Although Naz Riahi doesn’t consider herself a “foodie,” she’s making waves in the food industry.
Together with her business partner, Emily Schildt (also interviewed on our blog), she co-founded Bitten, a food conference that focuses on food in the context of technology, pop culture and the environment.
Up until recently, conversations around food have been reserved for the food elite. Society’s changing, though, and Naz is helping spearhead that change. Naz believes conversations about food should be inclusive, attracting and engaging people from different backgrounds. Read on to learn where Naz thinks the future of food is headed, why she believes in a flexible work schedule, and how she gives back to communities in need
1. Describe a typical day in your life.
One of the things I love most about having my own business is the flexibility to work from anywhere and run around town whenever I need to. It really fulfills my dream of not having a “desk job” even though I technically do. That said, a typical day will involve a ClassPass workout, taking my dog, Hugo, to the park, at least one meeting over food (usually breakfast!), lots of calls (often while I’m walking, seems pointless to sit) and emails.
I work from various locations from favorite cafes, to hotels (and occasionally even our office–though rarely). Everything winds down with happy hour or a dinner (sometimes work, often friends). I know that as we grow, we will have to apply a little more formality and structure to our office culture, but I don’t believe that sitting in front of the computer from 9-5 is a productive use of time for most people.
I’d rather allow my employees flexibility and encourage them to explore and experience.
How did you become interested in food?
Food is great, even though I’ve never considered myself a ‘foodie.’ I approach food from a technology, innovation, pop culture and trends perspective. Which basically means I’m more the person to go to for food trends and less the person for the coolest new restaurant. Overall, I feel that there is so much innovation happening in food that’s not talked about and a lot of food culture is too exclusive. One of the reasons we conceived Bitten is because food affects everyone on the planet, so more people should be knowledgeable and engaged in the conversation.
When and why did your passion for food translate into a career?
After leaving my corporate advertising job, I decided to start a marketing firm and early on, food became a desirable space to work in. Through that, I came to the realization that the future of food wasn’t an exclusive conversation. It was either preachy or there were mostly industry folks at all the events. Bitten positions food as a pillar of pop culture and all of our speakers have done something innovative or disruptive. This makes the whole thing a lot more approachable and fun for an audience member outside of the food space (of course, those working within food are welcome and do participate in our events. We love them just as much!).
Explain food as a pillar of culture. Is food a reflection of where society is at?
Ten years ago if you knew the lead singer of a band you were the coolest person in your friend group. Today, if you know the executive chef of a restaurant you are the coolest person in your friend group. That’s a drastic shift in a short period of time. A lot of how food hit its tipping point has to do with social media and the ability for anyone to take a beautiful picture of their plate. It engaged a whole new group of people that are now looking to be the first of their followers to try a new restaurant or experience a tasting menu or create a swoon-worthy dish.
Who are peers in the food space that you admire? Who inspires you?
I don’t even know where to begin. I always say that I don’t know everything about food. That’s one reason we host the Bitten conference. I’m so incredibly humbled by the talented people I’ve met through this journey, many of which are changing the world. Every year we donate our profits to an organization doing something important in the food space.
Last year we gave to Blue Marble Dreams (which is the foundation for Blue Marble Ice Cream). Their executive director, Alexis Miesen, definitely inspires me. She works tirelessly to open ice cream shops for women to run in areas affected by war or disaster. They have a shop in Rwanda and have recently opened one in Haiti. She spoke at Biten and even though I was exhausted and a little bit out of it (given the intensity of putting the event together and the day-of-madness) her presentation brought me to tears. You can watch her talk here. There are dozens more people I could name, but I’ll stop here.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Ha! Someone recently asked me if I like being an entrepreneur. My answer is that I love it. It’s the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done and I’m beyond grateful to be able to do it. That said, it’s also a terrifying experience, because not only do I not know where I’ll be in 5 years, I’m not even sure what will happen tomorrow!
Tell us about your experience using about.me.
I love that it’s a beautiful discovery tool that gives you a true sense of the person, with all of their info within easy access. I’m definitely a millennial in how I use the Internet, to that point Emily (my business partner) and I actually met on Instagram. Another aspect of about.me that I love is that it works as a more engaging resume. In fact, I’ve had a lot of reporters reach out to me through the site!
Anna Lizaur is a Marketing Manager with about.me. She graduated from the University of Virginia. Anna is fluent in Spanish and can count to 100 in Chinese.