Richard Chao Knows a Bit About Hangry Feelings

How the Hangry Blogger's love for food and family helped him fill his TikTok table to 2M followers.


By Steve Root


Richard Chao aka the Hangry Blogger, has what would appear to most people to be the ultimate gig: Getting paid to eat. But achieving that dream job was something of a nightmare.


“I started this whole thing because I had a baby in 2018,” says Chao, “but my wife had a very, very rough delivery. She almost didn’t make it, and she was hospitalized for 45 days.” To care for his newborn son and ailing wife around the clock, Chao had to abandon his sales-manager job with a mortgage lender. “I burned through my family leave and nine years’ worth of paid time off … I went months wondering what I was going to do.”


One day, a friend urged Chao to take a short mental-health break by joining him at a restaurant media event in Los Angeles. “I saw all these people spending hours taking pictures of their food with phones and thought, what kind of hobby is this?” Chao recalls. “My friend said, ‘it’s their jobs, and some of these people make a lot of money doing it.’ That’s when the lightbulb moment happened. I thought, I have a cell phone, I could do that.”



Of course, thinking it and doing it are two different things—Chao needed some schooling and fast. He landed a sales job with a company specializing in social media for restaurants and businesses, “but I was sneaking out of the office with the media team on shoots as often as I could,” he says, which is where he learned the basics of photography and editing, all the while building his own following as a food blogger. In January 2020 Chao decided to start his own company. Unfortunately, he was unknowingly on a collision course with the start of the pandemic.


 

The Hangry Blogger's Food for Thought


 

“Here I was,” says Chao, “having quit my mortgage career, quit my media-company job, trying to start a company, responsible for a family… and the entire world shuts down.” After a few months of, well, nothingness, Chao called his partners and said, “‘We can’t just sit here. We have to go out and do this. We’ll be very safe, we’ll wear gloves and double masks, but we have to help these restaurants.’ We were literally risking our lives. And it was the best decision of my life.” Of the businesses that survived, they began to thrive with social-media management. Today, Chao says his 40+ client company is a million-dollar business, and along with those relationships and goodwill, he concurrently has grown his personal brand as the Hangry Blogger.


That latter part got a boost by some lucky timing. “When I started on Instagram, video was beginning to take off, so I focused entirely on that. People thought I was crazy. But I gained 100K followers my first year.” TikTok was a little tougher, he says. “I was frustrated at first, because I wasn’t getting followers.

 

When the Big Brands come knocking …

“When you deal with a brand, be straightforward. The first thing they’ll do is send you a deck outlining the objective of the campaign, what are the products that they’re looking to capture, what is expected from the creator. Look at those things, and if they don’t align with you, let them know that right away.

I’d rather be authentic than feel like I’m a sell-out and not be able to perform well. At the end of the day, it’s about more than just getting that money. You might lose followers because of a fake review, so you want to be authentic. I already have established a certain style for my posts, so I’m not going to steer away from that just to make a brand happy. I turn down a lot of campaigns for that reason.”
 

But in April 2021, I had my first viral post.” It was a shoot that features a trending song and begins with a gooey slice of deep-dish pizza. Just as Chao is taking a bite, it transitions to a rapid-fire edit of some 60, 4-second-long shots of other foods. “It gained 250K followers in a month,” says Chao. “I’m now up to almost 2 million.”


His posts feature a mix of national-brand campaigns, mom-and-pop restaurants, places he simply likes to eat and, of course, clients of his media company. “As an influencer in the food space, it’s hard to survive just on TikTok, Facebook and Instagram traffic. It’s not very consistent. But managing someone’s social media is like charging a subscription, and that type of income is a lot more consistent.”



Of critical importance to Chao is knowing his audience and giving them what they want. His followers are in the prime 18-to-35 target. They lean toward casual and fast-casual fare (a typical Chao video is deep-fried, spice-spiked and redolent of melted cheese), and they are big fans of ethnic eats (his Southern California stomping grounds provide for endless bowls of steaming pho, close-up-ready Korean BBQ and, of course, tacos of every imaginable style).



If the pandemic stays in the rearview mirror, Chao (whose wife and son are doing just fine now) says he plans to expand geographically to the Southwest with a BBQ-themed road trip, he’ll take Manhattan by pigging out on pies (that’s “pizza,” for you non-New York natives), and eventually he wants to eat his way across Asia and Europe.


And is there life beyond the blog? “I’d love to have my own TV show,” he says. May we suggest Chow Down with Chao? We’ll be checking the mail for our royalty payment.


 

Hangry Blogger Fun Facts


 


Richard Chao, aka The Hangry Blogger, is a digital creator with one of the fastest growing accounts on social media. He believes his value comes from hard work and that he’s open minded, and alway ready to adapt to the scene.


Follow The Hangry Blogger:

TikTok

Instagram

YouTube


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