DENVER – A viral TikTok video of a Japanese restaurant in Denver has created chaos, challenges and change for the small business.
In 1996, Gaku Homma opened the Domo Japanese Country restaurant. Its restaurant offers a unique dining experience, rich in flavor and culture, which has attracted loyal customers over the past 25 years. Guests have the choice of sitting indoors surrounded by Japanese decor or outdoors in a traditional Japanese garden. The local business has become a Denver staple over the years and in 2021 Zagat named the restaurant one of the top five Japanese restaurants in the United States. But nothing has prepared the business owner and staff for the power and impact of social media.
A customer recorded a TikTok video – less than a minute and without narration – of the restaurant in July. But that’s all the people needed.
In a single day, the video received hundreds of thousands of views.
“After it went viral, we were definitely inundated with customers, almost instantly, so there was a big change in our normal customer base,” Chef Koichi Ninomiya said.
He said an employee extracted the video and it was viewed over half a million in one day. For several days, people lined up in front of the restaurant before the doors opened. The queue was so long it reached an apartment complex more than half a block from the entrance.
Ninomiya called the video a blessing and a curse.
“It’s good to have people coming in, but at the same time it’s just a bit too much for us as staff and overall we are not equipped with enough staff to meet the demands. request, ”Ninomiya said.
The company is home to many loyal customers who have gone from a maximum wait time of 30 minutes to three hours or more.
“It was busy to the point where we had to turn away clients,” Ninomiya said.
Homma, the restaurant owner, said customers were frustrated with the wait time.
A Facebook post on the restaurant’s page said customers were repeating insults and shouting hateful words at other people who were patiently waiting. Police have been called several times to prevent the explosions from escalating.
“There have been some unhappy people,” Ninomiya said.
Ninomiya said trying to predict how much food to prepare and order has become difficult.
Homma was overwhelmed by the business boom and shut down for two weeks to prepare and set guidelines. He decided to go from seven days a week to three days a week and limited the number of seats to keep people safe during the pandemic.
“We are always busy. We reached our capacity almost every night during these three nights, ”said Ninomiya.
He estimates he prepares 300 plates a day and that doesn’t include appetizers for the tables.
A client who was waiting to be seated with her friends was in town visiting Denver and said a friend recommended that she dine at the Domo. She said she usually searches for hashtags on TikTok to find new restaurants and cool places to visit.
“It highlights the food, it enhances the ambiance. Most of the time it’s the hidden gems that don’t spend a lot of money on marketing, so you can only see these real, authentic places, ”the client said.
Ninomiya stressed that they were grateful for the extra business and just asked for patience and understanding. He said that like most restaurants, they are understaffed.
“We want to serve everyone. You just need to come early, register, be patient and try not to be frustrated with us, and we’ll do our best, ”Ninomiya said.
Signs outside the restaurant now warn people of the extended wait times and remind patrons that every dish is cooked with care.