Food News

Clawful Goes Viral on TikTok, Braces for Boost in Business

Clawful Goes Viral on TikTok, Braces for Boost in Business
Eli Stone/TikTok
"It's been a crazy 24 hours, but I can't help but have a smile on my face," says Eli Stone. On October 6, Stone uploaded a short video to his TikTok account about Clawful, the restaurant at 1862 South Wadsworth Boulevard in Lakewood where his friend Daniel Pyun is the sole employee. By that evening, the video had reached much further than the two had ever expected.

"Around 8 or 9 p.m., Eli's phone started blowing up with notifications," Pyun notes. By the morning of October 7, the video had racked up over 50,000 likes (and counting) and had been viewed by over 190,000 people. "We originally hoped it would get 10,000 views, maybe 15,000 if it really took off."

But Clawful's story struck a nerve. The video introduced viewers to its owners, husband and wife Shangbong Han and Maria Shong, who are Korean immigrants. After they came to this country, the two spent time living in the South, including in Houston, where they were introduced to Cajun cuisine. When they relocated to Denver, they decided to open their first restaurant so that they could share their passion for food with others.

On March 4, 2020, they announced that Clawful would have its grand opening on March 20. But the pandemic put a major halt to those plans, when all restaurants in Colorado were ordered to close for indoor dining beginning March 17.

Despite the challenges of the past eighteen months — including the theft of the Polaroid camera they'd been using to take photos of all of their customers — the owners continued to follow their dreams. But business has been slow, and the possibility of having to close looms large. The two work seventy-hour weeks since they can only afford to pay one employee, Pyun, who also has a second job.
Polaroids show some of Clawful's first customers. - ELI STONE/TIKTOK
Polaroids show some of Clawful's first customers.
Eli Stone/TikTok
Pyun and Stone met as students at the University of Colorado Boulder and have kept in touch ever since. Stone runs a GenZ consultancy called Bouta, and when Pyun recently mentioned how slow business was at Clawful, Stone offered to make a TikTok video for the restaurant pro bono. While he has had some viral marketing success for large corporate clients, the results of the Clawful video have been far more satisfying, he says.

The owners don't speak fluent English, and while Pyun is also Korean, he does not speak that language fluently. "I don't think the owners have a clear comprehension of what's going on right now," Stone admits, noting that he and Pyun are doing their best to explain the concept of the viral video largely through a translator app.

If the effects of this video are anything like those of another recent viral TikTok story, Clawful may soon have more customers than it can handle. In July, Japanese restaurant Domo was the subject of a video on the app that garnered thousands of views. In that case, however, the longtime owner wasn't looking for more guests, and called the rush of new customers that followed a "big problem" that created chaos for him and his staff. 

Clawful may face similar challenges, but Pyun and Stone are excited about the potential of reaching new people who could become regulars — though they do ask for patience in the coming days if waits for tables and food are longer than normal.

Clawful is open Tuesday through Sunday from noon to close. In addition to encouraging people to visit and show support, Stone and Pyun have set up a GoFundMe to help offset the costs of hiring new staff to handle the expected boost in business, build a refreshed website and cover some of the rent and operational costs that the owners have been struggling to pay. 
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Molly Martin is the Westword Food & Drink editor. She’s been writing about the dining scene in Denver since 2013, and was eating her way around the city long before that. She enjoys long walks to the nearest burrito joint and nights spent sipping cocktails on Colfax.
Contact: Molly Martin