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Instant Influencer: The Story Of One Falcon’s Rise To Foodie Fame

@linheats on Instagram, better known to her peers as Ai-Linh Tran (’21), is the newest member of a unique subculture of young food connoisseurs. She doesn’t just eat food — she experiences it. Her food account is dedicated to photographing, tasting, and reviewing all sorts of desserts, drinks, and savory dishes. Her favorite? Boba milk […]

@linheats on Instagram, better known to her peers as Ai-Linh Tran (’21), is the newest member of a unique subculture of young food connoisseurs. She doesn’t just eat food — she experiences it. Her food account is dedicated to photographing, tasting, and reviewing all sorts of desserts, drinks, and savory dishes. Her favorite? Boba milk tea, of course. 

Ai-Linh defines a foodie as “someone who is passionate and enthusiastic about food, always trying to seek out the best tasting and unique dishes.” A relatively new term, “foodie,” gained popularity in 1984 when published on the cover of Ann Barr and Paul Levy’s The Official Foodie Handbook. A foodie goes above and beyond their basic nutritional needs to taste test the most creative recipes they can get their hands on.

In 4th grade, Ai-Linh was given a camera for her birthday, and she filled the SD card with photos of her favorite meals.

“I wouldn’t even take pictures of family, it was just all food, which is kinda funny,” she says. A year later, she had a taste of her first milk tea, and since then, she can’t enough. “After I took a picture of [my boba drink] that’s when my camera roll started switching to boba too.” Now Ai-Linh gets her boba fix at least once a week.

The $1 donut deal and a milk tea from Bober in Sacramento.

At Christian Brothers, Ai-Linh is known as the boba lover, it’s her “thing.” When a close friend joked about her starting a boba Instagram, she accepted the challenge with a simple, “Bet.”

And so in 2019, @linheats was born. Her account started with boba reviews and slowly expanded into a general food page for all kinds of sumptuous dishes and drinks.

The day arrives. The foodies are flocking to the grand opening of their newest hot spot, Rose Tea Lounge, a high-quality boba tea shop new to Elk Grove—famous for their Strawberry Matcha Latte with matcha sourced directly from Japan. Ai-Linh waits in line for two hours, but she doesn’t mind the long wait since her chatty personality allows her to make friends with fellow foodies while waiting in line.

“Foodies wait in line for hours for the newest places,” she tells me. When it’s time to order, she selects items to review that are popular. For example, at ice cream shop SomiSomi, it’s their specialty “Ah-Boong,” a Korean soft-serve and waffle dessert.

“You usually look on their Instagram at what big items they recommend because those items tend to garner you more likes, and more people will view and interact with [your post].”

On this particular day at Rose Tea Lounge, she selects the Strawberry Matcha Latte (of course) and a Golden Phoenix Milk Tea.

“After you order, you get the item, and that’s when the photography starts.” She recommends good, natural lighting during the evening when the sun appears less harsh in photos. Good photographs are a crucial element to maintaining a clean Instagram feed that attracts followers. Her page proudly boasts nearly 900 followers and counting after merely a year of posting.

Ai-Linh types notes while she eats, considering everything from the texture, quality of ingredients, taste, and aesthetic of the food. She types her final review at home, which can sometimes take hours, including editing her photos, arranging her opinions, and proofreading.

“People think that food accounts are just ‘take a picture and post,’ but there’s actually a lot that goes on behind the scenes,” she says. “It’s not as easy as it seems.”

The Phoenix Milk Tea (left) and Strawberry Matcha Tea (right).

“another new boba spot in Elk Grove? is this Ai-Linh’s ultimate favorite boba spot? is it delicious and made with high-quality ingredients? the answer to all 3 of those questions is… YES!!” reads the introduction to her review. She continues to describe the taste of the drinks and suggests 50% sweetness for each.

Included in each review are several photos of her food, the satisfyingly aesthetic interior of the place, and sometimes even a mouth-watering video of her digging into a dish. Hashtags are essential for the final post because “they get the most views,” Ai-Linh says. 

Reaching an audience is important for a growing account like hers. The simple yet vivid edits on Linh’s page attract followers, which can mean good advertising for small businesses. “They look for local foodies that are willing to try their product,” Ai-Linh says.

Individual businesses could offer her free product in exchange for photos and a review on her page. “I’m still starting out, but if I do get paid, it’s when I make digital art. I take a picture and doodle on it with [iPad app] Procreate.” Although she’s a beginner, her art skills are evolving quickly, as she’ll charge anywhere from $20 to $40 for one edit.

“I love somi somi’s ahboongs so matcha!” reads Ai-Linh’s punny Instagram caption .

She’s gotten the hang of things rather quickly because at the start of linheats, Ai-Linh had no idea what she was doing. In fact, She had no idea a foodie community even existed. Luckily, fellow foodies are super supportive of their group.

“Everyone is involved. They’re interacting with each other, commenting on your posts, hyping you up — it’s a really supportive community,” she says. She feels encouraged by the kindness of veteran foodies she refers to as “Yelp Elites,” a term that refers to foodies reviewing food for over ten years.

As for the future of @linheats, Ai-Linh envisions a YouTube channel or maybe a website to continue her blog. Becoming a Yelp Elite herself would mean exclusively producing content for years to come. Although she’s considered becoming a food critic before, Linh’s grounded personality keeps her focused on a sensible future.

“It’s not something I want to stop, but I want to be realistic.” She has her sights set on dentistry as a primary career. Still, a minor in communications might allow her to continue blogging on the side. 

For a local influencer like Ai-Linh, her craft is more than a hobby, it’s a lifestyle, and her followers are in for the ride. Her sweet and savory personality saturates her photo feed with a warmth that can’t help but make her followers feel good. Perhaps a photo on Instagram is limited to the traditional four by five crop, but Ai-Linh’s passion for good food and boba is limitless..

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