In December 2023, the Bronx Golden Corral went mega-viral twice on social media. The first was a traditional TikTok with a Bronx twist — a group of Golden Corral employees performing a viral dance in the parking lot. The second was five days later and featured a much larger group of employees singing and dancing to Natasha Bedingfield’s 2004 hit “Unwritten” in another TikTok trend. The videos have received tens of millions of views on TikTok and Instagram combined.
Although most businesses would be thrilled with going viral (twice) after only being open three years, the restaurant’s owners have actually been working toward this for half a century.
Courtesy Bronx Golden Corral
My family has owned the property since the ’70s. I grew up in the restaurant industry,” Niroopa Harpaul, 38, general manager of the Bronx Golden Corral, tells Entrepreneur.
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The family has run restaurants at 2375 E Tremont Ave in the Bronx in New York City for about 50 years. The spot has evolved from a Sizzler in the ’80s with an award-winning salad bar to the neighborhood hangout, Bronx Grill, to New York City’s first Golden Corral, which opened in September 2020.
Now, Niroopa is the general manager and shares management duties with her sister, Nadia Harpaul, the front-of-house manager, and her brother, Davendra (Dave) Harpaul, the kitchen manager.
“It’s an interesting dynamic,” Niroopa says. “We’re closer than ever.”
Entrepreneur talked with Niroopa Harpaul about working with your family, what she’s learned growing up in restaurants, and how to capitalize on viral success.
How has going viral changed your day-to-day so far?
We’ve always had high standards and expectations, but going viral has definitely made us want to be on our A-game even more. We have a responsibility to do justice to the Golden Corral brand, and with a lot of people trying [the brand] for the first time, we want to make sure they’re getting the authentic experience.
The first viral post was on Dec. 13, 2023.
Is each Golden Corral location allowed to do its own marketing?
Golden Corral corporate has a marketing team, but they’ve given us so much leeway with our local marketing and have allowed us this creative expression. We are so grateful for it! We won an award for being the most innovative store in our division at the 2023 Golden Corral National Convention, and with that innovation comes risk-taking.
What do you think resonated with social audiences that led to the viral success?
We are authentic to the Bronx and NYC. That’s why our guests and viewers love it so much. We took the stereotypes that were mentioned in the first viral post and used them to our advantage in the next post. The Bronx is seen as a scary, standoffish place. We wanted to change that!
[The second viral post] might be my favorite post of them all, and [Natasha Bedingfield] reposted it! It was a big fan-girl moment for the entire team and validation for all of the work we put into it.
The second viral post on Dec. 18, 2023.
How has the viral success affected employees?
When The Shade Room reposted us, some of the staff were crying [out of joy]. I never anticipated that.
Some customers want to take photos with the staff. Also, before the viral post, employees would change and take off their uniforms before they leave, but now they keep them on! Our team is loving all the attention, and they truly deserve every ounce of recognition. It’s fun to watch their efforts pay off, and we are looking forward to any opportunities that are coming their way.
Have you received a lot of new applications?
We have gotten so many applicants in the past [month]! We had about 50 applicants a day after going viral. But we have very low turnover to begin with. Some of our staff have been with us for decades. For a lot of our team members, this is a family.
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How did your social media start?
We were practicing for a year and a half before we went viral. It’s been so rewarding and gratifying to see all that hard work pay off. The creativity behind the social media posts is a team effort. I handle the social pages and editing of the videos. Nadia, my sister and FOH manager, does most of the directing and recording. My brother, Dave, handles the back-of-the-house content.
If you look at our past posts, it has changed drastically since we first began. It was mostly pictures of food and beverages but was missing that social aspect. Once we started featuring our team members, celebrating birthdays and recognizing achievements, the posts started to do well. At the beginning of December, our goal was to have 30,000 followers on Instagram by the end of 2024. We have almost 70,000 already [in early February] and are gaining hundreds more every day.
Are employees involved in creative decisions as well?
Yes! We created a “content committee,” and some staff members joined in, threw ideas back and forth and helped plan our videos. A few employees monitor Instagram and TikTok for research and trends. It’s really a team effort, filled with different perspectives and opinions.
Has going viral changed your marketing plans?
We initially focused on TV and print, but within the past year and a half have focused exclusively on social media platforms. Social media is the advertising vehicle we will continue to focus on. Getting more than 8.5 million views on one post alone has given us more exposure and instantaneous results than any previous campaign at a fraction of the cost.
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How would you describe your management style?
It’s firm in expectations, and we work hard. Our staff comes from multiple walks of life, and we try to make it a fun and rewarding environment. We are so proud of the store and brand and try to make that show.
The Bronx location has an alcohol license, something the Golden Corral brand began during the pandemic. Do you think this has had an impact on the location’s success?
We do serve alcohol, and we were one of the first in the country to do so. Our specialty is frozen drinks, specifically our pina colada. For our market, we believe a limited alcohol offering is what the guests want. Each franchisee has to make that determination on their own. A handful of franchisees are testing alcohol to see if it makes sense for their market and guest base.
How has being siblings affected the team?
As siblings and managers, we have gotten closer than ever — but if anything ever gets out of hand, we’ll go to Mom! She leaves us on our own to manage. She is hands-off and grateful that her family is working together.
Niroopa Harpaul, Nadia Harpaul and Dave Harpaul – Courtesy Bronx Golden Corral
What advice would you give to new businesses and entrepreneurs who want to get started with social media?
Have fun! But also know that social media is about more than having fun. It’s a lot of work, and you have to put the time in. Your team needs to be happy and engaged, and you need to study your customer base and community. Always be authentic with your content. Try to connect with people in a way that keeps them engaged and coming back for more.
We have the rights to territory throughout NYC and are looking to open a second location but can’t share any news yet. We are in the process of making sure the site works and is approved by corporate.
This interview has been lightly cut and edited for clarity.