This dentist has a side hustle on Instagram
Monday through Friday, Amber is a dentist in Utah County. But on evenings and weekends, she’s a foodie, highlighting local businesses across the state on TikTok and Instagram as the Mile High Food Fairy.
Amber’s foodie content started back in New York City where she used her personal Instagram as a food diary.
“I went to all these dessert places and ice cream shops,” she says. “And I wanted to remember what they looked like and where they were.”
She also posted reviews on Yelp––often enough that she was given Yelp Elite status. All her food posting stayed casual until she moved to Denver in 2018.
“I had been so consistent with my posting and reviews,” she says, “that my friends thought I should make an Instagram account just for food pictures. It sounded crazy to me at first, but I was like, ‘why not?’”
While in New York, Amber started following other food accounts. She used these profiles for inspiration on how to structure Mile High Food Fairy.
“The angles of photos, the layouts of the profiles,” she says. “I took all of that into account when creating mine.”
She hit 1,000 followers in the first few months—aided by entering her followers into giveaways for local businesses.
“It was mostly people who lived in the area,” she says. “Which was what I wanted, to be able to show people in my community where I was going out for food, to recommend places.”
Amber previously lived in Utah for eight years, and by the time she decided to move back in the summer of 2021, her Instagram had hit just over 10,000 followers. Until then, most of her photos and videos were taken on her phone, but then she upgraded to a Canon Mark 260.
Still, Amber had no professional training or experience in photography or editing––she learned how to edit from watching instructional YouTube videos and does most of the work in Lightroom.
“I don’t want to post about chains and franchises often. I stand out because I post things that are unique to my area. Smaller businesses will sometimes just comp my food, and I’m grateful for that, too.”
“I just did what I thought was pleasing to the eye,” she says.
The tide started to turn just this past year, along with Instagram’s algorithm.
“In the beginning, posting on Instagram was pretty much focused on prettiness,” she says. “You wanted a good angle and pretty food––that’s what made for a solid singular, static post. But now, the platform has changed significantly to look more and more like TikTok. Audiences aren’t looking for a pretty picture anymore.”
That kind of content was best delivered through Reels.
“My presence on Instagram was slow growing,” she says. “I was around 20-something thousand before I started posting Reels, but once I did, my followers grew exponentially.”
Her growth has doubled to nearly 60,000 on Instagram. Reels drove up engagement on Instagram without extra work on Amber’s end––they’re just recycled or remade TikToks.
“I used to do compilations a long time ago, back when I just started on TikTok,” she says. “But on Instagram, followers asked me for lists––stuff like ‘Places that are open on Sundays in Utah.’”
That audience demand sparked an idea.
“I started remaking some of my old compilations,” she says. “And they got serious momentum.”
Amber says the trick is making something both shareable and useful––”it’s natural marketing,” she says. “If the content is useful, people share it automatically.”
Soon after her Reels boom, Instagram reached out to her with a Play Bonus––the new system the platform’s set up to compensate popular creators.
“The Bonus program is goal oriented,” she says. “If you meet certain objective, the app will give you money,” she says. “Early on, the goals were achievable––like hit a million views, and they’d pay out based on your type of account.”
When Amber got invited, though, the goalposts moved.
“They were offering $8,500 for Reels that hit 84 million views,” she says. “I can hit a million views easily, but at that point they’d give you just over $100, which was…I’ll say not very good.”
Like other content creators, her income directly from TikTok and Instagram is minimal.
“Most of the income from the Mile High Food Fairy accounts come from brand deals,” she says. “When bigger businesses have a budget for this kind of external marketing, then sometimes I’ll get paid for a post or other content.”
She’s had all kinds of partnerships, from Utah mainstays like Gateway and Valley Fair malls to Natalie’s Orange Juice, a Florida-based company that started shipping to Utah in the last year. For Amber, any deal she makes comes down to what she and Utahns will actually love.
In fact, she’s shunned more national and global brand deals.
“I don’t want to post about chains and franchises often,” she says. “I stand out because I post things that are unique to my area. Smaller businesses will sometimes just comp my food, and I’m grateful for that, too.”
And it’s more than just her content: a lot is in her name.
“Denver is the Mile High City, and I added Food Fairy because I’m a dentist,” she says. “I literally could not think of a better name.”
While you might think having a handle specific to another part of the country might hurt her visibility in Utah, Amber says it’s benefited her.
"The food scene has grown so much since I last lived here, and the diversity we’re seeing now should be celebrated. With my content, that’s what I’m doing.”
“I figure there not many people know Denver is called the ‘Mile High City,’” she says. “So, it comes off as more of a general term that makes my account stand out better. A lot of foodies in Utah, they have ‘SLC’ or ‘UT’ in their handles and it can get confusing. My username is unique out of all of it––you’re not going to get me mixed up with someone else.”
With all her success, Amber is an oddity among content creators––she wants to keep her day job.
“I only want to be a content creator as long as it’s fun,” she says. “And I’m pretty sure once it became a full-on job for me, it would stop being fun.”
And while she’s happy to keep growing, she knows she’s functioning in a niche.
“I want to continue to keep it local to Utah,” she says. “Of course, eventually my audience would be capped––there are only so many people in the state that are interested in going to restaurants.”
For now, she says that’s okay. Amber calls herself a “perfectionist,” and while she says that pays off in dentistry, she says the inconsistency of content creation wouldn’t be conducive for her life long-term.
“I would want every piece of content to perform super well,” she says. “And the nature of the internet is that there will always be big fluctuations––some posts you spend forever on, and they don’t resonate, and other things you don’t expect to will blow up. If I was relying on this cycle for my entire income, it’d become more of a worry for me than the hobby it is now.”
That’s one of the reasons Amber keeps her face out of her posts and her last name out of articles: her real life and her social media life are different worlds.
“[On my account], I like to keep the focus on the local businesses and the food,” she says.
That’s the driver for her continued posting, even as a side hustle.
“With everything I’m doing, my aim is to showcase local businesses and what they have to offer,” she says. “The food scene has grown so much since I last lived here, and the diversity we’re seeing now should be celebrated. With my content, that’s what I’m doing.”
Those relationships that have come out of Mile High Food Fairy are what Amber is most thankful for.
“Once you leave college, it can be hard to meet new people,” she says. “This has been a great way for me talk to other people who share my interests and live near me. We go to openings together, tag along at events. I’ve been welcomed into the foodie world, and it’s just been awesome.”