A family restaurant was down on its luck, until it got a big boost with the help of 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 waiting for customers just to walk through the door,” he wrote in a post on the social media platform, showing an empty restaurant.
Lee’s Noodle House has been open for 20 years. But trouble began in 2017 when the deadly Tubbs Fire — then the largest wildfire in California history — devastated Santa Rosa and put the Lay family out of business for a month.
Then, there was the epidemic. They were forced to close the dining room for six months, and they only offered to go.
“Basically, we couldn’t afford to hire employees,” said Vuong Le, Jennifer’s father. “So hard, so we have to hang on tight, and just me and my wife and my siblings. Just hang in there and try to survive.”
Vuong Le and his wife cook and serve the food. Their children help when they can.
Jennifer Lay, a grad student from Southern California, thought maybe her TikToks could go viral and help her business. He posted one that was seven seconds long — and it drew more than a million views.
Almost immediately, people started showing up and the place was packed with new customers — so many that Jennifer Ley flew home to Northern California to help her parents serve food as often as possible.
“The power of social media is crazy,” he told CBS News.
When Erika Altes saw Jennifer Leigh’s TikTok, she urged her own Instagram audience of over 100,000 people to help the restaurant. But first, she took her family to Lee’s to try the food — and told followers of her page, @whiskeyandlace, that the food was delicious.
“I realized that I live less than two miles from this place,” Altes told CBS News, “and so I decided to reach out to my audience, ’cause I have a big local following, and ask them if they would contribute to a Want to keep it? Big tip after I’m done eating, and pay for my meal, and pay for my tip.”
He said he raised $2,000 for the family.
“Not only did people donate from near and far to go to the tip, but people came for lunch. And they’re going to keep coming, which is great to see that there’s still a lot of momentum behind it,” he said.
“And it wasn’t like a tough weekend of business. It was a few weeks of business, which I think, you know, changed their entire business from being closed to being able to stay open, which is incredible,” Altes said.
The grant will help Le make some much-needed improvements, such as fixing the air conditioner and buying a new ice machine.
“It just brings a lot of love, joy to my family because without the people in the community, I don’t know if I would survive,” said Vuong Le.
For Altes, the takeaway is: A little work can go a long way.
“I think it gives you a kind of restored faith in humanity, doesn’t it?” Altes said. “I think, with so much going on in the world, people want some good news and we need to mix it up more.”
Jennifer Ley says that business has never been better and estimates that revenue has increased by 30-40% since she posted her TikTok.
He said there are many takeaways.
“I think the bottom line is … if you give back to others, good things will happen to you,” he said.