Q&A: Ryan Tonthat takes a bite from LA food scene with @foodandpooch Instagram page
Ryan Tonthat is pictured alongside his dogs. The alumnus runs the Instagram account @foodandpooch. (Courtesy of Ryan Tonthat)
By Megan Cai
Feb. 8, 2024 4:14 p.m.
This post was updated Feb. 8 at 7:59 p.m.
Food is better when you share it with others – in Ryan Tonthat’s case, he is sharing it with the world.
In 2019, the alumnus, who is also a high school math teacher, created the Instagram account @foodandpooch. His page, which has over 20,000 followers, follows Tonthat as he eats his way through Los Angeles and Orange counties. The twist? He is accompanied by his two dogs: 7-year-old Yogi and 14-year-old Max.
Tonthat spoke with the Daily Bruin’s Megan Cai about building his Instagram page, balancing his passions and managing the challenges and rewards that came with it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Daily Bruin: Why did you start Food and Pooch? What was the inspiration?
Ryan Tonthat: I started Food and Pooch the year before the pandemic. It started off as a passion project – a place for me to store memories with my dogs. I love my dogs to death. They go with me everywhere, and it was like a photo album of pictures with me going out to restaurants and coffee shops with my dogs, and it just slowly grew into what it is today. As we moved through the years, we started out with just pictures, and now it’s video and short form – one minute, two minutes, three minutes.
DB: When you were at UCLA, did you ever imagine doing what you are doing now?
RT: Not even for a second. Back in the day, I was really into math, and I still love math. I still love teaching, but back when I was at UCLA, there was no social media. We barely had AOL. It makes me feel so old. During my first couple of years at UCLA, we still had a dial-up with a cable modem and an arcing cord. We didn’t have anything like what we do today. Like, “What is social media? What is an influencer? What is Instagram?” There was no such thing, and so it didn’t even cross my mind at the time of doing what I do today. But one thing I did love back then that I still do today is taking photos.
DB: How did you navigate your page during the pandemic?
RT: We were still invited to restaurants, but we couldn’t go inside. When we went to the restaurant, they had all the food made for us – we took it outside, found some benches and then just created content on the spot. It was a great outlet for me and my sister because we lived together with the two dogs. So that was a great way to get out there, get some fresh air and some sun while also helping a local restaurant because they were struggling so badly during that time. So whatever we could do, we would do it for them. And it’s like a win-win for both parties, right? We get to try the food, it’s an outlet for us and it’s a great way to help them with exposure and the marketing.
DB: Have there been any challenges that you’ve encountered while running Food and Pooch? How did you overcome them?
RT: Burnout is a big thing. At one point, I was working my full-time job, and I would be at the coffee shop right after work until 7 or 8 p.m. I’m working all weekend, going to five or six places on Saturday, then going home on Saturday night to create content. Then Sunday will be a full day of creating content. I was doing that for a good eight to 10 months, and I was really burned out. At a certain point, it started to affect my physical health, it started to affect my mental health, and I said, “I need to step back.”
Social media is great, but it’s also very overwhelming if you don’t draw that line. I tell my students the same thing. And I have to follow this to also draw that line for myself and set some boundaries. You need to have that work-life balance. At one point, I was so involved and so sucked in that I was not able to draw that line. But I’m feeling better this year, and that’s one of my goals. Every Sunday morning, I will not do any social media – I need to have my Sunday. There are some small lifestyle changes and it has helped me to be more present for myself or my family or my students.
DB: You said that you would eat at five to six places in one day. Do you eat everything at all the places you go to?
RT: I don’t eat the entire dish – otherwise, I would combust. But I do taste everything. I try to do one or two bites of every dish I order so I know what it tastes like, and I know how to review it later. But I always tell my friends I’m not a food reviewer. I think the food experience is so different from one person to another. I always tell my friends food tastes better when you share it with others. When you go with a group of friends, and you are in a good mood, and there are good vibes, the food is going to be a lot better than when you are in a bad mood.