Spoon University co-founders Sarah Adler and Mackenzie Barth. Photos courtesy of Mackenzie Barth
The buzziest food site among college students had the simplest, snackiest of origins: Two Northwestern University seniors with a penchant for potlucks and “guac-offs” (guacamole contests) created the sort of food magazine they wanted to be reading.
Meet Spoon University, the newest media partner in the Yahoo Food family. Its modest print launch in fall 2012 quickly spawned a website that today counts 2,400 contributors and 51 member college sites under its umbrella, from the queso-loving kids at University of Texas to Sam Adams-swilling Boston University students. The site’s mission, as co-founder Mackenzie Barth told Yahoo Food, was pretty simple: “We wanted to bring people together around food.”
From über-clickable articles such as “We Broke Down the Unidentifiable Food Emojis So You Can Send Funnier Texts” to city-specific articles such as “Must-Try Restaurants Along BU’s Green Line,” Spoon has hit a nerve. (And who wouldn’t click on a cooking story with the headline “Dorm Room Brownie Truffles”?)
Here, Barth tells us a bit more about the hot-to-trot site.
Yahoo Food: How did this begin?
Mackenzie Barth: My partner [Sarah Adler] and I started this as just a print mag at Northwestern in fall 2012. It was a passion project. We wanted to bring people together around food. We did these guacamole-making competitions—guac-offs. And we were always throwing potlucks. We thought it was strange that there was no publication around that. Senior year we launched the print magazine. Then we launched a dinky website in fall 2013, with five [college] sites. I was a communications studies major; Sarah was a journalism and religious studies major—and now she’s our coder!
The Spoon U cofounders.
YF: What was the first big hit story?
MB: It was “12 Ways to Eat Cookie Butter.” It was right when cookie butter was becoming a thing. The photos were amazing.
YF: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the college-age foodie?
MB: Being intimidated by the idea of eating well and cooking well and taking control of food. So many publications make it seem like this really distant process. People just like you are making and eating really cool things: It’s an approachable thing that you can get involved with, too. We want to break down that barrier so people can explore more.
YF: How do the recipes that you run tackle that challenge?
MB: All of our recipes are on the site, that’s the whole point. They’re students with very little time or money or appliances or terrible kitchens making things that are tasty and cheap. We want to empower an entire generation to make awesome things with what they have.
YF: What sort of feedback do you get?
MB: “It feels really authentic,” or “it feels like your friend down the hall is writing this article for you.” All the content is written by college kids or people who [are one year out from] graduation. The tone is refreshing and honest, and less formal than fancier publications.
YF: How are you funding it?
MB: We bootstrapped the whole thing up until about two months ago, then raised money from family and friends, and now we’re in Techstar’s program. We got [a bit of] seed money.
YF: Have you had any unexpected hits?
MB: One that was actually huge that was promoted by some celebrity in the U.K. and took off from there—I think we got 2 million pageviews in a day—it was controversial, about how that song “All About That Bass” is not so good for body image. One of our writers who’s tiny said that skinny shaming is just as bad as fat shaming. It was very controversial…but it was really important to have on the site.
Curious to read more? Grab a spoon:
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve cooked in a dorm room?