NEW YORK –
The Lexington Candy Shop in New York City has served burgers, fries and shakes to hungry patrons for decades. Last remodelled in 1948, the diner is the definition of old-fashioned.
But that hasn’t stopped it from getting a wave of new fans.
In August 2022, this old school business met the new world when Nicolas Heller, a TikToker and Instagrammer with 1.2 million followers known as New York Nico, popped in for a traditional Coke float — Coke syrup, soda water and ice cream. Naturally, he took a video. It went viral, garnering 4.8 million likes.
“The next day (after the video was posted), the lines started forming at 8 in the morning,” John Philis, the diner’s third-generation co-owner, recalls with amazement. “And it was like, huh!”
When a smaller restaurant unexpectedly goes viral on TikTok or other social media, the sudden demand can be overwhelming. Owners have to adapt on the fly, revamping operations to quickly serve a crush of people. But savvy business owners who are able to adapt can parlay newfound fame into a lasting boost for their business.
Ali Elreda opened Fatima’s Grill in Downey, California, in 2016, drawing in customers with an eclectic range of tacos, wraps and burgers.
He sprinkled Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in some of them, inspired by his daughter’s love of hot chips. By 2020, Elreda had worked hard to develop his restaurant’s social media presence, shooting videos with music. But after a TikToker dubbed @misohungry posted a video of Elreda’s Flaming Hot Cheeto Fusion burger that August, things suddenly “just went crazy.”
Dominique Ansel, second from right, greets people who have been waiting in line for the opening of his namesake bakery in New York, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023. In 2013, before most people knew the term “going viral,” the French pastry chef created the Cronut, a cross between a croissant and a doughnut, at his newly opened New York bakery. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Lines to get into the restaurant ballooned to two to three hours — for months. At first, the store wasn’t ready for the influx.
“We just couldn’t adjust,” he said. “We would stay late hours to prep for the next day and then the lines would continue and continue and continue and continue.”
Opening two nearby restaurants helped relieve the pressure. Elreda now has 10 locations, including newly opened restaurants in Detroit and Brooklyn