By Catherine Neville, Founder of Feast Magazine, Issuu Publisher of the Month, August 2017
In March of 2010, I was approached by Lee Enterprises to launch a new culinary magazine. I had just sold my interest in the publication I had founded in 1999, Sauce Magazine, to my former business partner, and the team at Lee knew that I was searching for new opportunities. I had spent a decade building Sauce, a city-focused culinary magazine, and I wanted to reach further in my next career move. With that in mind, I told the team at Lee that I was definitely interested in launching a new food magazine, but only if I could expand it to be a regional player. I wasn’t interested in creating what would essentially be a repeat of the first magazine I’d built, and it turned out, neither were they. I accepted their offer and about a month after having sold Sauce, I was building the platform for my next niche culinary magazine, Feast.
I was given quite a bit of latitude when creating Feast and built it from the ground up — the name, content plan and budget came first. Staffing and creation of the magazine’s look and feel came next, with the digital platform following close behind. Sauce had launched as a website in 1999 with a print magazine following in 2001. It grew slowly and organically over the ensuing decade. Feast, on the other hand, had to launch as a fully-formed platform and be profitable from day one. I worked with my newly-hired staff to position Feast as a media platform, not simply a magazine, with video, cooking classes, digital-only content and active social media engagement in place from the first issue, which hit the streets in August of 2010.
Our first cover was a sexy double cheeseburger from White Barn Burgers — a brown-bag drive-thru in north St. Louis County that’s been serving perfectly greasy burgers and crisp fries for about 30 years.
That image was meant to make a statement about the type of magazine Feast would be. I wanted to set the expectation that we would bring our audience authentic, relatable, meaningful content, whether the stories took us to a drive-thru window, a grassy farmer’s field or the stainless steel confines of a high-end restaurant kitchen. Food reflects and also helps to define the identity of a city, and it was important to me that Feast be a magazine about our culture through the lens of food and drink.
When I launched Feast, I had big plans. The magazine was to begin as a city-specific publication in St. Louis and then expand to a regional footprint when the time was right. In October 2014, we did just that, broadening our coverage and distribution to Kansas City, Columbia and Jefferson City, Missouri. Springfield, Missouri distribution followed in 2016. This growth led to a total relaunch of our website and a fresh approach to social media as well as print content. We went from serving one municipality to covering an entire state, which meant we had to grow our audience in these new areas and connect with readers unfamiliar with the magazine. To establish trust with our new audiences and ensure we were on top of what’s happening in food and drink, we sought out food experts to be contributing editors, writers and photographers in each area.
When we expanded, some readers weren’t pleased because we were no longer focused solely on St. Louis, but I felt what was missing was a larger voice about the culinary industry in our region. I wanted to push Feast toward a regional format to expand the conversation about food with our readers and within the food and drink industry. The risk paid off. Our circulation was 80,000 when we launched. Today, we have a monthly print circulation of 140,000, a social media audience of well over 100,000 followers, a regional television show and almost two million unique users on our site. The bottom line has been impacted as well and we are seeing double digit year-over-year revenue growth.
Over the past seven years, the magazine has evolved quite a bit, as you would imagine. The design has been refined, the quality of our content has improved, we’ve expanded our event portfolio and have launched a half-hour television program. The Feast team is a group of very passionate and highly-skilled editors and designers. Each year we hold a day-long retreat away from the office. We bring in stacks of past issues and copies of magazines we admire. We spend the day talking about what we love about the magazine, what we hate, what we’d like to change and what we have to keep — nothing is sacred.
As the publication has grown and the larger media landscape has changed, we found that some roles needed to change. For example, we moved an editor from the editorial team to the sales team to support custom content development, but our commitment to insightful regional content focused on the food and drink industry has not wavered. As we celebrate our seventh anniversary this month and look toward our eighth year in print, Feast continues to grow and evolve right along with our hungry audience.
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