Cara Greenstein became a blogger almost by accident — after a class assignment required her to begin blogging about any topic, Cara took her passion for food and her talent for writing and turned them both into a major success. Her blog-turned-business, Caramelized, was named one of Austin’s Top Five food blogs only a year after she created it, and it’s now bigger than ever. As a blogger, business owner, AND PR and social media manager of an awesome Memphis agency, Cara doesn’t have much free time. Thankfully, though, she took the time to tell us more about her amazing upcoming projects, her beautiful and hilarious proposal story, and the advice she has for anyone hoping to start a blog.
What was your first job, and how did you land it?
At age 19, I walked into a blind interview at an Austin tech startup and was hired as their PR intern on the spot. Besides the guidance of a brilliant consultant (and now mentor) named Laura Beck, I soon learned I had no supervisors other than the two founders. So, I jumped right in and gave it my all. The timing was perfect; I essentially planned the startup’s launch party and SXSW reveal. We laughed upon realizing I was too young to place alcohol orders.
Your blog, Caramelized, was born from a unique beginning — a college class assignment. Tell us the story of its creation!
It’s true; Caramelized was born through a PR writing class assignment. We were instructed to write a series of four blog posts on any topic in the world through a private link, which was submitted to our professor for a grade. I was living in Austin at the time, where the food scene constantly fueled my creativity and social calendar. A food-related series felt right. And once I put pen to paper, I couldn’t stop.
You decided to continue Caramelized beyond the initial assignment. Why? How long did it take to become successful?
I fell in love with the blogging process, from establishing and refining its overarching voice to photo editing and social media sharing. After six months of adding content, I shared the Caramelized link with family during Thanksgiving. One morning during senior year of college in 2014, about one year after receiving my blog project grade, my Twitter notifications started buzzing — I had been named Top Five Food Blogs by the Austin Chronicle. At that point, I had no clue that Caramelized blog clicks were anything beyond my family-and-friend support bubble. I vowed to devote clear intention toward every future piece of Caramelized content. Three years later, it is still paying off!
Reach out to those who inspire you, and seek mentorship. If you’re ignored, keep trying. You’ll grow your ability to sell yourself and communicate your value.
While your blog is a major part of your life, it’s not your full-time job. Tell us about your PR job. What do you like about it? Do you plan to continue working in PR in addition to your blog?
I oversee public relations and social media strategy of my firm DCA’s client roster. Therefore, I craft narratives for a living, and I absolutely love it. From butcher shops and bars to pedestrian bridges and bike share, our clients challenge us daily to craft and foster a voice for appropriate avenues.
In our boutique-style ad agency, I am surrounded by extremely smart and driven colleagues. Our agency principal advises every piece of work we deliver. It’s a one-of-a-kind environment to which I hope to continue contributing.
How do you manage your time? You have a full-time job, a successful side career, AND you just finished planning your wedding. How do you do it all?
I’m a morning person, and I treat Caramelized as my morning fuel. My now-husband Alex leaves for work by 6 am, so I also pop up to make coffee and dive deep into email conversations and to-do lists. When I arrive at the office (just down the street from my home), I feel refreshed and ready to switch gears. My lunch break is also the perfect opportunity to grab a bite with a blog contact or run by the craft store for Caramelized Supper Club samples.
Since I am lucky to live in the same city as my parents, and my mother is a full-time event planner, the wedding planning process was such a surreal and creatively invigorating experience. I wasn’t the perfect client, but thankfully my mother managed all wedding logistics on my behalf.
My greatest failure was and still is my tendency to over-commit. It’s so easy to get distracted when always saying ‘yes!’ and stepping up instead of stepping back and truly focusing on my core business model.
Speaking of planning your wedding, you ALSO planned your engagement — without even realizing it! Tell us the story of how your fiancé pulled off that adorable surprise.
My recipe partnership with Whole Foods led to a Memorial Day picnic assignment. I was asked to style a picnic shoot while my photographer friend managed behind-the-scenes video and photos. Little did I know that a) Alex and my mother were blind copied in all email correspondence with Whole Foods’ marketing manager, and b) The lens would turn its focus from hamburgers and apple pie to a stunning ring and family celebration. Here’s the proposal video!
