‘Help a brotha out’: How a North Philly chef tapped Twitter to make his business flourish

Retweets let Deron Mahoney meet his next client — and another, and another.

Honey Hill's food is always photogenic

Honey Hill's food is always photogenic

Courtesy Deron Mahoney
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Updated 4:48 p.m.

When chef Deron Mahoney put out the call for retweets to help promote his Honey Hill catering company in July of last year, he knew it would work.

But he couldn’t have fathomed how well.

Paired with appealing photos of his food, the North Philly native’s message — “I’m a black chef with a black-owned catering company in Philadelphia. 1 RT could introduce me to my next client. Help a brotha out” — caught fire. It garnered more than 20,000 retweets, from Philly and beyond.

“I was getting requests from people in Jersey, in New York, in Baltimore,” Mahoney said. “It was hard to keep up with all of the business I was getting all of a sudden.”

Once he figured out how to keep up, the easy promo proved too good to resist. Mahoney began putting out the message almost monthly, on both his personal Twitter account (@SwishMahoney34) and on the official account for Honey Hill Catering (@HoneysHill).

Since July 2017, he’s gotten more than 100,000 RTs — and plenty of work along with them.

Mahoney is especially grateful because even in Philadelphia, he said, “people don’t take you as seriously” when you’re a black business owner.

“I feel like people will see black-owned companies, and they’ll automatically think we’re unprofessional, or that we’re unorganized,” he explained.

Family lessons gone modern

Mahoney’s parents served as his role models, both as cooks and as business owners. His dad owns a deli on 19th and Dauphin, while his mom has a small baking business she runs out of her home.

“They didn’t just get me to love cooking through preparing old family recipes,” he said, “they also taught me the art of presentation, and making sure the food you’re feeding people looks pretty on the table.”

He believes that lesson — to make his food photogenic — probably contributed to his Twitter success.

Good presentation was also on the syllabus when Mahoney took free culinary classes as part of the hospitality job training program at Philadelphia OIC, one of the region’s oldest vocational schools. His business chops were honed as he earned a bachelor’s degree at West Chester University.

When he was 24, he helped cater his mother’s 50th birthday party, which had about 125 invitees. Things went well, and he fell in love with the juxtaposition between the chaos in the kitchen and the grace of the workers and delicate foods.

So in 2016, he took a risk and launched Honey Hill Catering. A year later, his Twitter marketing helped boost the business into success.

Giving back and moving forward

So far, being the founder and chef of Honey Hill Catering has paid off for Mahoney in terms of networking and community building.

He’s been able to meet former Mayor Nutter, executives, school administrators and other “important people” while catering corporate events, weddings and barbecues. He’s also channeled the money and exposure that he has earned to give back to his community in North Philly.

Mahoney has been giving kids in the neighborhood free cooking classes and has sponsored outdoor family movie nights. He is currently planning a back-to-school drive, which will be taking place sometime in September.

Honey Hill Catering operates out of community kitchen, but Mahoney would like to have his own storefront soon — and potentially, his own Honey Hill restaurant in the future.

The catering service has a menu of over a hundred options, ranging from breakfast items to finger foods, to artisan platters to vegetarian sandwiches. The most popular items on the menu have been the Bird’s Eye Bang Bang Shrimp, the cheesesteak spring rolls and the burger sliders, which — per Mahoney — have been “selling like hotcakes.”

Mahoney also ensures that the food he is providing is fresh and local, specifying on the Honey Hill site that the food does not use GMO, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavoring, MSG or artificial food coloring.