How a daughter’s viral TikTok saved her family’s struggling restaurant

A family’s restaurant was out of luck, until it got a big boost with help from TikTok — and a community that came together to save it.

Jennifer Le posted about her family’s restaurant in January urging people to try their Vietnamese restaurant in Santa Rosa, California.

It “makes me so sad to see my parents just waiting for customers to walk through the door,” she wrote in a post on the social media platform, showing an empty restaurant.

Lee’s Noodle House has been around for 20 years. But trouble started in 2017 when the deadly Tubbs Fire—then the largest wildfire in California history—devastated Santa Rosa and bankrupted the Le family for a month.

Then there was the pandemic. Their dining room had to close for six months and they only offered take-out.

“Actually, we couldn’t afford to hire employees,” says Vuong Le, Jennifer’s father. “So hard, so we have to hold on, and just me and my wife and my siblings. Hold on and try to survive.”

Vuong Le and his wife cook and serve the food. Help their children where they can.

Jennifer Le, a grad student in Southern California, thought her TikToks might go viral and help business. She posted one that was seven seconds long — and it drew over a million views.

People showed up almost immediately and the place was packed with new customers — so many that Jennifer Le has flown home to Northern California to help her parents serve the food whenever she can.

“The power of social media is insane,” she told CBS News.

When Erika Altes saw Jennifer Le’s TikTok, she urged her own Instagram audience of over 100,000 to help the restaurant. But first, she took her family to eat at Lee’s to try the food — telling followers of her page, @whiskeyandlace, that the meal was delicious.

“I realized I live less than two miles from this place,” Altes told CBS News, “so I decided to call up my audience, because I have a big local following, and ask them if they would like to contribute to a bigger tip after I finish my meal, and pay for my meal, and pay for my tip.”

She said she eventually raised $2,000 for the family.

“Not only have people from far and wide donated to go to tip, but people came in for lunch. And they keep coming, which is so cool to see there’s still so much momentum behind it,” she said .

“And it wasn’t just one solid weekend of business. It’s been weeks of business, which I think, you know, has changed their entire business from closing and being able to stay open, which is incredible,” Altes said.

The donation will help Le make some necessary improvements, such as repairing the air conditioner and buying a new ice machine.

“It just brings so much love and joy to my family, because without the people of the community, I don’t know if I can survive,” said Vuong Le.

For Altes, the takeaway is: a small act can go a long way.

“I think it just kind of gives you a restored faith in humanity, right?” Altes said. “I think with so much going on in the world, people want good news, and we need to get it more into the mix.”

Jennifer Le said business has never been better and estimates sales have increased by 30-40% since she posted her TikTok.

She said there are many takeaways.

“I feel like the most important one is… if you give back to others, good things will happen to you,” she said.

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