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Two students bought the Mile High and Hungry account, which has nearly 34,000 followers

Mile High and Hungry

The online engine driving Denver’s burgeoning food scene is distinctly crimson and gold. Behind every mouthwatering photo on the Mile High and Hungry Instagram account—be it of a burger, burrito or beignet—is a student from the University of Denver.

Since buying the account in 2017, alumni Scott Romano (BSBA & BA 2020) and Will Alverson (BS 2019) have amassed nearly 34,000 followers, who can feast their eyes on a diverse menu of munchies at restaurants across the metro area.

Partnerships and advertising brought substantial financial returns. Plus, the picturesque portraits generated additional business for Cultivo Media, the consulting company Romano and Alverson created and expanded with the help of on-campus business incubator Project X-ITE.

But as graduation grew nearer and other ventures consumed more of their time, Romano and Alverson found less time to manage the account. They had an idea: Create a DU class around social media marketing that used Mile High and Hungry as a case study.

Mile High and Hungry Instagram

“The greatest lesson that we got out of our time at DU was through the experiential, hands-on opportunities,” Romano said. “There was a gap between where curriculum was and the types of skills employers were looking for. We looked at this and thought, ‘We have an opportunity, we have a platform, we have the business, and we have the ability to create a class about this. Let’s connect curriculum and skills.’”

Before long, Romano was sitting down with Ann Koerner, adjunct professor at the Daniels College of Business, sketching the curriculum for the two-credit Instagram Influencer Strategies course.

“I’ve always been a fan of Instagram,” Koerner said, “but I just like applying the more hands-on, real-world application side of marketing. When Scott shared the history around Mile High and Hungry, I thought, ‘What a great account and great learning experience for students who are interested in pursuing marketing or entrepreneurship or hospitality.’”

During the spring quarter, 13 students managed the Mile High and Hungry account. For every social media skill they learned—analytics, hashtags, monitoring the competition—they learned a people skill, like how to approach a business, make a cold call or deliver a sales pitch. Romano sat in on each class and offered advice on forming relationships with brands.

Mile High and Hungry class

At first, the students worked with alumni-owned businesses that are part of DU’s Crimson and Gold Trail of bars and restaurants. Before long, they were posting three or four times a week, spotlighting all sorts of eateries.

“I think it’s a growing market and it’s legitimate,” said Koerner, who has a background in startup companies. “I think there are real marketing dollars spent in this Instagram or influencer marketing. I think in the world of viral marketing, as well as trusting individuals to provide recommendations, it very much speaks to a younger generation but also older generations.”

It certainly spoke to Haley Paez and Mirjana Profeta, sorority sisters and undergraduates who took the class—so much so that they decided to buy the account from Romano, bolstered by what they had learned the quarter before.

“We want to be at the forefront of new innovations and work with all these cool and interesting people,” said Paez, a senior majoring in journalism and psychology. “I’ve been around food since I was little, so these [restaurateurs] are like our people. We really want to explore Denver and show people the ‘out there’ food they don’t see every day that makes Denver special.”

Profeta, a sophomore majoring in political science and geography with minors in marketing and entrepreneurship, said the class didn’t feel like class to her. The work was fun, she said, and played to her and Paez’s strengths as communicators and marketers.

“We really want to showcase the community,” Profeta said. “We’ve talked about interviewing chefs and making those that are so interested in food understand what was going into their food and what’s behind it.”

Profeta and Paez said they felt prepared to take ownership of the account because they have an enhanced understanding of Instagram analytics and an exposure to a new wave of marketing and communication.

They want to help Koerner continue the class in subsequent quarters. Romano, for his part, is proud that the account will continue to be in the hands of DU students.

“[The account] was [initially] bought by DU students; our brand was developed by different DU students; it was managed and operated by DU students; it had support from alumni-owned restaurants and brands,” Romano said. “There are huge ways that universities can support their local economies and so many ways for these local businesses to engage with universities. It’s this great ecosystem we’ve created with DU and the local restaurant scene to really engage in a creative and collaborative way.