H.A. Hang: Erin Antoniak

The coolest part of our business has always been our clients. We’re amazed by all they do: CEOs and business owners, world travelers, authors, inventors, healers, entrepreneurs, newscasters, artists, pro athletes, musicians, caretakers, and philanthropists. 

We launched this series to share the stories of our clients and form connections within the H.A. community. Enjoy!


Home Appétit: We always start with the same question. Did you grow up around here?
Erin Antoniak: I grew up in the Lansdale/Harleysville area. I went to North Penn High School, Penn State and Temple. I’ve never lived anywhere else but Pennsylvania. We live in the city now. But we travel a lot! 


What did you study in college?
I was undecided and tried out a whole bunch of different things. A lot of people knew they were going to be a nurse or teacher, but not me. I wasn't ready, at 18, to make that decision. I ended up getting a public relations degree and communications degree. 

Did you wind up in PR?
I did an internship at a PR agency. It was a good experience, but it wasn’t paid. My mom worked at SAP and I eventually got a paid internship there that turned into a full-time job in communications. It’s a software company—it wasn’t anything sexy, like restaurant PR, but I loved it.

Erin's popular butter chicken recipe

Where did the idea for Erin Lives Whole come from?
I’ve always loved cooking. Growing up, my brother and I were always in the kitchen cooking and baking with my mom. I was also a huge blog reader. I remember sitting on the couch, with my iPad, reading food blogs. I loved it because it wasn’t just about the food, it was people sharing personal stories. I loved connecting with people that way. I was enthralled with the idea of doing one myself and my mom encouraged me to do it.

How did you start?
It was two years into working at SAP, in 2016. My idea was to have a website in addition to posting on Instagram. It took me a while to build the site. For a girl who’s always online so much, I’m really bad at technology. I still can’t believe I built the website. I would come home from work and watch one YouTube video, then implement it on my site. It was finally up and running in April of 2017.

It’s not that long ago, but seems novel for 2017.
I had a backlog of recipes and I would post on Instagram every day at 9 a.m. This is when Instagram was pretty basic: No stories, no carousel photos, no video content. It took off. Within the first nine months, I gained 40,000 followers. 

Wow. What do you credit the quick success to?
Hashtags really helped back then. I was also very consistent. I would share a new recipe, or sometimes just what I ate that day, at 9 a.m, every day. I think that consistency is what helped to take it to the next level. There were a group of 40 or so of us on Instagram doing similar things. We became a little community and would comment on each other’s posts. That really helped spread the word. Then I started getting some brand partnerships for like $50 a post. I was so excited. But the best thing I did was get Google AdSense on the site. When I first started, I was making twenty cents a day. 

And you were still working full time?
Yes. I was loving the food stuff, but still working full time. It was a lot, but I kept telling myself I was starting somewhere. I would post on my lunch breaks and reply to comments. I would get up, go to the gym in my office, work all day and cook after work. I basically dedicated every Saturday to Erin Lives Whole. Thankfully my newish boyfriend at the time, who is now my husband, knew how passionate I was about it and understood.

What kept you motivated?
When people would comment or a post would go viral. I loved the interactions. I finally decided to do the blog full time in 2018.

Was that a big decision?
When I started, I had no intention of turning it into a business. I loved cooking and connecting with people. But it was hard to juggle it all. If I quit, I wasn’t going to nearly be making what my salary at SAP was. I was 24 or 25 at the time and went to my brother for advice. He’s a business consultant and has an MBA. I was fully expecting him to tell me it was a dumb idea but he said the opposite. In a weird way, that was kind of the permission I needed. Why not take a chance? I was young and could go back to a more traditional job if it didn’t work out. 


What were some of the first things you did?
I took a class on SEO. I would backlog content, have everything planned out with captions. I was organized. At the end of the day, I did everything with a business mentality. 

What was the beginning like?
I was probably making $12,000 a year but knew it could be more. This was also a time when the market was not oversaturated yet. The ideas of food and recipes on social media was new. And people were also into healthy, wholesome eating. But mostly I just showed up and did it every day. Once Instagram stories hit, it changed my business. It really spread quickly after that.  

Has your audience changed in all these years?
I’m talking to the same person. It’s mostly women, lots of moms, ranging from 20 to 70. She’s interested in health and wellness but isn’t neurotic about it. She’s willing to have fun. She gets the burger! 

It’s been eight years since you started. Has your content evolved? 
Yes. It was a very health-focused account, mostly dairy free and, to be totally honest, gluten free. I never had a gluten intolerance, but that was what I thought being healthy was when I was in my 20s. But I’ve shifted. Healthy to me means that nothing is off limits. I do lightened-up meals, but it’s not low fat.  It’s wholesome food that makes you feel good. I feel like that is the healthiest way to live and that my life is exponentially better because I just feel more satisfied and happier around. 

Are there any recipes of your moms that you make?
I grew up in the 90s, so we had a lot of casseroles, a lot of chicken, steak and potatoes, we had a lot of garden salads with thousand island dressing. But she cooked dinner almost every single night and was always willing to try a new recipe. As an adult, I think about how amazing that was. And she didn’t have any of the shortcuts we have now! 

A young Erin (and Eagles super fan) baking with family

 Where do you get the ideas for recipes?
First, I always try to keep my recipes to ten ingredients or less. I get a lot of newsletters and read a lot online. I love New York Times Cooking, love Bon Appétit, and lots of inspiration from eating out in Philadelphia and traveling. I just think of ways to make everything simpler to make. 

What are some of your favorite Philly spots?
We love Suraya. Oyster House is one of our favorites, too. 

Where do you go food shopping? It’s a struggle in the city!
Instacart from Wegmans is my number one, but also Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

How do you keep up with it all?
The ads on my website and partnership are my source of income. But I am very selective about partnerships. I talk to the camera a lot and people feel like they can trust me, so I want to make sure I’m always honest. Over the years I’ve built up a team, so have help with all the content: photography, SEO, some writing. That frees me up for cooking and testing and I love that I can help other people do what they’re experts at. I saw a huge return on my business when I started doing that. 


What’s next for Erin Lives Whole?
The first four years of my business were such a hustle. I’ve been enjoying taking opportunities as they come, but not really chasing anything. Maybe one day there will be a cookbook, or another ebook or something else, but I’m enjoying the calm for a little bit. 

That’s so great to hear. There’s this narrative that one should never stand still, but it isn’t true. 
I do feel that pressure. I see people doing so much more than me, but, I’m staying in my own lane, what I’m doing what feels right, right now. 

Get access to Erin's recipes here and keep up with her cooking (and life!) on Instagram.