An accidental text message that became a Thanksgiving sensation in 2016 is now a friendship that has inspired a Netflix film in development, talk of matching tattoos, and a bond that will endure well beyond viral fame.
The heartwarming tale of a grandmother mistakenly texting a teenage boy, bringing the two strangers together for the food-filled holiday, has continued for a seventh year.
On Thanksgiving Day, Jamal Hinton shared a series of photos to Instagram with Wanda Dench, announcing that the two have started a business and captioning the post, "Thanksgiving year 7!"
"From year 1 as strangers, to year 7 as family but now BUSINESS PARTNERS! I’m very thankful for my family, friends, fans. Check out our website for our alkaline black water @ BlackMP.com," he wrote.
The iconic holiday duo gave an update on an inspiring friendship that comes back into the spotlight every Thanksgiving when they spoke to NBC News correspondent Kristen Dahlgren on Nov. 23 on TODAY.
"I told her the cameras and the fame, everything could stop tomorrow, and nothing’s changing between us," Hinton said.
"Absolutely," Dench said. "He's in my heart for life."
On Nov. 22, Hinton shared a photo on Instagram of him standing beside Dench outside The Cheesecake Factory restaurant, revealing the two would be carrying on their wholesome tradition.
"To answer all your questions, yes Thanksgiving year 7 is planned out! See you guys Thursday!" he captioned the photo with turkey and black heart emoji.
The comment section was filled with joy and excitement, with one user calling the reunion "the Thanksgiving tradition I never knew I needed."
Several users said they wait each year for an update on the comforting story, and another suggested that Hallmark should film a movie inspired by Hinton and Dench.
It turns out there actually is a Netflix film in development about their friendship, although Dench told Dahlgren that they are "not allowed to talk about it."
The two often keep in contact throughout the year, and Hinton even put Dench on a billboard when he started a new business.
"I’ve always told her whatever I’m doing, she’s a part of, no matter what it is," he said on TODAY.
Hinton was even there when Dench got her first tattoo about a month ago.
"Matching tattoos next," Hinton said.
Their unlikely friendship started in 2016 when Dench accidentally sent a text to Hinton, telling the then 17-year-old that Thanksgiving dinner was at her house on Nov. 24 at 3 p.m. When the teen asked who sent him the message, Dench replied, "Your grandma," with an elderly woman emoji.
Hinton wrote back, asking for a photo to prove that the number really belonged to his grandmother. After she sent a selfie image of herself at work, he replied with a photo of his face and a text saying she's not his grandma.
"Can I still get a plate tho?" Hinton asked.
"Of course you can. That's what grandma's do...feed everyone," she replied with a piece of cake emoji.
After Hinton shared the interaction on social media, his post went viral. Hundreds of thousands of people have followed the pair's story since their first Thanksgiving meal together in Mesa, Arizona, six years ago.
Even amid the pandemic in 2020, the two figured out a scaled-down way to gather. However, that year was different as Dench’s husband, Lonnie, died earlier that spring due to complications from COVID-19.
Both Dench and her husband were diagnosed with COVID-19 around the same time, but the virus sent Lonnie to the hospital with pneumonia. Shortly after hearing the news, Hinton took to Twitter to garner awareness and support. He and his girlfriend also made sure to be there in person for Dench during a difficult time.
“I heard some rustling at my front door, and I opened it up and Jamal and Mikaela were dropping off a whole bunch of food and gifts and stuff,” Dench said on TODAY.
After Lonnie's passing, Hinton updated his followers, adding that "Wanda told me all the love and support he was receiving put a huge smile on his face so I thank every single one of you guys for that!"
About a week later, Hinton shared a video of him at lunch with the couple, captioning the tweet, “We miss you Lonnie.”
Dench has said she feels “fate stepped in” when she sent that accidental text message years ago.
“Jamal taught me that age made absolutely no difference. I love all of my grandkids and kids, but we all are different generations and we all reminisce about different things,” she once said. “But when Jamal came along, my husband and I and him and his girlfriend, we would go out to dinner throughout the year together and we would just lose all track of time. One time, we were at a restaurant for three or four hours and I couldn’t believe we were there that long. We kept talking! It was just such a wonderful conversation.”
“That’s when it dawned on me that there doesn’t have to be a generation gap to have friendships. So now I look at a lot of young people in a different light than I used to and I make it a point to talk and get to know them,” she continued.
“He’s changed my life a lot, I know that.”
One thing that hasn't changed is Dench still trying to get Hinton to just call her when he wants to reach out, while Hinton urges Dench to just text him.
"Don't worry, we're going to work on your texting," he joked on TODAY.
Next year’s Thanksgiving will feature a new wrinkle as Dench said she is retiring and moving a few hours away. That won't stop Hinton from spending the holiday at her home.
“Already got plans for next year,” he said.