Food and Travel

Maria and Nabol - Kimchi & Beans

How A Couple Shares Their Passion Project Bursting With Flavors, Cultures & Their Love For Travel

Food and Travel
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July 9, 2022

Who are you and what kind of content do you create?

For 15+ years, Kimchi and Beans has been a passion project for Nabol and me. We’re a Korean-Puerto Rican couple based in Chicago and we’ve been on a mission to experience culture through travel, food tasting, and cooking. It’s something that we do on a part-time basis, but we can say it takes just as much effort as our full-time jobs. It’s certainly become part of our lifestyle and we dedicate a lot of weekends and afternoons to developing content and engaging with our community. 

It all started as a Spanish cooking blog called Verdelicias (Greenlicious) that was all about healthy eating and cooking — mostly an excuse to share new recipes with family and friends. A few years later, we saw an opportunity to focus on the beauty of connecting with different cultures through food and travel. We also switched to English so we could reach more people and also because there weren’t many couples of diverse backgrounds sharing their unique perspectives on social media. That’s when we decided to rebrand to Kimchi and Beans: Kimchi because Nabol is half Korean (and half Puerto Rican) and Beans because I’m Puerto Rican. We go through the world sharing a few of our flavors, as well as experiencing new flavors wherever we go. 

Regarding the type of content we create, we’ve transitioned from writing and sharing our experiences through our blog to doing more video content on our YouTube channel — covering everything from life in Chicago to trying some of the best foods around the world. 

*If you’re curious, here’s our blog.

*And our channel

*Plus, a video on our origin story:

Let's go down memory lane, tell us your backstory! 

Since moving to the US from Puerto Rico in 2008, content development became a great way to stay connected with family and friends wherever we are, not to mention meeting new friends (both content creators and followers) in the cities where we’ve lived. 

It’s also a great way to develop new skills that are useful in the workplace. For example, I (Maria) have always had different blogs since working as a journalist. And now as an advertising professional, learning things like video editing and social media management come in handy. Same with Nabol; he works in the information technology industry and knowing how to manage a content platform comes in handy in finding effective ways to collaborate, manage clients, and troubleshoot technical issues. 

The beauty of blogging or being a YouTuber is that you don’t need a lot to get started. There are so many free platforms and tools out there and you don’t need to spend on expensive software or a camera to do creative work. In fact, while we’ve upgraded our camera, we still like using our G7X Mark II for vlogging. And for editing, we still like using iMovie. The key is to create content that you’d enjoy watching and that many people find useful and entertaining. The medium you use to create is not as important. 

Take Mikey Chen for example, one of our favorite YouTubers. In a single video, he’ll switch between using his GoPro, his iPhone, and a nicer camera. The editing can be a bit choppy sometimes but we’ll watch it for the content itself. It’s entertaining. He finds great eats. And the guy has charisma - Mikey looks like he’s genuinely enjoying what he does. That’s what we try to show in our videos as well.

Our end goal is to have fun, show a different perspective, support local businesses, and inspire more people to engage with other cultures through food and travel. That’s what keeps us motivated. 

How do you brainstorm ideas for your content and what is your advice in getting the creative juices flowing?

The inspiration for our content comes mostly from our YouTube community, the diverse neighborhoods in our city, or our own personal curiosity. We write lists of recommendations or little restaurants in Chicago we would like to visit. We have a desire to learn more about different ethnic groups and their traditions. The topics are pretty endless - the challenge is to make time to do all of it. 

We try to have at least three, somewhat long, travel series throughout the year and we’ll insert Chicago and Midwest-related content in between those videos. So we organize ourselves around that. 

To keep the juices flowing, we’ll just keep dropping pending footage on our editing tool to do a bit at a time, as we feel inspired to tackle it. Working on a particular video can also inspire the creation of new ones. 

What are the tools and platforms you use to help with your brand?

In terms of the tools and platforms we use, we try to use as many free options as possible. We use Blogger for our blog, YouTube for our channel, and iMovie for editing. We also create seasonal online magazines using issuu.com. These options are pretty intuitive and we’ve learned new tricks and shortcuts with time. 

We also leverage social media platforms, primarily Instagram and Facebook because those are where we find the most engagement. 

What were your fears when you were starting? How did you handle it? 

The biggest challenge when we started vlogging was getting comfortable in front of the camera. And we both agree that it is still a challenge, especially when we take breaks from filming. It’s not so much because we fear what people might think, but we just don’t want to bother the people around us. So we try to be discreet. 

Getting personal in front of the camera or when writing posts can also be challenging. In general, we try not to get political and just share our reality and our experiences honestly and as straightforwardly as possible. 

In general, people have responded positively to that approach. But there’s a lot of criticism and hate online — it only gets worse as you get more followers. We’ve learned to take in constructive criticism and ignore the rest. People are always going to have an opinion and that’s fine. 

