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‘It’s a chicken salad’: Viral video makes Cleveland deli famous overnight

People are traveling from far and wide to try the chicken salad at East 81st Deli in Cleveland, Ohio, thanks to a viral TikTok featuring Tanisha Godfrey.
People are loving the way Tanisha Godrey (pictured here) says, "It's a chicken salad."
People are loving the way Tanisha Godrey (pictured here) says, "It's a chicken salad."@onlynishaa_ via TikTok

"It's a chicken salad."

Those four words has TikTok in an uproar (almost as much as "Negroni Sbagliato with prosecco") and has people traveling across the country to try the dish at East 81st St. Deli in Cleveland, Ohio.

In the video, Cleveland native Tanisha Godfrey has a chicken salad in front of her and says, “Y’all better come up here and get one of these.” Someone off camera asks her what it is, and she responds, “It’s a chicken salad," then shares where she got it from ("81st Deli … superior") and what’s in it.

"I got chicken, pickles, banana peppers, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions …," she lists before the video cuts off.

The video was posted on TikTok on Aug. 28 but only started going viral mid-October. Since then, it's racked up nearly 17 million views, and Lizzo, Tia Mowry and folks across the country have made their own iterations of the viral video featuring Godfrey.

The social media attention has increased sales, too. Wael Herbawi, owner of East 81st St. Deli, told TODAY Food he used to sell 40 chicken salads a day on average, but now averages 300 a day. Since Godfrey's video, he's been posting dozens of TikToks of people coming in and trying the salad for themselves.

Herbawi said he hasn't had a day off since going viral. He's had to hire five new employees to keep up with the demand, and he's in the process of renovating and expanding the building to accommodate more customers hazard-free.

"I had to pull out all my contacts because it's not easy," he said. "I just ordered 20 cases (of chicken). You're talking about over 200 pounds of chicken. That's one day order."

Godfrey, who says she has known Herbawi since she was 14, told TODAY, “We did not expect that at all.”

She said the video wasn't planned — it was an in-the-moment type of thing — as it was her first time trying the deli's chicken salad.

"I had got off work. Because it was hot, I was like, I don't want anything heavy. So I stopped at the store like I normally do. And I was like, 'Hey, you guys make salad now, right? And (Herbawi) was like, 'Yes.' So I was like, 'Can I get a chicken salad?' and I gave him the extra things to put in. And once he was done, it was a beautiful salad. So he said, 'Hey, let's make a TikTok.' And that's where it started."

Herbawi's version of the story is slightly different.

"Well, what happened was Tanisha came in and I was eating a salad," he said. "And while I was eating the salad, she was like 'That looks really good.' And I was like, 'You want me to make you one?'"

He'd been wanting to increase his social media presence and promote the store, so he gave Godfrey the salad for free and made the video, and it did "everything I wanted it to."

Other than the ingredients Godfrey listed in the video, Herbawi shared the full list of ingredients in the salad with TODAY:

"I’m not going to share my house because it's a secret. But we got some spring mix of lettuce, romaine, spinach and kale. I mix it all together. Then I put the cherry tomatoes and cucumbers, pickles, hard boiled egg, cheese and croutons … and banana peppers and jalapenos and chicken. That’s the whole thing now."

Godfrey, who by profession helps transition people with mental illnesses from institutions to living on their own, she thinks the video is so popular because "people fell in love with my personality" and specifically how she pronounced "chicken salad" in the video.

"That's how I naturally talk," she said. "It wasn't like I was like, 'Oh, it's a chicken salad.' No, it's the way that I talk naturally."

Godfrey said it's "unbelievable, actually" to be such a trendsetter.

"Like, it's me. Wow, it's me. So I'm still in a moment of surreal. It's weird. I can't really explain it. It's just the whole world knows my name now," she said.

Herbawi said he’s “going to do something nice for Tanisha” to thank her for making the restaurant famous on social media. He also said he wants to use this opportunity to get the community involved and have different people do similar videos about other menu items.

Looking to the future, Godfrey said she plans to take advantage of her virality by making more food-review videos — to bring attention to other Cleveland eateries.

"I'm going to try to go to other Cleveland restaurants and go live and review the food and hopefully I can gain them some more customers also," she told TODAY.

In the meantime, she said she has a new video coming out Nov. 5, so "stay tuned."