Jane Ko, Founder of A Taste of Koko, courtesy photo

By OMAR L. GALLAGA, Freelance Contributor to Silicon Hills News

Jane Ko, the Austin food and lifestyle blogger, needs a break.

Ko built her “A Taste of Koko” brand on her website, Instagram and an Austin guide book to she self-published last year, working for 10 straight years to evolve from one of the city’s many bloggers to a one-woman influencer business.

Jane Ko, A Taste of Koko, courtesy photo

As many in Central Texas were hunkered down during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ko continued to post video reports on social media, crusading to help Central Texas restaurants from financial dire straits. But she was in the same situation many creative workers based in Austin were feeling in March through May of 2020: she lost many of the work contracts that pay her bills and when South by Southwest was canceled, found herself without a huge amount of work she’d been expecting.

“I lost all my projects,” she said, “I had no idea what was gonna happen. But then, over a series of about 72 hours, I had hundreds of restaurant owners, business owners, and most importantly, service industry workers reach out to me over email, phone calls, texts, direct messages, they flooded me.”

For days, Ko says, she agonized over stories of businesses in jeopardy and work lost, donating hundreds of dollars to GoFundMe campaigns, despite her own precarious finances.

Then, she got to work. Ko teamed up with Chelsea McCullough-Hughes, owner of lifestyle PR and digital media firm MYLK Collective to create Hundred for Hospitality, a relief effort for service industry workers in Austin and Houston. Ko built a website for the campaign, which raised $15,000 and serviced 100 meals per day over 40 days with the help of restaurants and donors in both cities.

In addition, Ko built Hire a Creative, an online matchmaking service for experienced artists, designers, event coordinators, and others to find freelance work.

As all that was happening, she was one of the first Austin restaurant bloggers to venture into the COVID landscape of slow reopenings. In her Instagram Stories, Ko, wearing a facemask, helped guide diners to safe options for eating before many restaurants were opening dining rooms or even outside dining areas.

As restaurants in Texas struggled with how to safely continue their businesses, she visited takeout stands and food trucks to help drum up businesses, particularly for Asian restaurants that were being avoided by some diners early in the pandemic. For that, she says, she was harassed on social media and made the target of abusive comments and direct messages. “I had people who had followed me for years suddenly say, ‘How dare you encourage takeout! If I order takeout and I get COVID, I’m going to sue you. You are so tone-deaf.’ They wanted me to just stay in the house and do nothing.”

In 2020, Ko has done far less traveling than she did in past years, and she has started to outsource some of the work that she used to do herself. She now has a CPA to handle bookkeeping and a talent agency fielding promotional calls. But the bulk of her work, from shooting and editing photos and videos, to attending restaurant events and writing, remains in her own hands.

A pop-up event at 101 By Teahaus, photo courtesy of Jane Ko

Ko says she’s now ready to take more time for herself after 10 years of nonstop work, putting out her own content as well as partnership posts with brands including IKEA, Target, KitchenAid, AT&T, and PayPal. She got out of a bad relationship in the summer, Ko says, and for the first time since she began A Taste of Koko in 2010, she’s ready to take some personal time. But she acknowledges that even when she’s not working on “A Taste of Koko,” she’s very likely to take on other projects, such as a recent pop-up restaurant event she co-organized at 101 By Teahaus, or working with BEAM, an angel investment network from Women@Austin. 2020, Ko says, has taught her to embrace her own ability to do great work under pressure.

“I’ve really been pushed to my limits,” Ko said, “and I think it just comes from me doing this for so long and having resilience I didn’t realize I had.”