Focus on doing what you love and do it for yourself first, for everyone else, second. Challenge yourself, grow with it and have fun. 

How did you build your brand to where it is now? Take us through your process.

In terms of building our brand, we focused on publishing consistently for the first few years, posting weekly and sometimes bi-weekly. As our jobs demand more of our time, that’s getting harder and harder but we do try to keep our followers in the loop when we take longer to publish. Social media is great for that. 

It helps that our brand is a bit personal, not just strictly about food and travel, but about what we’re experiencing in life. For example, we’re having a baby in a few weeks and we like to take our followers along the journey so they understand why we’re delayed in posting videos. That honesty helps with engagement, too. And it makes it easy to evolve the content and our channel as life changes. 

We also want the look/style of our channel/blog to reflect the same level of transparency and honesty. We’re happy-go-lucky people in general so we like putting together eye-catching footage and bright, colorful pictures on social media. We like to be fun and positive because we want more of that in our lives. 

It also helps to be friends with other creators in the business. We help each other out and share our mutual challenges. However, it’s important to make sure you are taking advice from people who are there to help and give constructive criticism, not just to ask for help or take lots of your time. Networking with the right people has really helped us move the needle in increasing our followers and coming up with new ideas. 

For someone who wants to get into content creation, what is your advice?

Because content creation takes up so much of your time, it’s important that you pick a subject that you love and that allows you to grow and evolve with it. Create content that you want to see out there and that your peers find useful. Everybody can record a few things with a camera, so think of how you can say it differently. 

Never compare yourself to others either. Everybody is on their own journey and what you bring to the table can be just as unique. 

Sometimes, we take breaks from following certain creators in the same category to avoid getting indirectly influenced. We like to pay close attention to recommendations from our own followers or just do research to find those hidden gems that make our content interesting. 

Our content is also never perfect. And we don’t aspire to be. While we enjoy taking the time to edit videos as best we can, we try to be efficient so we can move on to the next thing. Your content will naturally get better with time and experience. 

Tell us the biggest obstacles you have experienced in your content creation journey. And how did you bounce back?

More than an obstacle, the biggest challenge is burnout, especially as a part-time creator. We’ve done this for so long that it’s nice to take occasional breaks to reset and restart.  

YouTube in particular can be a tough platform. The algorithm seems to favor sensationalist, over-the-top content. You have to do something extreme like eating 50 burgers in 1 hour or travel to 100 countries to be able to stand a chance. Many creators start suffering from FOMO (fear of missing out) and fall into unhealthy behaviors — we’ve learned to avoid that at all costs.  By focusing on the content we want to do and taking joy in how we do it differently, we can stay healthy and our content becomes stronger. 

Tell us your best milestones in being a content creator.

Every video series that we finish feels like a new milestone. Every time we master a new tool or platform feels like a milestone. The fact that we’re still creating after so many years is a milestone in and of itself. So many creators we started with have stopped for a number of reasons, but we’re still here. And we still love what we do. 

Plus, the fact that we can make a bit of money on the side is pretty cool, too. 

What are your marketing strategies to grow your brand?

Taking the time to build a community and engaging with our followers has been our biggest “marketing strategy.” We spend just as much time responding to comments and posting teasers and behind-the-scenes content on social media, as we do recording and editing videos.

Collaboration with other creators and brands has also been very helpful in getting exposure. We enjoy networking with different creator groups and Youtubers we’ve met along the way. They’ve become our biggest advocates and sponsors. 

Quality and attention to detail are also what help sell the content. We make sure to try to avoid fluff and click-bait tactics. We ask ourselves if the content is useful? Is it entertaining? Why or how will people search for it? Does it feel like a complete story? That’s why people will come back to your channel and share your content. 

How do you handle brand deals and sponsorships? 

Through different blogger and vlogger groups, we’ve been connected to a number of brands throughout the years: Barilla, Avocados from Mexico, Mariano’s, Home Depot, and White Castle to name a few. Or sometimes, brands will reach out to us directly when they like our content. We are lucky in that we haven’t had to reach out ourselves. 

The key to collaborating is that the content we’re producing matches our brand and our values. Then, based on our traffic and scope, we set our rates for the different projects. You also have to walk a fine line between pleasing your partner by producing the quality content they expect and also making sure you’re getting rewarded for your hard work. 

It’s okay to do some collaborations for free or cheap when you’re getting started so you can get exposure, but as you grow your channel, demand the reward you deserve. This work takes time, effort, and money. 

What is your monthly earning from content creation? 

Monthly earnings vary widely for us. It used to be more stable at the beginning when we were more involved. It also depends if we’re doing brand collaborations. 

A collaboration can pay anywhere from $300 to $2,000 depending on the scope and platform (Blog, Social Sites, or YouTube). YouTube can pay anywhere from $300 to $500 depending on the number of views we had for that month. 

We clearly don’t do it for the money at this point. But it’s money that helps cover expenses and that we save for our travels. 

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