Ohio deli booming thanks to Lizzo, TikTok and viral chicken salad

CLEVELAND — One small deli on Cleveland’s East Side made a short video on TikTok about a chicken salad it sells, and the impact has been massive.

The 81st Street Deli off of Superior Avenue is popular in the area.

“We’ve been here for a very long time. We’ve been here 25 years,” said Wael Herbawi, the owner. “Our food has always been well known.”

But they’ve never been quite as busy as they are now.

“You couldn’t even walk in here yesterday,” said Herbawi.

The publicity is all thanks to Tenisha Godfrey and her love for chicken salads.

“I’ve known them since I was like 13 years old. They’re like family,” she said. “Anytime I come here I either get the corned beef or the chicken salad.”

A few months ago, the owner Herbawi started posting some of the food they make on TikTok, featuring real customers reviewing it.

In August, he featured Godfrey.

“Nisha came in I said ‘You want a salad? She loved it. I hooked it up. I put everything on it for her, and we took a little TikTok,” he said.

The video posted to the video-sharing platform is pretty simple.

“Y’all better come up here and get one of these,” Godfrey said in the video. “It’s a chicken salad from 81st Deli, Superior. I got chicken, pickles, banana peppers, bell peppers, tomatoes, onion.”

In the past week, that video has blown up on TikTok.

“They’re saying your thing went viral, your thing went viral! I’m like what are you talking about? Then I look and I’m like what are you talking about,” said Herbawi.

The video has been viewed more than 8.7 million times and has racked up 1.4 million likes. People think Godfrey is hilarious and the salad delicious.

“They say that my voice is comforting, like ‘Oh my gosh, I love you,’ ‘I can’t stop watching this video,’ people are making songs out of this video. It’s so funny,” said Godfrey.

Even celebrities like the singer Lizzo has taken notice, putting the video on her own TikTok page.

“That’s when the followers and views really started coming through, when Lizzo did it,” she said.

The likes and comments are turning into new customers and business for the deli. Herbawi said people are traveling from near and far for the salad.

“Chicago, Atlanta, California Las Vegas, New York, all over and all over Ohio,” he said.

Godfrey hopes to turn her newfound fame into more business for other restaurants and establishments in the neighborhood she grew up in.

“I try to let people know there’s more to Cleveland’s urban neighborhoods,” she said. “I want to go to different restaurants and try food and see if I can get even just 100 people to go in there and patronize them.”

E. 81st Street Deli’s business is booming thanks to TikTok and chicken salad

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