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

Daughter's viral TikTok saves restaurant
Business booming at Bay Area family restaurant after daughter's TikTok video goes viral 06:31

One family's restaurant was down on its luck, until it got a major boost with help from TikTok — and a community that came together to save it.

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

It "makes me so sad to see my parents just wait 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 open for 20 years. But financial troubles started in 2017 when the deadly Tubbs Fire — then the largest wildfire in California history — devastated Santa Rosa. Their building survived but left the Le family out of business for a month.

Then, there was the pandemic. Their dining room was forced to close for six months, and they offered to-go only.

"Basically, we couldn't afford to hire employees," said Jennifer's father, Vuong Le. "So hard, so we have to hang in tight, and just me and my wife and my siblings. Just hang in there and try to survive."

Vuong Le and his wife cook the food, and serve it, too. Their kids help when they can.

Jennifer Le, a grad student in Southern California, thought maybe her TikToks could go viral and help business. She posted one that was seven seconds long — and it pulled more than a million views.

Almost immediately, new customers were walking in the door, packing into the tiny 50-seat restaurant. Jennifer Le ended up flying home to Northern California to help her parents serve food.

"The power of social media is, like, insane," she told CBS News.

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

"I realized I live less than two miles from this place," Altes told CBS News, "and so I decided to call on my audience, 'cause I have a big local following, and ask them if they would like to contribute to a larger tip after I'm done with my meal, and pay for my meal, and pay for my tip."

She said she ended up raising $2,000 for the family.

"Not only did people donate near and far to go towards the tip, but people came in for lunch. And they're continuing to come, which is so cool to see that there's so much momentum still behind it," she said.

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

The donation will help Le start making some necessary improvements, like fixing the air conditioner and buying a new ice machine.

"It just brings so much love, joy to my family because without the people from the community, I don't know if I can survive," said Vuong Le.

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

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

Jennifer Le said business has never been better and estimates revenue is up 30-40% since she posted her TikTok.

She said there are a lot of takeaways.

"I feel like the main one is ... if you give back to others, good things will happen to you," she said.

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