What's fun, what's hot and what's crazy in Newcastle

MONEY SHOT: Alex Morris at MoneyPenny with her model companion, a Raspberry Southside. Picture: Marina Neil
MONEY SHOT: Alex Morris at MoneyPenny with her model companion, a Raspberry Southside. Picture: Marina Neil

Instagram is a social media platform that makes the world about beauty and aesthetic. From pregnant mums-to-be to old cars, here you can explore anything your heart desires, often while barely reading a single word. Like Facebook, Instagram operates on an algorithm, meaning that the way you interact on the platform helps determine what you see.

I’ve worked as a social media manager for more than five years but, more importantly, I’m addicted to it. Therefore, it was quite easy to spend time analysing the accounts of restaurants, bars and cafes in Newcastle to determine my favourites.

My judging criteria is hardly scientific, but very enjoyable. I’m not judging the actual venue’s rating or quality of food and drink. I’m simply interested in the creative media they are sharing. I’m looking for authenticity, humour, interesting images and tantilising tasty things. In the past few months I’ve tried to follow every restaurant in town and also follow foodie accounts that highlight those, for example: @cravenewcastle @newycoffee, @burgsandbeers, @newcastleveganguideau @darbystreetnewcastle2300, @foodieofnewcastle, @cafesinnewcastle and @pubgrubhub.

I picked accounts that seemed relatively active, as in posting in the past two weeks. Also, I paid no attention to how many followers an account had, because followers can be bought and popularity is no indication of quality (consider that @KimKardashian has more followers than @NatGeo). It should be noted also that I’m a vegetarian, so if you’re looking for super meaty accounts check out @Meetxmeat and @EatRascal for some true Insta-ham.

Also, many businesses employ third parties to run their accounts, and I’ll often see sponsored posts in my feed. We live in a world that constantly sells to us, but no one wants to feel like they are being manipulated. Regardless of the business’s intention, I’m more drawn to accounts that seem funny, natural and unplanned, rather than  manicured.  

Here are some of my favourite accounts:

Best in show

@estabar_

Bec Bowie, owner of Estabar, started their Instagram when “social media became a thing and you had to do it”. Her account is the perfect blend of beautiful images and storytelling; from detailing their home-grown lemons to fun pictures of their backyard parsley, it feels natural, organic and in the present. Each season she does a photo shoot and plans her stories. She uses a different local photographer for each shoot, many of whom she met as customers at Estabar.

“I think it does lead to business, but it’s more about showing our values,” Bowie says of her Instagram. “It helps me to really find my crowd. It’s more storytelling than it is sale producing. What I would hope is that people would watch our Instagram account and they would say ‘I really align with that; I feel the same way’, and then we get customers for life”.

She comments and writes back to everyone, and she says they have a few really loyal fans who comment regularly.

@barcitonewcastle

Teighan Laino is one of the owners at Barcito. She created the account in May 2016 when they were getting ready to open. True story, I haven’t been to Barcito yet, but looking at their Instagram makes me want to go ASAP. It is the perfect blend of food and socialising. Their Latino nights look so fun, and I love that they include videos of musicians performing and customers dancing. They try to post something each day and engage with businesses such as Crave Newcastle and Hunter Hunter.

“We recognise the importance of social media for people to remain aware of our business, and to stay relevant in a society that is influenced so much by what is happening online,” Laino says. “I think the account is mostly about awareness and over time that certainly leads to more business.”

Honorable mention:  @thepressbookhouse, @the_hubro, @haywireondarby, @WelshBlacks 

Cuteness

@doughheadsnewy

Anna Farthing is Doughheads founder and creative director, so she is behind the cutest doughnut displays I’ve ever seen. And, coming from the US, I’ve seen a lot of doughnuts. I want to try them all. Their operations manager, Chris West, said they started the Instagram account in May 2013, a month before their launch. Now they have people tagging them every day in their photos, they try to read every comment and respond to everyone, West said.

“We try to be very active in responding to people, to treat them as though they were a face-to-face customer who just walked through the doors of our café,” he says. “We have content strategy planning sessions every month and try to come up with ways to get the important news and events out to our followers. We also use several professional photographers . . .  It really is a full-time job to ‘do’ social media well.”

Honorable Mention: @charscafe

Over-the-top

@table1espresso

George James is the owner of Table 1 Espresso. He said their Instagram allows them to be naughty in a classy kind of way. And their dessert photos in particular are definitely pictures that my mother would say No Way José to. And that’s probably why I LOVE them. Waffles covered in ice cream topped with overflowing cone cascading with syrup and lollies and so many other naughty items. I can’t believe they serve people these sweet creations all day long! James said that since they started on social media four years ago, they have looked at the analytics and science of social media, while also striving to give people “orgasmic reactions.”

