One of the most significant things the pandemic has altered is the sense of community and human connection. While interaction like this can’t be replaced, some restaurants are using social media pages to compensate for the lost community spirit and to connect with their customers.
Before COVID-19, conversations about where food is sourced or the origin of recipes would happen at storefronts or during pop-up events. Today small businesses have confined themselves to as little human interaction as possible to avoid spreading the virus.
Haute Sweets Patisserie in Northeast Dallas is one of these restaurants. Chef Tida Pichakron started Haute Sweets in 2013, selling French pastries and specializing in French macaroons. Pichakron runs the bakery’s Instagram page and enjoys sharing bits of her life beyond her products. Although she mostly uses Instagram to inform her audience, she says it’s important to add a personal touch, as well.
“A lot of my interaction with customers, because they’re not walking in anymore, is through direct messaging, through comments,” Pichakron says. “It’s kind of interesting though because now I know a lot more about my customers.”
Pichakron’s family is from Thailand. Haute Sweets doesn’t sell Thai food regularly, but she has been exploring Thai food a little bit more lately. During the time of COVID, Pichakron has been looking for comfort food as a stress reliever, which made her gravitate back toward the familiar food.
“When you think of comfort foods, a lot of people will say it could be whatever your mom made,” Pichakron says. “Unintentionally, that’s what I found myself doing. I was actually trying to re-create things my mom was making when I was younger.”
This led her to come out with a gai yang (Thai barbecue chicken) grilling kit. Pichakron used Instagram to show her customers her own journey in making the chicken, using fresh ingredients.
“They want to see the process,” Pichakron says. “They don’t want to just see the end result, they want to see all the love that goes into it, and you want to show that, too, because then that makes them more invested in it.”
Momo Shack, which previously sold their Nepali dumplings at pop-ups, now has momos available to pick up frozen.
Momo Shack Himalayan Dumplings also uses Instagram to connect with their customers and teach them how to make momos, Nepali dumplings usually filled with meat and vegetables. Since the pandemic, Momo Shack has been focusing attention on frozen momos customers can fry at home.
While Momo Shack has QR codes on packages for instructions, they also let their customers know what to do through detailed posts. Besides this, Momo Shack has been putting effort into talking about current affairs, whether it be the pandemic, voting or the Black Lives Matter movement.
Momo Shack is aware of the pressure 2020 has put on everyone. Leezen Amatya, one of the founders of Momo Shack, ays bsefore the pandemic, it was easy to connect with people at their pop-up shops, but now they have to do the same through a computer screen.
“It feels like we are all in a rut, and I think we are all feeling that,” Amatya says. “So we are just putting ourselves out there as people behind the brand and connecting people on a deeper level.”
Amatya says he aims to explain the importance of his culture through the food they serve.
“Momos [are] a staple of Nepal,” Amatya says.“It is something that we always try to put out there. Food has a unique ability to connect people no matter what. That’s what it was for me and Nepal.”
Forming human connections over food is not unique to Nepal. Anna Swann of Filipino pop-up Ulam says food is a love language in Filipino culture.
Swann says Ulam has helped her learn more about her background, but she still feels as though she is in a limbo between two cultures.
Anna Swann cooks for an Ulam pop-up (before the pandemic hit).
“For me, I don’t speak Tagalog, I don’t understand Tagalog, and I always felt ‘less than’ because of that,” Swann says. “I always had hesitation, and it’s still sometimes in the back of my mind, like am I enough to be sharing this, my culture, food like my family’s food?”
Swann shares this vulnerability through her Instagram page, and since the pandemic, her social media strategy has changed. Recently, she talks about her food, recipes and recounts stories through Instagram about her family immigrating to the United States.
Swann, like Amatya, believes you have to be transparent to sustain an emotional connection with customers online.
“I think a lot of children of immigrants go through this where your family doesn’t want to let traditional cultures go,” Swann says. “ I always felt like I’m not Filipino enough, but I’m not American enough. I’ve shared those feelings on my platform.”
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