Nicole Steffen learned to appreciate food by spending every night of the week eating the amazing meals her mother cooked for her family. As the face behind @EatLocalOhio, Steffen has turned her love of what happens into the kitchen into an influential Instagram account that’s gained more than 31,000 followers since 2017. A partnership with Hillcrest Food Service to help bring awareness to local independent restaurants, Steffen visits at about nine to 12 Ohio restaurants a week and now during COVID-19, she’s doing her best to support the local restaurant scene even more. We sat down with Steffen to talk about how we can help restaurants right now, her favorite spots and more.
Q. How has COVID-19 changed the Eat Local Ohio mission?
A. My initial response was we want to be a way that people in the community can find out how they can still go support those local independents. So whether it was carry-out or takeout or curbside, I was stalking Instagram and seeing how the restaurants were updating and then updating my community. As soon as the restaurants were able to reopen and have people dine in, we started off with doing one appointment a day. We wanted to be able to help as much as we could in a safe way. We’re now back into the full swing of things. We were able to help restaurants — that’s what we’re here for is to utilize our platform to get locals to come dine local or come get local takeout.
Q. How can the Cleveland community support local during this time?
A. Wear your mask. If you feel comfortable dining out, the best thing that you can do is to go support the local independents rather than going to the restaurant chains. There are a lot of local independent restaurants that are depending upon us to help push them through this time. If you are the type of person that is going grocery shopping, check your grocer for local products. If you don’t feel comfortable going in, a lot of restaurants are doing curbside, carry-out and takeout. The more of an impact you can have on our community now and unite together, the better [we] will come out.
Q. What are your favorite local independents and dishes?
A. Thai Thai was one of the first restaurants that I did a collaboration with. Kiwi [Siriphan Wongpeng] is one of my favorite people. She’s very inspirational for me, her family and their story and how they’ve cultivated such an amazing community in Lakewood. My first job was at Aladdin’s Eatery, so that always holds a special place in my heart, plus, who doesn’t love their hot sauce? [For] my sandwich craving I’m definitely going get Herb ’N Twine’s turkey club. Zhug has totally changed my perspective on small plates and fine dining. I love Luca and getting the sacchetti when I want Italian. Salt in Lakewood, Jill [Vedaa] and Jessica [Parkison], I am so proud and excited to see how they evolve.
Q. Do you have any advice for other Ohio influencers?
A. I just remained consistent. I’d go to nine to 12 restaurants and get the content that I thought would be great to start the platform and consistently from there, I’ve posted almost every day for the last three years. Relationships are everything. The more that you can increase your relationships aside from through a screen, meet people that have similar interests as you, then you can do collaborations. Collaborations, community and consistency are probably the key things that helped get me to where I am.