“It’s the burgers, the waffles and pancakes that get people’s attention. We know when to post. Everybody likes to get a sweet kick at 8:30 pm so people can dream about the pancakes and waffles so when they wake up they know where they’re going to go. We semi-hypnotise them,” James says. “We place the menu in front of customers; they’ll show us a photo on their phone and they say ‘I want that’. A picture tells 1,000 words.

@thedepots

Maddie Opitz is the marketing manager at The Depot and she’s been running their social media account since March. All their food photography is divine, but what I particularly love are their out-of-this world “freakshakes” that seriously look larger than a small child. Opitz said The Depot operates at two different locations; the one on Beaumont Street is more of a nighttime venue and Darby Street is quite breakfast and lunch orientated. They have a photographer come in once a month to take photos as they frequently rotate their menu.

“I think our account leads to business, particularly with the Freakshakes. We have an ultimate Freakshake; the four person Freakshake. We have an Instagram promotion running all the time; the challenge is if one person can eat the four-person Freakshake they win a $50 voucher. Everybody comes in with the confidence that they can do it and no one has. It’s pretty impressive feat,” Opitz says.

Too Sassy for Classy

@moneypenny

I’ve been a longtime fan of MoneyPenny’s account, which includes cheeky memes, nice pictures from their harbourside venue, and, of course, cocktails. Owner Paul Davies has been running their Instagram account for over four year, and he doesn’t do it to generate business, it’s more a nice way to interact with his customer base. He keeps his captions short but puts a lot of work into them. He likes to include puns. (Another reason I love it.)

“My aim for the account has always been to try and avoid advertising. I try and never mention prices in my posts and don’t often promote specials like ‘Happy Hour’ and our Wednesday/Thursday deals. I want people to be drawn to MoneyPenny because of the vibe, ambience and personality we offer, not the price point,” he says. “I only post once or twice a week at best which is probably a huge social media faux pax.”

@the_koutetsu

Chris Fleming is the creative director and one of the owners at The Koutetsu Bar. I love but don’t understand any of the visuals they share, but I definitely feel I’ve entered an alternative universe, which is probably what happens if you spend enough time drinking their cocktails. He describes his images as a combination of different plagerised content from other sources that has a retro synth-y kind of style. He’s not too worried about his method of sourcing images, but he said if anyone ever complained he’d take an image down. His fans on Instagram aren’t necessarily the customers in the bar.

“Instead of pushing crap to people, it gives us a personality you can relate to,” Chris says of his account. “We obviously didn’t want to advertise that page or hold some sort of advertising platform. It was never meant to be anything related to what we sell as a product, more like a personality behind the bar.”

Grungy and Great

@thefamilyhotelnewcastle

I’m not a huge burger fan, but the pics of pups and their owners at The Family Hotel have me clinching my teeth with cuteness. I appreciate how they don’t take themselves too seriously. Zack Hearn is their marketing manager, and their Instagram was originally created by the owner when they opened over a year ago. Since then Hearn has been the curator. He plans out the week’s content seven days in advance. He said they’re an old school pub for fun times and this translates with their online message.

“I certainly notice a correlation between the content or subject-matter of our posts and the chat coming from customers walking through the door. A great example of this is our weekly specials, we post about our burger or schnitzel of the week and it garners huge amounts of awareness and engagement,” Hearn says. “The account is also a way of getting our values as a business across to patrons. For example, we champion the fact we’re one of very few pubs in this area that are completely pokies and TAB free, we’re a dog-friendly venue where they’re free to eat and drink with their owners whenever they feel like it.”

@mw_kebabs_charcoalchicken

Evan Sarikizoglou is the main family member who runs Mayfield West Kebabs and Charcoal Chicken. He set up the account with his brother two years ago, although his family has been running the restaurant for over 40 years. He says often what he posts just comes to him, and he doesn’t like posting things to annoy people and remind them what he sells. He loves to incorporate his father “Cranky George” into the account. Sarikizoglou calls him the shop’s mascot. He says after he posts something his customers will come in and have a bit of a laugh.  

“We do what we do and nothing is really changing, so you can’t post a muffin of the week like a cafe can; I have to be creative with what I post,” he says. “My father has been working here a long time and has nothing to do with phones or the internet, he looks at me and he’s a bit bamboozled.”  

Plenty of other accounts are worth mentioning too, like those that seem quintessential sunny Newcastle, e.g. @merewethersurfhouse and @thelandingbarandkitchen. Ultimately this is just one silly gal’s questionable judgements; so I suggest next time you feel hungry, get on Instagram and have a go. After all, there’s no accounting for taste.