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Yum! In The News

This KFC food scientist has over 100,000 YouTube followers — and she’s not vlogging about chicken

Melanie Turner

Published on March 03, 2019

Melanie Turner’s mother often joked that her daughter had champagne tastes on an ice water budget. Her mother knew how to balance decadence with good value, having worked at KFC for years. She knew that the Colonel’s 11 herbs and spices recipe, while epicurean, was — and still is — a great value. And she passed that knowledge down to her daughter who started working at KFC as a food scientist in 2011.

Today, Turner flies all over the United States, auditing chicken suppliers for food safety and has earned the reputation of being masterful at her job.

“I always tell our partners that if something is wrong, you might as well tell Melanie because she will find it,” said Joshua Funk, KFC director of Food Safety and Quality Assurance.

But that’s just during the day, Monday through Friday. On nights and weekends, Turner takes her mother’s chiding to heart and lives luxuriously for less with five side hustles — she’s a YouTube vlogger, event planner, venue owner, Etsy store owner and teacher. Each business centers on saving money without sacrificing style.

We spoke with Turner about why she got started, how KFC enables her to pursue her side hustles and more.

You have a successful job as a food safety auditor for KFC. Why start a YouTube channel?

I got married in 2012 and started vlogging by posting videos to share my wedding planning ideas with friends via Facebook, but nobody else really knew it was there. To get wedding inspiration, I followed YouTuber At Home With Nikki, and we became Facebook friends. Eventually, she reached out to me and said that I had a gift, suggesting that I launch a YouTube channel. And I was like, "I can’t because I'm Southern, and nobody wants to hear me, and blah-blah-blah.” But she proceeded to coach me through my first real YouTube video, and we did a collaboration, which was really successful.

But I still wasn't serious about it. I would post monthly or once every three or four months — I wasn't consistent. But then 2014 came, and that was a really rough year. I lost my mom, my brother and three other relatives within six weeks of each another. After they passed, I started to tap more into my creative side, because I had kind of abandoned it as my job is highly analytical and scientific. YouTube gave me more balance to cope with what I was going through outside of work, so I got more serious about it.

baby shower

How’d you amass 100,000 followers? That’s no small feat!

It all started with event planning. I always liked planning parties for friends, but I wasn’t official. When I launched my YouTube channel, I shared my party-planning tricks with friends. Then they started asking, "Can you show us how to do stuff using everything from the Dollar Tree?" and I did that. Eventually, there became a demand for my content.

To meet that demand, I took a YouTube class and invested in video equipment. My husband is very supportive. For my birthday and Christmas, he corralled the family together and bought my first iPad and camera because I'm really cheap and don't like to spend that kind of money.  

In 2016, my husband was laid off, so we went all in on my side hustle to make ends meet. We bought an event space and used my YouTube channel earnings to pay the rent.

So, I was an amateur event planner first, then YouTube vlogger, then event space owner. I occasionally sell planners and things like that on Etsy, and I teach live, in-person workshops, which helps me to share my know-how with other people, but it also cuts down on the stress and the work for me, because they're actually doing all of the bow tying and table setting. My husband's like, "Let me get this right. They pay you to do the work?" I'm like, "Yeah!"

So how’d I amass 100,000 followers? I just worked and got better at filming every day, and people noticed.

So you haven’t advertised your YouTube channel?

I have sponsors on my channel, but I don’t advertise my own business. So far, people have found me through word of mouth. I have tried to think about how to market my channel, but I don't have that kind of capital to throw at marketing. Word of mouth is fine for me because I have to kind of gauge how big I want “Living Luxuriously for Less” to be, and because I enjoy what I do with Yum!, I don't want it to get so full-scale that it becomes overwhelming and no longer fun.

What have you learned from KFC that you’ve applied to your side hustles and vice versa?

KFC has taught me how to manage relationships and communication skills that I'm able to apply to my channel. That's like a breath of fresh air to sponsors because a lot of YouTubers don’t know how to write an advertising proposal or create process maps. It really helps sponsors to understand the content that I'm going to be creating, highlighting their products, and it's definitely a skill that I've learned from working at Yum!.

On the flip side, one of the things that I lacked in terms of my day job was time management because in poultry, there's always something going on. You're always fighting fires, and there's so many things to do, so I really suffered in terms of time management. But when I started to plan events, I learned that time management is everything. If you're going to be successful at events, you have to be successful in managing a timeline because if one thing is out of order, it just ruins everything and your career as an event planner is over. I definitely had to learn how to champion time management in my side hustles and in my day job at KFC.

Wedding Reception

What keeps you at KFC instead of pursuing event planning and vlogging full-time?

Yum! totally changed the landscape of my life. My mom was a single mom of five children. She was unemployed before she worked at KFC as a team member, and her RGM saw her talent and promoted her again and again. Before she passed away, she was a restaurant manager, and at some point in her life, she was also a district manager. KFC took us off of welfare, and she became a homeowner. From welfare to homeowner, that’s a big deal, right?

And my oldest brother worked as a manager at Pizza Hut, which was huge in our small town. He also became a homeowner thanks to Pizza Hut.

I worked at Taco Bell in high school, and when I started to pursue my career, my mom wanted me to go into food science. She said that the field was wide open for women, so I did, and in doing so, I was able to provide for my family.

Yum! has done so many different things for our lives, like giving my family opportunities that weren’t necessarily afforded to people of color and people of our social dynamic and income level, so I feel like I owe the company so much more. It’s deeper to me than a paycheck. This company changed my life and the landscape of my entire family. I can’t imagine not working at Yum!.

Turner and her mother at her wedding in 2012.


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