Caramelized recently launched a super exciting new facet of its business: The Caramelized Supper Club. Tell us about it!
A bimonthly “dinner party in a box” subscription service, the Caramelized Supper Club ships seasonal tabletop décor, a nonperishable pantry item, grocery lists, recipes, and DIYs to your doorstep! The Caramelized Supper Club empowers the intimidated and inspired chef and entertainer to host in style.
What was the step-by-step process, from ideation to implementation, to developing this new product?
The Caramelized Supper Club was ideated based on the notion that blog inspiration should be tangible. We’re constantly consuming inspiring photography and clever ideas through Instagram feeds and sites, but I sought to make those tools even more approachable for my audience!
After months of research, five drafts of a business plan, and an initial branding/prototype process (which led to me becoming a client at my firm!), I launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the $45,000 capital required to create a sustainable subscription business. The 45-day campaign successfully accumulated the funds; and after thanking my supporters and initial subscribers, I pressed “go.” An LLC was formed, boxes went into production with third-party fulfillment, and designs were splashed across social media and web channels.
Why did you want to capitalize on the concept of a subscription box?
The subscription commerce market has experienced rapid growth over the last few years. A recent study states that these online retailers have grown nearly 3,000% in the past three years. Convenience and the element of surprise are the two biggest attractions, according to the study, as consumers find themselves daunted by the process between concept and completion.
For the Caramelized Supper Club specifically, no other blogger has launched a dinner party subscription service in line with the blog’s voice and vision. It has been truly humbling to see my concepts come to life on dining room tables from Brooklyn to LA.
The subscription commerce market has experienced rapid growth over the last few years. A recent study states that these online retailers have grown nearly 3,000% in the past three years.
Why is Memphis a good place to start a career? Why is Memphis a good place to live overall?
Memphis is approachable and authentic; plus, its citizens are smart and true and resourceful. For a young professional in Memphis specifically, you have the unique chance to be on the ground floor of the city’s developments and directly feel its growth and success across sectors. Plus, the cost of living is unbeatable; I purchased a downtown home right off the Mississippi River at age 23 and am very capable of balancing those “treat-yourself” blog meals with everyday expenses.
What’s your best advice for someone looking to start a blog? What’s your best advice for someone looking to start any business?
Find your voice, and stick with it. Don’t let others’ voices make you question yours, especially in this cluttered and confusing social media world. Followers and consumers — whether of a blog or a product — are drawn to your content because of how you shape it. Shape it with intention.
What was your greatest failure as a business owner? More importantly, what was your greatest success?
My greatest failure was and still is my tendency to over-commit. It’s so easy to get distracted when always saying “yes!” and stepping up instead of stepping back and truly focusing on my core business model. My failure still presents itself as the biggest roadblock to growth.
My greatest Caramelized success to-date was the evening I successfully raised my Kickstarter capital for the Caramelized Supper Club. That milestone marked an incredibly gratifying (and anxiety-relieving) moment. Alex and I celebrated with champagne and Vietnamese take-out. We’re still celebrating.
What advice would you give to your 18 year old self?
Jump in. Don’t hold back based on set expectations or “required credentials” — reach out to those who inspire you, and seek mentorship. If you’re ignored, keep trying. You’ll grow your ability to sell yourself and communicate your value so that, when the so-called “real world” arrives, it carries you forward versus slapping you in the face!
Cara Greenstein is The Everygirl…
Coffee or Tea?
Coffee, with a spoonful of sugar.
Next TV show you can’t wait to watch?
There’s no time for TV in my current reality! But I do love an occasional episode of Fixer Upper or Barefoot Contessa at home.
Most embarrassing moment?
I was a total drama queen about my fake-Whole Foods engagement shoot; I tried to cancel it twice due to weather and time commitments, turned down manicure invitations because I had “better things to do,” and complained countless times about the quality of the food to my office. It turned out to be the most exciting day of my life… and I was a total Negative Nancy until the question was popped! Oops!
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Molly Yeh of My Name is Yeh. As a follower of her recipes and overarching blog business, I find her voice to be both distinct and addictive. We’d totally hit it off on the Jewish cooking too.