How a Utah widow built a food blogging empire

Alyssa Rivers started ‘The Recipe Critic’ as a hobby to share her love of food. Now she has fans nationwide.

(Courtesy of The Recipe Critic) Utah County-based recipe developer and food blogger Alyssa Rivers, founder of the website "The Recipe Critic."

Alyssa Rivers said she often wonders how she got here: heading up a food website that clocks 10 million pageviews a month; being mentioned in such places as Buzzfeed, Delish, Today Food, Woman’s Day and Cosmopolitan; managing an all-woman team that develops, tests and photographs her recipes; or posting to a Facebook page with 4 million followers, and an Instagram with 181,000 followers.

Ten years ago, Rivers was a recently widowed mom of two, anxiously trying to figure out a way to support herself and her kids. The Recipe Critic was Rivers’ hobby — just a way of sharing recipes with friends and family. She wasn’t expecting her food blog to blow up, and turn into a full-time career.

“I’ve been through some pretty difficult things in my life,” the Utah County-based writer said. “My boys’ dad passed away. I became a single mom. I got remarried; he moved us to North Carolina. People in Utah were saying, ‘Hey, we need your recipes.’ … I kind of only thought it would be my mom, or family and friends, reading it. Ten years later, it’s one of the biggest food blogs in the world. It’s kind of crazy to see where it started, and how it got here.”

Rivers said she never envisioned herself running a company. She said she assumed she would always be a stay-at-home mom, but loves having a way to channel her love of food, and to connect with other people through food. Now, her four kids — two with her first husband, two with her current husband — and their tween and teen friends are some of her best taste-testers and toughest critics.

“I see so many other people who have food blogs. But what sets mine apart? I think it’s because I’ve always had this intuition with people and moms, knowing how to create recipes that people are actually making, people with busy lives who are still making delicious, restaurant-quality recipes for their families,” she said, adding that one of the things that people like most about her recipes is that they’re not too complicated, and are achievable.

Rivers said she relies heavily on the eight women — all stay-at-home moms — who she hired to help her once her site became too popular to manage on her own.

“We have a studio behind my house, where we come and work during the week, and that’s when we create and share recipes,” she said. “I’ve loved having the support from my team, because then I can step back behind the scenes and still use my creative creativity in the studio and developing recipes and being more hands-on there.”

Rivers has a recipe for nearly everything, from jambalaya to cheese sandwiches cooked in an air fryer to gingerbread houses. She recently tried out butterboards, after that trend went viral on TikTok.

“It is absolutely one of the best things that I think we’ve ever made,” Rivers said. “We used lemon zest, and drizzled it with honey, sprinkled some sea salt and had some really rustic, crusty bread. … We also put dried fruit on top. It was amazing.”

Though The Recipe Critic found success pretty early out of the gate, Rivers said it really blew up during the pandemic, when people started cooking at home more. (Yes, she has a recipe for that pandemic classic, sourdough bread.)

This year, interest continues to grow, due to inflation and the climbing price of food, especially the cost of eating out.

One of her most popular recipes, Rivers said, “is a soup where you can literally just dump like eight cans in and have a really delicious soup for your family. It’s great this season, and that’s something anybody can make. … I am seeing more recipes that are trending and going viral that are easier, or with ingredients that are very inexpensive, and achievable. … There’s a recipe for everyone, even if they’re intimidated to start cooking.”

One of the biggest questions she gets, Rivers said, is whether or not she has written a cookbook. That’s a project she will be working on in 2023, she said — adding that she is now working with a publisher, and will be announcing more details soon.

“I wanted it to be different than other cookbooks out there,” she said. “I’m making it more of a lifestyle cookbook, with bits and pieces of my life, and some things I’ve been through, and why recipes are important, and what they’ve meant to me in my life.”

Part of her story, Rivers said, will be the struggles she has faced at different points of her life, because a lot of people perceive her as someone who’s just always experienced success. Not everyone knows she lost her husband, that she was an unemployed single mom, or how scared she was about being able to support her kids.

And, she said, they don’t know how relieved she was to come back to Utah.

“I was born and raised in Utah,” she said. “I wanted to be back here. I wanted to continue to raise our family here. I absolutely love Utah. So luckily, [when we moved back,] that’s when my blog started taking off. I was able to become the breadwinner and support my family off of my website. We’ve just been in Utah ever since — and plan on being here forever.”

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