A TikToker and a YouTube star reviewed my taco restaurant and went viral. It helped save my struggling family business.
Kimberly Nguyen is the co-owner of a family-run taco business based in Hawaii and Las Vegas.
One day, Nguyen was given a chance to film a video with internet celebrities Keith Lee and MrBeast.
This is the story of how the video changed her life and business, as told to Charissa Cheong.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Kimberly Nguyen, and it has been edited for length and clarity.
For just over two years, my husband Kevin and I have been living out our dream of owning our own business, but it's taken a lot of hard work and endurance to get here.
During the pandemic, we were both out of a job, because we used to work in events and hospitality, but everything was closed because of COVID-19. My husband moved to Oklahoma to work in construction, and I stayed at our home in Honolulu, Hawaii, because I was pregnant at the time.
One day, I was having a pregnancy craving for tacos, but found that it was really hard to find good Mexican food near me. I cooked some tacos myself, and everyone in my family loved them, telling me I should start making them to sell. Months later, I asked my husband to come back to Hawaii so we could start our own business together. We started off by selling tacos out of our house, and then we eventually bought our own food truck.
Fast-forward to today, and we own two shops, one in Hawaii and the other in Las Vegas, Nevada. Though we had been managing to stay afloat, we found that business was slower than we expected. There were times when we couldn't make rent for the month because we were making under $1,000 in sales on some days, and we also had to pay our staff with that money.
But one day, a TikTok star named Keith Lee walked into our restaurant, and everything changed. Thanks to him, we ended up in a video with the biggest YouTuber in the world, MrBeast, who gave our business a whole new level of exposure.
@keith_lee125 #stitch with @foodwtf Birria Bao Buns from @AlohaMamacitaLV taste test 💕 would you try it ? 💕 #foodcritic ♬ original sound - Keith Lee
At first we thought we'd missed our chance to experience the 'Keith Lee effect,' but then MrBeast got involved
We found out that Keith Lee paid a visit to our Vegas restaurant because one of our cashiers recognized him. I'd been following him on TikTok for a long time and heard stories of how he helped to save struggling businesses by posting reviews of them on social media, but I never thought he would come into our store.
Keith posted a review of some of our products in early January, and he said the food was "delicious." While other restaurant owners say they received an influx of customers after getting a positive review from him, we didn't get to see the "Keith Lee effect" because our shop got broken into, and we were busy dealing with the aftermath.
But thankfully, Keith posted another video about us in late January, this time as part of a series he was working on in collaboration with the most-followed YouTuber in the world, MrBeast.
Keith was selecting one restaurant based in Vegas that he would bring to MrBeast's attention, and that business would get the opportunity to film with him and MrBeast.
My nephews and nieces are huge fans of MrBeast, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, and when Keith reached out to us to announce that we were the store he selected, the whole family was just amazed because we never assumed or thought that we might win the opportunity.
Jimmy's team flew me, my husband, and our business manager, Andrea, out to North Carolina, where he lives, so we could film with him and Keith. We were asked to cook some of our tacos in a makeshift kitchen near his studio so they could both try it on camera and rate the food out of 10 in a TikTok video.
@keith_lee125 Aloha Mamacita taste test 💕 would you try it ? 💕 #foodcritic ♬ original sound - Keith Lee
I was so nervous about cooking for them and getting everything done on time, but when I made it to the shoot and saw these two internet stars trying my food, it felt absolutely surreal. It's always been my dream to have my own restaurant, and I couldn't believe how far we had come in that dream to have ended up here.
It was so nice being able to meet Keith and Jimmy too. Keith is just as kind and genuine as he seems in his videos, and Jimmy was surprisingly quiet and nervous, considering how big of a celebrity he is.
Not only did we gain huge online exposure, but we also received a shocking cash gift
To our complete surprise, Jimmy actually pulled out a briefcase as we were filming the TikTok, and said he was going to give us $10,000 because he liked our food so much. The cash in the briefcase was only prop money, but he did wire us the amount after we finished filming.
I knew that Jimmy tends to give out big cash prizes in his videos, but I did not expect him to do that. It was just such a crazy moment, and I was completely shocked.
@mrbeast Replying to @mrbeast The Tacos tasted better with @keith_lee125 🥰 Go check out @alohamamacitalv in Las Vegas!! 10/10 #birriatacos #food #foodreview ♬ original sound - MrBeast
My husband and I want to keep most of the money to use for reinvesting into our business, but we're also planning to use some of it to treat our staff, who we couldn't have made it this far without.
In the weeks and months following the video, which received over 6 million views, we've found that the online exposure has hugely helped our sales.
So many of our customers who come in tell us they heard about us through Keith Lee's posts, and that big push has helped immensely, especially considering we've tried marketing our business on social media and in newspapers before, and nothing has had as a profound an effect as Keith's help has.
I think Keith's videos in particular really connect to people because he seems much more genuine and honest than some other food influencers. He says that he doesn't accept payment from brands to review their food, and he pays for all the food himself. He even gave MrBeast's own chocolate products a relatively average review, by his standards, despite the fact that they work together.
We're so grateful to him for coming to our restaurant. If it wasn't for him, this whole opportunity would not have been possible for us.
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