Customers who frequent New York City's Lucky Candy, a family-owned convenience store in the Bronx, know it as a place where they can grab a quick bite to eat and see cashier Ahmed Alwan's friendly face behind the counter.
But regulars also know that if they're really lucky, they might get a chance to solve one of Alwan's math problems.
The prize for answering correctly? As many free snacks as they can grab during short shopping spree.
Alwan has helped out at his father's bodega (a small neighborhood market) since he was about 14-years-old. Now, at age 20, he knows many of the people in the community and is very aware of who might be struggling financially.
"I've always helped out people in the neighborhood. They’ve known me since I was a little kid. I know half of them by name and, ya know, sometimes they need credit," Alwan told TODAY Food. "This neighborhood has a lot of poor people. I see people — some of whom are close customers — sleeping on the train. I used to give them buttered rolls, coffee and banana for free in the morning."
A fan of math throughout high school and college, Alwan recently thought of a way to combine his love of entertaining and altruism into a game in which he asks patrons to solve an equation. As an incentive, if they answer correctly, the customer is able to collect as many free items as possible in five seconds.
On Jan. 27, Alwan decided to start quizzing customers in the shop and, since this is 2020, he filmed it for his TikTok.
By Feb. 1, Alwan's posts went viral and have since garnered more than 5 million likes.
"It kind of shocked me," Alwan said, adding that his original intention was just to make people laugh while helping them get something to eat. He also hopes that by posting the videos on TikTok, kids will see that good things come to those who stay in school and receive an education.
His intention seems to be working.
In one clip, a customer is asked, "What's 7 times 7, plus 10?" After answering correctly, she's seen darting around the store, excitedly collecting chips, pies, bananas, a newspaper and, in the last second, grabs Alwan's arm laughing. "I want you too!" she said.
Another man tried to take Alwan's cat (as a joke), but when that didn't work, brought an entire rack of nuts to the register.
"I took the rack back 'cause I need it for my orders," Alwan told TODAY. "He took some of the peanuts and took some cash. A lot of people want cash."
And Alwan gives it to them — often up to $25.
So how does all this gift giving and problem solving affect the store's profits?
Alwan, who has four younger siblings and one older brother, said it hasn't affected the family business negatively.
"I'm paying for it out of my own pocket," he said.
If the equation for happiness equals kindness plus generosity, Alwan has already solved it.