A Denver restaurant hopes to solidify its future IRL after going viral on TikTok

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Carlo Campagna is the owner of Toro Food Concepts, a new restaurant on 11th Avenue in Denver that’s seen its business grow because of TikTok.

Social media has transformed the way people discover restaurants, often replacing traditional restaurant reviews. And that has one Denver restaurant hoping the power of the platform will help their business survive. 

“Hey, Denver. I'm hoping people see this and that you can do me a solid,” said Giselle Diaz Campagna in the opening of a short video she posted to TikTok last month. With a picture of her husband’s fledgling restaurant in the background, Diaz Campagna had a simple plea. 

“He finally got his dream to open a restaurant, his very own restaurant. And he makes amazing food, but he is by himself, working this amazing little shop, and things are really, really slow and he's a little bit depressed. If he knew I was posting this, he would flip out. But I'm hoping a lot of people see this. Or if you see it — like (and) share it. Help me out.” 

Diaz Campagna and her husband Carlo Campagna opened Toro Food Concepts in a cozy spot in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood three months ago. The concept is fresh, locally sourced food with a variety of international flavors that customers can customize as a bowl, wrap, or salad to meet their dietary needs and preferences.

But despite positive customer reviews, Toro Food Concepts faces a struggle that many small businesses encounter – attracting foot traffic. It’s something Campagna blames in part on the addictive power of smartphones. 

“One of the things that depressed me a lot was I just watch people walk by and not even turn their head,” he said. “They're just looking at their phone back and forth all day.”

So it was a surprise to Campagna when his wife’s social media post — which she hadn’t told him about — suddenly had customers beating down his door. The rush was so big he was able to hire two more people, including a worker he’d had to lay off when things were slow.

It’s another sign of how social media platforms like TikTok are transforming restaurant marketing. Users’ reviews and critiques, which for the most popular accounts can garner millions of views, can be a big driver of business. A survey by the marketing company MGH found that 53 percent of Millennial TikTok users have visited a restaurant after seeing it on the platform. 

For all of that, Diaz Campagna’s hopes when she posted her video were modest. She made it on the spur of the moment, after scrolling through the app to keep her mind off of other things.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Toro, a new restaurant on 11th Avenue in Denver that’s seen its business grow because of TikTok.

“I just turned it on and I thought, ‘Oh, I'm going to a few people.’ So kind of talking to the void and it felt a little therapeutic. It felt like, ‘Well, I'm doing something, here I am. He's out there in the restaurant, but I am doing something,’” Diaz Campagna said.

The post did better than she could have imagined; Diaz Campagna said less than a day later it had pulled in over 125,000 views. Her husband agrees it’s nice to see a community come around to support a small business like theirs, but now the effort needs to be sustained.

The couple said the crowds that arrived the first weekend have thinned out a bit and weekdays are still unpredictable. Nevertheless, they remain hopeful and grateful to the customers who have given them a chance.

“To all the people that were moved by my wife and came in, ‘Thank you,’” Campagna said. “(We) felt close to maybe not making it. So I know I'm getting through this month and we'll go from there.”