As you scroll through the “Search & Explore” section on Instagram, you come across a picture of buttery mac and cheese slowly forked out of a bowl, with strings of gooey cheese filling the picture’s frame. Your mouth waters, and you quickly click on the page to indulge in other scrumptious dishes. Lo and behold, you’ve discovered @new_fork_city, an account started by recent alumna Emily Morse (18C) to showcase New York City cuisine. To date, the account has garnered over 976,000 followers.
Growing up in New York City, Morse and her two high school friends Natalie Landsberg and Gillian Presto started the account in their senior year of high school in 2013. Ever since, the three have shared the responsibilities of running the Instagram page. Morse and her friends regularly took pictures of their delectable dinners around New York City and wanted to create a platform to share their photos with close friends and family.
“The whole concept of posting food photos on Instagram was not nearly as big as it is now,” Morse recalled. “We had the organic idea of ‘Why don’t we create an Instagram account where we can post all of the food we have been eating around the city?’”
Within six months of creating the account, Morse, Landsberg and Presto started to see the follower count rise. She said she noticed that followers were drawn to photos of calorie-dense meals. The pictures that receive the most likes usually featured an abundance of gooey cheese or an indulgent dessert like the doughy cinnamon roll cookies oozing with frosting from the bakery Chip New York City which accumulated over 16,000 likes.
When the account reached 10,000 followers, Morse’s dad, Doug Morse, suggested that they trademark the name, setting it up as a limited liability company. Around a year after their first post on the page, the trio knew that their account was going to be a hit when they reached over 50K followers.
Morse attributes the account’s success to word of mouth. After numerous followers began tagging their friends and family on the page’s pictures, advertising their content as original, the trio’s brand motto became “Sharing our Love of Food with the World.”
“We really focus on [the] authenticity of the photos … [and] we didn’t set out to make this something big,” Morse said. “We never expected it to be. It kinda just did organically.”
The rise of their Instagram page came as the partners headed off to different colleges: Emily to Emory, Gillian to Lafayette College and Natalie to Syracuse University. The three women used their age to their advantage. Morse recounted how many large corporations and brands were intrigued by their sprightly, fresh approach to social media and began reaching out to strike up deals. Some of the larger partners featured on their account include Delta, Postmates, Visa and Oreo. New Fork City had also collaborated with New York City restaurants Dō and Gnoccheria to make their own limited edition signature dishes to be served at the restaurants.
Beyond partnerships, New Fork City has also bolstered engagement through celebrity backing. Morse said that some of the most exciting moments have been when celebrities have followed or mentioned their account. Morse noted that the three were ecstatic when Harry Styles followed the account in 2013. Since then, the trio has had a promotional dinner with “Pretty Little Liars” star Ashley Benson, a regular reposter of their content. Recently, model Hailey Bieber reposted one of their pictures of the popular Van Leeuwen’s rich and creamy ice cream.
Before going to college, the three took pictures using iPhones. In college, they began posting photos from other users who tagged their dish to their trending hashtag “#newforkcity,” giving credit to the photographer and restaurant featured in the post. Unless one of the women goes on vacation, they exclusively post pictures from restaurants in New York City and look for photos that make it look as though you’re at the restaurant eating the food.
Morse recalled that it was difficult to run the account away from Landsberg and Presto in addition to being so young. However, she noted that this experience and her time at Emory, majoring in psychology and as a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority, taught her a lot about what it means to be a business owner.
She specifically referenced the Introduction to Media Studies class she took during her freshman year that introduced her to the “all-encompassing idea of media in our day and age.” Interested in communications, business and social media marketing since a young age, Morse said she learned skills that have helped her run the page now, such as reading media trends and identifying overall effects on society.
Since graduation, Morse, Landsberg and Presto have learned to effectively balance two jobs simultaneously. For a year after school, Morse and Presto worked on the account full time, handling the partnerships and business elements of the operation, while Landsberg was employed full-time elsewhere and took care of posting pictures. Presto is now the only one who works for the account full-time.
Morse has since taken a job at the Child Mind Institute in New York City as a staff associate supporting five clinical psychologists in the disorder center. Presto noted that although very different from her work on Instagram, Morse’s work as a psychologist has helped her become a better business leader.
“Something that [Morse has] taken out from her [psychology] major is that she’s always able to identify the pattern — as in what performs well and what doesn’t,” Presto said. “What she learned from psychology is a big help — how to put out great content and not sacrifice quality over quantity.”
Morse is currently applying to graduate schools to become a clinical psychologist as well as trying to expand New Fork City.
The trio is currently working on creating a map of restaurants around New York City accompanied with descriptions and reviews to make eating out in the area more accessible. Overall, Morse hopes to continue to grow the account and provide followers reliable content related to eating in New York City.
When thinking about what lies ahead for the account, Morse and her friends tend to look to the immense amount of progress they have made in terms of follower count and broad range of partnerships since they started the account in 2013. In the future, they hope to diversify their partnerships and featured restaurants to include the outer boroughs and other cities in the United States.
Morse’s dad noted that the reason for the page’s success is their authenticity and ability to make it big on their own.
“For having started it in their senior year of high school and developed it without any missteps, [Morse, Landsberg and Presto] really have built a great brand all on their own,” he said. “From the beginning, they knew exactly what they wanted it to turn into and develop this brand, and I think that is the reason that all these Fortune 500 companies want to connect [with New Fork City].”