feeds with the algorithm?

At the beginning, it kind of felt like microblogging: sharing the photo and say a little bit about it. Then people really started curating their feed. After a year or two, it wasn’t about that instantaneous moment, it was this curated thing. I started mapping topics I wanted to cover. I got a better camera and changed the account’s aesthetic to focus on the Instagram page as a whole. So now it’s this highly curated thing that takes many hours, and I have this app, UNUM, to organize it.

Personally, I think engagement is down, although it is so hard to know more broadly. Three years ago, I probably had about 40-50,000 followers and I got way more likes than I do today [with over 80,000 followers]. I think that’s a real concern because people are scrolling through rather than liking and commenting.

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Can you describe your content strategy for us?

I like to allocate one day a week to strategize and plan, and then throughout the week I’ll post. Instagram is ever evolving. Now, I feel people breeze through it and engage less than before. But it’s still an exciting time to play with the platform and see what works, and maybe go back to that idea of microblogging. [My account] could be a great resource page.

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At what point did you monetize your account?

It didn’t become a job until about three years ago. It was really exciting to make money off something I was passionate about, and I’ve since developed a consulting business about food brands and restaurants. So my Instagram serves as a portfolio for food and media clients.

Some people really try to make just Instagram their job, but I think it’s harder these days than even a few years back because there are so many people. It’s easy to buy followers, it’s easy to buy likes, and it’s really hard for brands to distinguish who is doing that and who isn’t. I think that’s why having it as a real career is challenging.

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What do you think lies ahead for your account, for influencers, and for the social media marketing sphere in general?

It’s a really complicated time. This is my true passion project, and I’m never going to give it up, because I never started posting to get paid. But I do think the trend of paid partnerships between Instagram accounts and brands somewhat parallels the food truck craze that happened in Los Angeles a few years back.

I had a food truck when few people did. I started LA’s first Filipino food truck, and I think doing it at the time was a little early. Food trucks eventually became a craze, and more people entered the scene, and everyone was making money, before ultimately it hit a peak and started shifting.

Everyone was excited about influencers because brands were making money, but now people have to be selective. The top influencers will survive and sustain but everyone else is in jeopardy of falling by the wayside. And the same thing happened with food trucks: only the top ones are still around.

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How would you define “authenticity”? What draws you to other accounts?

I think when you have a real vision, a real reason why you post, it’s easy to post about everything. You could be a high fashion-wearing, food-loving travel blogger, but there’s no substance to what you’re saying. I think you need to have a real passion for what you’re sharing. [The authentic influencer] knows who they are, has a clear identity and brand mission, and that translates through all of their branding and all of their visuals. And if you saw them on the explore page, you would know exactly who that is. An authentic voice is a focused vision.

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We know this might be a hard choice, but what is your absolute favorite place to grab dessert in L.A. and NYC?

In L.A., I would say Cake Monkey: the mini layer cakes are the best, and the Thanksgiving pies.
When I go to New York I always go straight for donuts. I go to Dough in Flatiron or Bed Stuy, and I have to go to Soft Swerve on the Lower East Side, too.

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One last question — how do you eat so much dessert every day? Do you have a crazy workout schedule? Do you take one bite?

Yeah, that’s really hard, because it’s really a balancing game! I eat one dessert a day, and I workout like crazy. I love Bar Method. I work out just to eat.


Nastassia absolutely loves donuts — and if you also live in the Los Angeles area, you can get these adorable confections from California Donuts shipped directly to your door.