Every time a viral item hits social media, I brace myself for the inevitable barrage of texts, tags, and links. Hungry foodies will stop at nothing to get their hands (and IG feeds) on this unique dish. And for some reason, old Pete has to come along for the ride.
We've been fortunate enough to help ferry some of these items across the sea of social media.
Because there's so much more to the simple fact that a viral item may help a restaurant take off,
I spoke to a few restaurant owners who have each had an item blow up overnight. Each concept was unique: a kabob burrito, a Mexican pop culture donut shop, a cotton candy burrito, and one of the first restaurants to throw Flamin’ Hot Cheetos onto a menu item.
Here’s what they had to say:
Mini Kabob is home to the one our favorite Middle Eastern restaurants in Los Angeles County but it was also the birthplace of his viral Ali Baba Kabob Burrito.
"The first time we created the burrito was with Instagrammer Grubfiend (Nick Fasone)," he told FOODBEAST. "It was a kabob burrito and after that we called it the Grubfiend Burrito."
Trying to create a more marketable name, Foodbeast head of video and Lebanese Lothario Marc Kharrat came up with the Ali Baba Burrito, which Martirosyan loved.
"It's funny because my dad calls my mom: Ali Baba. So that's how the Ali Baba Burrito came to be."
Wrapped within the flatbread known as lavash are a medley of hummus, rice, chicken thigh or beef shish, homemade salad, garlic sriracha sauce and sumac.
"The Ali Baba Burrito is basically a Middle Eastern Dish in a burrito."
As soon as the video dropped, people came in waves.
"Last year when the video went up, we had a three-hour wait every Sunday. We were making about 80-90 burritos in the hour and a half that Mini Kabob offered them. It was a little too much."
Mini Kabob lives up to its name, with about 225 square feet and a 120 square feet kitchen. Martirosyan knew about two weeks into selling the viral burrito that this just wasn’t going to work. Instead of taking down the popular item, however, he created a new business around it.
The fusion concept can be found at Smorgasburg Los Angeles every Sunday. Martirosyan is currently working on more taco products to add to his already popular menu. Though most who come for the Ali Baba Burrito will have enough on their plate dodging Mr. Sandman on the drive home.
Donas Donut Shop
"It happened on a Wednesday that you guys posted the video on your Facebook Page," Donas co-owner David Vasquez recalls.
Donas is so much more than a donut shop. “It’s a whimsical little slice of Latino culture tucked away in Downey, CA. As fellow Foodbeast Isai Rocha puts it,
"Donas also serves as a gateway into the nostalgic memories of Mexicans who grew up with Selena, El Santo, or Abuelita hot chocolate."
Well, it seems everyone with a sweet tooth headed straight to Donas after the video dropped.
"People just kept showing up nonstop all day. It just stayed like that where every morning we would get a line, people would come in throughout the day, and we would sell out."
"The first Sunday since the video launched was really difficult to be honest," co-owner Ashley Vasquez admitted. "At that point, we were only making a batch of 200 donuts a day. In the afternoon we would have a baker come in and make us a few extra ones, but the first four or five days we wouldn't have another batch coming out.
She explained that Donas is churning out more volume, making more sales, but paying that back in labor costs.
Donas recently had to shorten their hours from closing at 10pm to 6pm. They've begun training a second baker to help produce a new batch of donuts for the later hours.
"We're not just saying 'hey, we're sold out," and that's it. We're working really hard to meet demand. We're only meeting demand because we've decreased our hours."
Ashley, David, and the partners of Donas are still working to train new staff to meet the newfound popularity of their colorful donuts. If you're looking to get your hands on one, like the vibrant Selena Donut, you may want to get in line early, just to be safe.
Cotton Candy Burrito
"When it went viral, it was hilarious because the wife didn't hear anything that night, got up the next morning and went to Sugar Sugar and saw that customers were already lined up at the door."
Martin Lacombe, owner of Sugar Sugar in Sarnia, Canada, recalls his wife calling him and asking: "What the hell did you do?"
You may remember a video launching on Foodbeast last summer featuring a cotton candy burrito stuffed with scoops of ice cream and finished with Unicorn dust (edible glitter).
When it posted last summer, Lacombe's cotton candy burrito did gangbusters, eventually reaching 30 million Facebook views since launch.
"It's a huge honor when someone drives three or four hours for something you've created. It was really overwhelming for me, because I couldn't believe people were doing that."
Located in Sarnia, the shop is two and a half hours from Toronto and an hour from Detroit.
Last summer, when the Foodbeast video launched, Sugar Sugar would sell about 200 ice cream burritos a day. Unlike Armen's burritos from Mini Kabob, Lacombe’s assembly process was much simpler to execute being a quick-serve ice cream parlor.
Lacombe says it only takes about 35 seconds to make a shell, everything after that can easily be done in seconds - scooping the ice cream and assembling the burrito.
"Ice cream's easily servable, and if there's a line outside the door and they're waiting a long time, it's usually a good problem to have."
Lacombe did admit, however, he had one major regret from all this.
"The only shame and only regret that I have out of all of this is if my shop was sitting on Youngstreet in Downtown Toronto, I'd be a millionaire by now."
Hot Cheetos Mac and Cheese
Back in 2012, the world was introduced to one of the first viral restaurant foods around: The Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Mac and Cheese.
Steve Massin, the owner of The Attic on Broadway in Long Beach, CA, fondly recalls the debut of his iconic novelty dish.
Massin asked himself:
"How do I want to make my mac and cheese fun? It just seemed to me like all of the options out there were pretty much the same — You had your bread crumb topping. It was a lot of the same kind of mac and cheese. I wanted to do something fun and different on a dish that everybody loved."
Originally it started as Mac and cheese with Goldfish crumbles on top. One day Massin asked himself what would be a good contrast to this dish — what do people love?
"Where I come from a lot of times food was so serious, as it should be, but we took something that had really good quality in it and put something fun on top. Just to show how fun it could be."
Twenty million views on BuzzFeed and many other videos later and the rest was history. The Attic sold 200 macs a day after that video came out.
"People loved it. I can probably count on one hand how many people said they didn't like it, and that's after many many mac and cheeses sold."
The dish brought a lot of people to the restaurant who maybe wouldn’t visit otherwise if they didn't see it on a viral video or a social media platform that drove them in.
"I think at the end of the day, It was really good for us."
While he wouldn't call it a negative, Massin says a lot of people know The Attic as the Mac and Cheetos place now.
"There's so much more to the restaurant than mac and Cheetos. That was just something that we put on the menu as an appetizer just to be fun."
Like it or not, social media is here to stay. For these restauranteurs, we found out exactly what happened to them when their concept went viral. The power of social media isn't only geared towards unconventional menu items, however. Some fun and engaging coverage on a regular basis can reach customers further than any paid advertisement. Having a Instagram-worthy item go viral doesn’t hurt though. Chili Cheese Churros, anyone?