Rutgers Graduate Creates a Dynamic Website for New Jersey Foodies
Deborah Smith, owner of Jersey Bites, strives to put state cuisine on the map
Deborah Smith doesn't remember a time when she didn't want to write, but she admits that it wasn't something she pursued in college because she didn't think it would lead to a career.
Indirectly, however, it did - via a business writing class. "The assignment was to find a job in the newspaper, and write a cover letter and a resume for it," says the 1989 Rutgers graduate.
She answered an ad for a part-time job at the Red Bank Chamber of Commerce (now called the Eastern Monmouth Area Chamber of Commerce) using her cover letter and resume from class, got an interview and then the job. After graduating in 1989 with a degree in psychology (and a minor in English), she became the executive director of the Brick Township Chamber of Commerce. She was youngest chamber of commerce executive in the state.
"That one little assignment set me on my whole course for my career," says Smith, who lives in Point Pleasant.
Smith's current perch as the owner of Fox Trot Media, LLC might seem a long way from running a chamber of commerce. But Smith says that skills she learned there, and subsequent jobs in politics and marketing, led her to what she does today: that is, consult companies on social media campaigns and publish Jersey Bites, an all things New Jersey food website that went from a way to share her recipes into a brand that gets 16,000 unique visitors a month a year and has 35 contributors.
Jersey Bites recently partnered with NJ.com to share content on its sites in a move that could send Smith's viewership numbers through the roof.
The best part of working at the chamber, says Smith, was that she learned to be a mega multi-tasker. "It really taught me the power of networking and juggling a million different things at one time," she says. "I had lots of spinning plates in the air and once, and I realized I really enjoyed that."
While at the Brick Township Chamber of Commerce, she met Andrew R. Ciesla, then Brick Township council president who was running for New Jersey Senate. When he was elected in 1992, she became his chief of staff, a title she held for four years, after which she moved over to marketing for the New Jersey Lottery.
After the birth of her first son in 1997, she decided to became a stay-at- home mom. "About a month into that, the novelty of that wore off and I started looking around for a business I could work from home," she says.
So she launched everythingnanny.com and nannyclassifieds.com, two nanny recruitment businesses. Twitter and Facebook founders were just kids then themselves, but Smith says that social media was very much alive "through chat rooms and message boards and email groups," she said. "I took advantage of all those tools because they were finally available and online. It was a wonderful thing for me because I was able to stay at home." She now has two sons, Tanner, 15, and Connor, 11.
Smith sold those sites in 2011 just as Jersey Bites, which she started in 2007, was ramping up.
"Instead of keeping a recipe file in my cupboard, I just put it online," she says. "I figured it was the easier to share if someone wanted a recipe. I'd just email them a link."
As the site's popularity grew, she narrowed its focus to New Jersey food. "We are always getting the short end of the stick sandwiched between New York and Philadelphia. New Jersey doesn't really have a spot on the culinary map," she says.
Today the site has recipes for in-season items, restaurant reviews, chef interviews and news about issues related to New Jersey food and drink, like updates on new craft breweries and "eat local" movements.
While social media consulting is still her company's bread and butter, she has high hopes for her food site. "My goal for Jersey Bites is really that I want it to become the household name for food news in New Jersey," she says.