More than 400 people wake up every Tuesday morning to an email from Brooks Reitz — and they pay $5 per month to do so.
From a discussion about the versatility of feta cheese to decaf coffee and tips on what to do when the cupboard is empty, the restaurateur behind Leon’s Oyster Shop, Little Jack’s Tavern and Melfi’s uses his “A Small and Simple Thing” newsletter to provide a glimpse into his life through food and drink, providing subscribers with tips and tricks along the way.
“I’m just drawing inspiration from what meals we’re having at home, restaurants I’m going to, travels I might have — stuff like that,” Reitz said. “It’s really loose.”
Reitz started posting recipe videos on Instagram during the pandemic-prompted lockdown, continuing his “Brooks Cooks” series throughout summer 2020. The video guides for making grilled pizza, crispy spaghetti squash and frozen strawberry margaritas were the impetus behind “A Small and Simple Thing,” Reitz said. The missives are distributed through Substack, a platform that makes it easy for individuals to create and solicit subscriptions for email newsletters.
“I was doing the recipes and stuff online. Ever the capitalist, this content I was giving away, I was wondering if there was any way to monetize it,” said Reitz, who majored in English and drama at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. “I probably added 10,000 followers [on Instagram] over the course of a year, and I saw that people seemed to be interested in my food recipes.”
Chef Evan Gaudreau recently debuted his “Food Person” newsletter (also on Substack). The 2019 James Beard Award semifinalist, who previously led the Renzo and Post House kitchens, plans to “write about whatever I feel like at the moment,” he said.
“I just felt I wanted a different medium to express my point of view and contribute a different voice to food writing,” Gaudreau said. “Not enough cooks out there are writing about food, but we all have very deeply held opinions.”
Gaudreau is just two newsletters in — the first features photos and brief descriptions of the “weird stuff” in his fridge, and the second details four restaurant trends he’d like to see moving forward. Both employ the same tongue-in-cheek voice that will bring this reader back for more.
Readers, who at the moment can subscribe for free, can “expect essays, lots of photos, stupid lists, interviews, recipes and probably more stupid lists,” Gaudreau said. “Who knows, maybe even reviews.”
Reitz says he chose to charge subscribers from the get-go to ensure “A Small and Simple Thing” didn’t fall to the bottom of his lengthy to-do list.
“I knew if I was charging people, I would stay consistent,” he said. “The other side was that I was starting to get my cultural stuff through newsletters, so I guess I was becoming aware that this was a way people were able to identify niche content they were interested in.”
Reitz says he reads eight other newsletters regularly, including “Yolo Intel,” “Why is this interesting?” and “Dinner: A Love Story,” three newsletters that also use the Substack platform, which has added half a million subscribers since launching in 2017. Writers are making money, too — the top 10 authors on Substack collectively make over $15 million per year. In fact, Substack’s prospects were enough to lure longtime Post and Courier food critic Hanna Raskin — her “The Food Section” newsletter launched this month as part of the Substack Local pilot program.
Reitz counts 3,000 total subscribers, 400 of which are paid, meaning “A Small and Simple Thing” pulls in about $24,000 annually.
Gaudreau, who’s now working as a private chef, will keep his newsletter free for the time being but plans to introduce a paid version at some point.
“I want to slowly build an audience, build trust, and feel very untethered to the idea that I must write about this or that if people are paying,” he said. “I’m really just focusing on having fun and writing things that are true and authentic to me.”