How St. Louis chef Brian Lagerstrom grew his YouTube to over a million subscribers and created a lucrative business
It is undeniable that the popularity of food content on the internet has exploded, making what was once the niche career of food personalities on Food Network and PBS accessible to anyone. Within the world of food content on YouTube, viewers can now find a wide berth of content from chefs of Michelin-starred restaurants to complete cooking novices and shock-value short form content known colloquially as “food porn.”
But St. Louisan Brian Lagerstrom has forged his own path in the creator space, choosing to pursue informational content with a healthy dose of personality, and that path has paid off. Lagerstrom now sits just over the million-subscriber mark, raking in hundreds of thousands of views per upload and 4 to 6 million views per month, and he supports himself and his family on his internet career alone. (When Sauce last checked in with him in 2020, he had just a few thousand subscribers.) Lagerstrom went from a restaurant industry expat to a darling of the internet cooking scene in a matter of months.
As someone who has seen it all in the food world, Lagerstrom intentionally avoids shock and awe, extravagance and virality. And in his three and a half years as a content creator, his voice has shifted away from a know-it-all chef to a friendly guide.
“Early on, I felt like I needed to present myself as an authority. … My gig isn’t to be an authority anymore, my gig is to be a fellow explorer on the journey with you as the audience member,” Lagerstrom said.
Lagerstrom made a name for himself in 2015 as sous chef of the now-closed Niche when its co-owner and chef Gerard Craft won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Midwest. After leaving Niche, he transitioned away from fine dining and helped create Union Loafers Cafe and Bread Bakery.
But in 2018, Lagerstrom left the restaurant industry altogether, choosing to enter the private sector as a consultant for US Foods to achieve more balance with a less demanding, higher paying job. “There's a lot of gnarly moments over the years where you're just like, ‘I'm a smart guy who went to college, who works hard, how am I still only making $35,000 a year for working 70 hours?’” Lagerstrom said.
In March 2020, when the world went into lockdown, pandemic cutbacks led to Lagerstrom being furloughed by US Foods. The following day, Lagerstrom started his YouTube channel, originally known as Weeds and Sardines, which focused on both cooking and gardening. As it grew, Lagerstrom realized that it would perform better if he leaned exclusively on his cooking talents. Luckily, he began to see a sharp rise in viewership, and he has since been able to sustain his family on YouTube alone through his eponymous channel.
Having millions of eyes on your content brings millions of opinions along with them. Over the years, Lagerstrom has had to learn to listen and learn from certain voices and ignore the inevitable negativity. And while he is clearly knowledgeable and experienced, he never tells his audience that his recipes reign supreme. He encourages exploration and growth in the home kitchen with bursts of personality like his obligatory dance break at the end of every video.
“A lot of people tell me in the comments that they like my vibe … being silly and having jokes makes me like the videos better,” said Lagerstrom.
As a firmly established player in the food content creator space, Lagerstrom, while undecided, has his sights set on something new. He’s currently working toward bringing a custom knife to the marketplace though he’s not sure if his plan will come to fruition.
“I’m trying to bring a value option to the market: a good combination of price and quality,” he said. “The silhouette is kind of a mash-up of two of my favorite knives of all time: One is $30 and one is $300. I want the geometry of an expensive knife but with more affordable steel. It feels like a natural fit for the brand.”
“Somebody like me needs to continue to do different things to stay driven and focused. I don't know what that thing is yet because, right now, it's very much just making videos,” said Lagerstrom, who creates his content with only the help of his wife Lauren Adermann. “You can’t do new, interesting things without help, so maybe we come up with a cookbook or we develop a product or something, but that's just not really possible without help.”
Expanding a business as volatile as YouTube comes with added risk. If Lagerstrom is to bring on a team of people, the unpredictable business model now has to support more than just Lagerstrom and Adermann. But if Lagerstrom has proven one thing, it’s that he is adaptable and capable, and willing to put in the work to make a product as close to perfection as possible.
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