Local Food Blogger Helps Struggling OKC Restaurants
Jennifer Bui's personal quest to promote and save local restaurants
Loving your momma can make you do things you never thought possible. Like, for example, starting a pro bono, viral movement dedicated to raising awareness about struggling restaurants that then turns into a passion and a new business.
Nowadays, Jennifer Bui is best known for being the heart and soul of Okie Dokie Foodie—a social media campaign Bui started last August, focused on showcasing the food and stories of restaurant owners struggling during the pandemic.
But as a teenager, Bui was best known as Pyong’s daughter.
“My mom used to own a Korean restaurant when I was a teenager,” she said. “I just witnessed how hard my mom worked to provide for her kids. I saw all that. My mom opened her restaurant by herself. It was amazing to me.
“My mom is a first-generation immigrant,” Bui continued. “We worked very hard to prep and buy the necessary goods to run the business. It was a lot of work, and it was a lot of money just to get it running.”
After two long, hard years, her mother’s restaurant closed. To this day, Bui says her mother prepares the best Korean food she’s ever eaten. It wasn’t the food that closed the restaurant; it was a lack of exposure and resources.
“It was hard on her, and it was also hard on me,” she said.
That lack of publicity, resources and relief amid the struggle resonated with Bui for years. And when the pandemic hit, and she saw similar restaurants struggle with staying afloat due to lack of customers, she knew what she needed to do. If people weren’t going out to restaurants, she’d bring the restaurants to them via social media … while also social distancing.
“I was double masking before double masking was a thing,” she said.
She started the social media platform Okie Dokie Foodie, and she began visiting restaurants that were open but had empty parking lots. Once inside, she’d take photographs (she’s been a professional photographer since 2013) and post them—often along with a backstory about the owner—to raise awareness about the restaurant’s pandemic struggles.
“I didn’t tell owners what I was doing at first,” she said. “I knew they needed support and I knew I could take good food photos. I thought, ‘Let me do some free advertising and marketing for these people.’ I posted my first establishment, and it got some pretty good feedback. Then this would allow the readers to connect with these small business owners.”
And her ever-growing readers did more than just connect. After weeks of steady growth—she had about 2,000 followers just a few weeks in—she “absolutely blew up” after she featured a small, local bakery. But the day she visited, the bakery had only had two customers.
“I thought, ‘If I could just get one customer in here for him, I’d feel so much better,” she said. “That’s the internal dialogue I always have going on.”
She did. And then some.
“I remember waking up at 5 in the morning, and I checked the phone and I thought, ‘That’s a lot of notifications,’” Bui said. “And I looked at the post and it had like 1,000 shares—not 1,000 likes; like 1,000 shares. His feature went ultra-viral—it went out of state and out of country.”
That day, the bakery had a line that wrapped around the building. People parked across the street. A customer stepped in and worked as a cashier. Customers drove in from out of state. The bakery was busy like that for weeks.
Now, a year later, more than 30,000 followers and 115 featured restaurants later, Bui said she is seeing some restaurants recover and reestablish themselves as the pandemic improves. And that’s allowed her to explore Okie Dokie Foodie as a business and not just a volunteer gig.
“I’m now a company!” she said. “I’m headed in the direction of being a full-blown marketing and advertising agency for small businesses.”
But, for Bui, it’s all about honoring her mother.
“It’s all a big, giant circle,” she said. “What happened to us—what happened to my mom—I wish there had been this current-day marketing when she needed it. To this day, I do all of this for her.”
Check out okiedokiefoodie.com or search for the name on Facebook or Instagram to follow along on Bui’s journeys.