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‘PSU Food Scene’ Shines Light On Local State College Restaurants

State College and the surrounding area in Happy Valley have a vibrant food scene with lots of restaurants for locals, students, and visitors to try out. No one knows this better than Penn State alum Brian Douglas, who, in March, started @PSUFoodScene, an Instagram account dedicated to showcasing local eateries and uniting the community through food.

Douglas said he’s always been drawn to the restaurant scene. He graduated from Penn State with a degree in hotel, restaurant, and institutional management, which is now just hospitality management, in 2006. Since his time as a student, Douglas has stayed in Happy Valley or close by. Now, he and his family have settled down here.

“Food has always been something that’s a passion of mine, which is why I decided to go to Penn State and pursue restaurant management,” Douglas said. “That, coupled with going to Penn State and then staying around and staying local in the area around Penn State, that’s kind of what fostered [the account].”

After a few years working in the restaurant industry, Douglas and his now-wife were ready to start a family and get married. Douglas left because of the busy schedule that kept him from being able to celebrate birthdays and holidays with his family. He became certified in supply chain management and has been in that line of work ever since.

“I guess it was kind of an outlet — a way to get back into food when I haven’t been directly involved as far as restaurant management and things like that,” Douglas said. “I started it as kind of a passion of mine, and being a local, I was trying to combine my own passion for food, and I love trying new things and trying new restaurants.”

Douglas’ Instagram page has served as a way for him and his family to get out and explore all the food that State College has to offer. He enjoys getting out to try new food with his wife and kids, who are supportive of Douglas’s Instagram page and love the leftovers he brings home.

“We love trying new places, love trying to support local. We kind of get excited to try new restaurants that pop up or new cuisines that we haven’t tried,” Douglas said. “I thought I could kind of combine that passion, share it with people first of all, and maybe be a resource to the community.”

PSU Food Scene aims to show the local community the amazing food dishes that are available, including the stories behind each establishment and photos of the food itself. Douglas said he hopes the account can be a boost for local businesses by exposing them to more traffic.

“I was trying to build on [bringing in more traffic] and slowly meet with people and kind of build a following type of thing,” Douglas said. “It has kind of grown faster than my expectations, which is fine with me. The quicker we can help, the better it is.”

Douglas began going back to places he already knew and enjoyed, then he branched out and tried new restaurants that had piqued his interest. Whenever Douglas found himself in downtown State College, he would stop in and introduce himself and his Instagram to the owners and managers.

“I’ve probably talked, in person, with 10 or 12 restaurant owners and managers in the last three weeks,” Douglas said. “I’m scheduled to do two more in the next week just to stop by and say hello, get to know them. That provides me with what I want to do with the page.”

Photo Courtesy of @PSUFoodScene

Douglas also wants to to build the page as a resource for the community to learn where their food is coming from, what the food looks like straight from the kitchen, and how they can get it. He said he wants to provide the community with a personal connection to what they eat.

“I just wanted to put some faces and some stories to the local places,” Douglas said.

The first business that Douglas featured on PSU Food Scene was Crust and Crumb, an artisan cafe that opened on Beaver Ave. last fall. Curious about the new joint, he naturally went down to Crust and Crumb and talked to the owner the same morning he found out about it.

The hope is that in the future, as connections between Douglas and local businesses begin to grow, PSU Food Scene can work with the restaurants it features to run promo codes and other promotions, especially for the businesses that don’t have the resources for intense marketing.

“I’m not excluding anyone that’s local. Whether it’s a chain, whether it’s a local mom-and-pop shop, small franchises, and things like that, we’ll cover anything,” Douglas said. “But we definitely like to partner with the smaller ones because places like Subway and Chick-fil-A, they don’t need me to get people to come to them and things like that.”

Douglas said he’s already started to work on promotions with local restaurants. He did a giveaway with Urban Flavor House and has started planning promo codes with other restaurants.

The pandemic’s timing played into Douglas’s decision to start the page. His family and friends have been trying to order carryout locally instead of getting food from a big chain to try to support local businesses as much as they could while traffic was low.

“We know people are struggling, and the restaurant industry is struggling. We definitely don’t want to lose local resources here,” Douglas said.

Photo courtesy of @PSUFoodScene

The visuals of PSU Food Scene are important to Douglas, too. He wants to represent the local businesses as best he can with the photos he takes himself, so he makes sure to take lots and go back if he deems the photos to not up to par.

Additionally, the visuals are the first glimpse of what the customer will be getting, so seeing a photo of food can be a deciding factor. Douglas always looks for photos online or on the menu from the restaurant he is at, and it has frustrated him that those aren’t always accessible.

“A lot of times, I like to wait [at restaurants] if I can’t see pictures for food coming out of the kitchen. So that is kind of something I’m trying to provide, a place where people can actually see it, and that kind of creates a desire and a connection,” Douglas said.

PSU Food Scene has also created lots of opportunities for Douglas to explore the local food scene and learn more about his community. Even though he has lived in the State College area for more than 10 years, there is still always something new to try.

“Food is my passion. I love the food. It’s something that I’ve always done and something I’ll probably always do as a passion of mine,” said Douglas.

The Instagram account that Douglas created has proven to be a helpful resource for the Penn State and State College community. Douglas’s page has been growing rapidly and has been receiving lots of positive feedback.

“[Hearing how far PSU Food Scene has reached] is what I get the most enjoyment out of, knowing that it’s having an impact and that it’s doing what it’s intended to do,” Douglas said. “That we can have that result both from a community end, with them getting value out of it, and from a local business end, that they’re also getting value out of it.”

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About the Author

Mackenna Yount

Mackenna Yount is a freshman food science major from Manitou Springs, Colorado. She loves food, is addicted to coffee, and can give you random facts or bad jokes that nobody cares about. Ask her to bake gluten-free cupcakes and she'll throw in some brownies too. Mackenna can be contacted via Twitter @mackennayount.

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