Due to a loving grandson and a viral TikTok video, a Dallas restaurant going through laborious instances has new life
80-year-old Kang Lee struggled to fill his downtown Sushiya restaurant until his grandson posted a TikTok video encouraging hungry people to visit.
DALLAS – A Dallas restaurant owner who has seen better days thanks to COVID-19 gets a ton of business after his grandson showed up and made his Japanese restaurant go viral on TikTok.
Kang Lee, 80, has owned and operated Sushiya in downtown Dallas since 2008.
Lee emigrated to America from Seoul, South Korea, in 1968. After graduating from Texas A&M University-Commerce in 1970, he called Texas home. After graduating, he even opened one of the first Korean grocery stores in Dallas.
But for the past 13 years, Lee has been known among the lunch and dinner crowds in downtown Dallas.
However, that crowd quickly disappeared when the global pandemic hit.
One by one, the restaurants around Lee began to close. He had to let most of his staff go and just switched to takeout and pickup orders.
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But even these orders could not restore what his restaurant once was.
Many of Lee’s usual customers worked in the extensive concrete jungle around his restaurant, and now they no longer had to physically come to work.
“People liked our food and they liked how quiet it was here,” said Lee. “You could communicate with the people you came to lunch with.”
“It was hard; we tried to survive.”
Lee himself is stuck between two recently closed companies, one of which has served clients for 29 years.
While things have gotten better because of the loose COVID-19 guidelines, much of the crowd that normally lives downtown has not fully returned.
“Before the pandemic, there was regular business and we were happy,” said Lee. “Now it’s hardly any business.”
Fortunately, Lee’s grandson Andrew Kim noticed this problem when he visited in March.
Kim is the son of Lee’s daughter and lives with his family in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
He is 18 years old, attends the Pratt Institute in New York to study architecture, and has a lot of followers at TikTok.
637,000 followers to be precise.
He hadn’t seen his grandfather in over a year and quickly noticed that people weren’t in the restaurant.
“I thought they weren’t even open when I got there because literally nobody was in the restaurant,” Kim said.
“My grandfather started talking about how business was going bad and I wasn’t expecting how empty it would be when I got there.”
He garnered his TikTok following by trending online and decided to make a video encouraging people to come to his grandfather’s restaurant.
It went crazy online. To date, it has nearly six million views and nearly two million likes.
“It has way more views than I thought it would ever get,” Kim said.
Kim posted the video on March 19, and the following day the restaurant was flooded with customers.
“Grandpa called and he told me it was crazy and that they were full,” said Kim. “It was so unexpected.”
Lee says crowds have been coming for weeks. He even kept track of which nights were busy on a calendar due to the TikTok video.
He put many of his employees on hold and said his earnings have increased from 50% from pre-pandemic to 95%.
Needless to say, he is very grateful to Kim.
“He saved this restaurant,” said Lee.
For Kim, the video on a social media app is longer than 15 seconds. He is a third generation Korean and would do anything for the man who pioneered his family.
“There is a language barrier between my grandfather and me so it’s difficult to convey how much I love him,” said Kim.
“The fact that this video went so well was really meaningful to me.”
And Lee, for his part, is very proud.
“Thank you Andrew! I love you!” Lee said outside the restaurant while holding one of Kim’s baby photos.