Andia’s Ice Cream had been on TikTok for about six months, sharing entertaining if little-seen clips highlighting the Cary shop’s cones and milkshakes, when the business had its first viral hit. An April 2021 video rating the “scoopability” of the monthly flavors racked up over 2 million views and nearly 300,000 likes, with commenters buzzing over unique offerings like Flamin’ Hot (cream cheese and hot Cheetos) and Cannoli Cream.

Inspired by the video’s success, Andia’s started posting monthly “Scoopability” ratings on TikTok, in addition to regular clips spotlighting specific flavors and creations. Before long, the shop had amassed nearly 180,000 followers and almost 6.5 million likes across the platform.

Even better than the virtual love, though, were the real-life visits to the store that the videos inspired.

“I’d be in the shop and people would be like, ‘I just drove from Wilmington,’ or ‘I just drove from Wake Forest’” because of TikTok, recalls Andia Xouris, the company’s cofounder. “That’s when we knew [the videos] were actually reaching an audience that would come and buy our ice cream.”

While businesses gaining word-of-mouth sales due to social media is nothing new, the rise of TikTok, with its massive audience and curated “For You” algorithm, has given the many companies—big brands but also small local companies—that utilize the platform an unparalleled boost in exposure.

A single viral video can earn a business thousands of new followers, many of whom may decide to turn their online fandom into real action by buying products, or—as in the case of Andia’s—traveling miles to see the selections for themselves.

TikTok, which officially took off in the United States in 2018, is best known for memes and viral dance trends, but food businesses have also thrived on the app.

Mouthwatering videos of staples like pizzas and sundaes have proven to have star power, gaining users’ attention and propelling dishes to virality—and driving sales.

Of course, as with all trends, there’s no way to know if TikTok’s enormous popularity will last long term and if food creators using the app will eventually find their audiences dwindling. For now, though, the platform is an ideal space for business owners with ample creativity and products to sell; in the Triangle, several food-focused businesses have taken full advantage of TikTok’s benefits by posting videos meant to get viewers first salivating, then buying.

Courtney Bowman, the owner of the custom charcuterie board shop Raleigh Cheesy, has earned nearly 36,000 followers on TikTok since joining the app in late 2019. Many of the videos showcase her impressive creations, but some of her most popular clips feature the mundane, behind-the-scenes process of running the shop: counting inventory, assembling tables, and cutting cheeses. Recently, a time-lapse video of Bowman cleaning a 16-foot pew for her new second storefront garnered 1.6 million views, much to the owner’s surprise.

“I was like, ‘I’m sorry, what?’” she says with a laugh. “It has nothing to do with cheese!”

Not that she’s complaining, though: the more views her videos bring in on TikTok, the more sales made by Raleigh Cheesy. Bowman estimates that 10–15 percent of her in-store customers find the business due to TikTok, in addition to online shoppers who cite the app as their influence for booking cheeseboard-making classes or ordering snack boxes for delivery.

“I’ve noticed big spurts of business that come from it,” says Bowman.

Maintaining that business flow requires significant effort. The owner spends hours filming, editing, and uploading multiple videos each day, making sure to always post at the same time to maximize viewing potential, per TikTok’s algorithms.

At Andia’s Ice Cream, meanwhile, the team—which includes Xouris, her husband and cofounder George, their two children, and the company’s creative director, Nancy Thapa—frequently comes together to brainstorm ideas for new TikToks, pulling inspiration from the app’s constantly changing trends or pop culture releases. Their efforts pay off; last November, a video pairing flavors with Taylor Swift albums posted two days before the singer’s Red re-release garnered more than 770,000 views.

Although Xouris was skeptical about using TikTok at first—“I really thought it was just young teenagers and there really wouldn’t be anything to actually market our ice cream to people who’d come and buy it”—she’s thrilled to have been proven so wrong. The ice cream shop’s videos, she says now, have been crucial to growing the brand’s presence both in-state and out.

“Our goal is to be able to ship our pints to all of those wonderful people who are seeing our videos and aren’t able to come drive locally to come pick it up,” she says.

Thanks to the tagging feature, some local businesses stand to benefit from just being on the platform, even if they don’t post. Queso Monster, a Mexican food truck that travels around the Triangle, has a relatively small 2,100 followers on TikTok, but widely seen videos from North Carolina food blogs and photographs spotlighting the company’s offerings have led to increased exposure. When Bray Holt, a TikToker with over 106,000 followers, posted a clip in June 2021 calling Queso Monster “the best Mexican food truck in North Carolina,” people from all over the state started seeking out the truck.

“I kept getting people coming in and being like, ‘Oh, we saw you guys on TikTok,’” recalls Mariana Martinez, the daughter of co-owners Miguel Lopez and Patricia Martinez and the company’s social media lead.

Although Queso Monster hasn’t been posting much content of its own as of late, Mariana Martinez says the family is planning to change that soon with videos showing the behind-the-scenes efforts of running a food truck and appetizing offerings like birria tacos and chorizo quesadillas.

“People tend to really like eating with their eyes on TikTok,” she notes—and as she and the others now know well, the more videos that go viral, the more real eating will be done as well.

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