TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Two Tampa Bay area restaurants with unique, but very different styles and flavors have one thing in common – the power of TikTok has helped grow their business and exposed their eats to foodies across the world.

Sara Fludd is the “Chief Waffle Officer” at Pop! Goes the Waffle in Gulfport. She said her obsession with waffles started when she went to the store with her mother when she was only 5 years old.

“We’re [in] this aisle and I see this box, and I’m like, ‘Oh, waffles!’ and my mom was obviously raised in the south, she’s a pancake girl, but for some reason, that day, she let me get that treat, that box of Eggos, and I just got hooked on waffles from that point on,” Fludd said.

The love for waffles continued through Fludd getting married and having a daughter. She said she would make waffles on snow days with a waffle iron she got for Mother’s Day when her daughter was young and the family lived in Connecticut.

“So we started making all these crazy Belgium waffles, and savory waffles and like putting mac and cheese in the waffle iron to see what would happen and just all sorts of nonsense and it just got to be really fun,” Fludd said. “I just kept saying, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be cool one day if we had a business that is just waffles?’”

Fludd got her chance to open that business when the family moved to St. Petersburg in 2017. Pop! Goes the Waffle initially would go around to pop-up markets in St. Pete with a portable generator, selling waffles on a stick.

Pop! Goes the waffle also now has a café in Gulfport, where they primarily sell liege waffles. The company also sells their waffles online, shipping across the U.S.

Stephanie Swanz owns both Muchachas and Empamamas, both located at Armature Works in Tampa.

Swanz opened Muchachas in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, after being given an opportunity to open a similar, but second concept to Empamamas in the space.

She said Armature Works wanted a Mexican-inspired spot, and they decided to sell tacos. Within 90 days of deciding on a name, Muchachas was open for business.

Discovering TikTok

Fludd and Swanz both found TikTok in a similar way during the pandemic. They found themselves hooked almost immediately.

Swanz discovered the platform through her stepdaughter.

“She was interested and wanted to be on the platform, so we’re of course on there, checking it out and next thing you know, I get stuck and sucked in down this deep, dark rabbit hole of TikTok where next thing you know, it’s like, ‘Oh my god I’ve been on this platform for literally two hours,’” she said.

Prior to TikTok, Fludd said her business was primarily using Facebook and Instagram. A friend helping her run the social media accounts told her to at least reserve the Pop! Goes the Waffle name on TikTok.

“And you know, you get bored, and I started looking at videos, and I’m looking at the cat videos and I’m laughing and laughing and then all of a sudden I was like, ‘Well I want to do this!’” said Fludd. “Like you know, see all the trends, and I’m like, ‘I want to do this. We could do this, but make it waffles.”’

Both women know it takes an army to provide the content they do, so they work in teams, figuring out what videos will get the most attention and drive business and awareness back to them.

Fludd and her team of two almost full-time staff members, in addition to a variety of people who help with their food truck and catering, in addition to the café, do all the Pop! Goes the Waffle TikTok content themselves.

One Pop! Goes the Waffle TikTok video got just over 2 million views, and Fludd said it was just her getting footage of her staff making waffles. 

“We do get people that come in and are like, ‘I saw you on TikTok!’ and that’s one thing I didn’t expect,” she explained. “I really though it’d be people like all over the world and different places, but local people do comment and they’re like, ‘hey, you hit Tampa Bay TikTok!’ so that’s been exciting too so it’s been another way to get local people in to the café.”

The Muchachas team consists of Swanz for final approval, in addition to Nick George and Kiera Andrews. Swanz initially hired Andrews to work on the Muchachas and Empamamas social media accounts. The y got in to TikTok after months of chatting and research before bringing George on.

Muchachas’ most viral TikTok to date is Swanz responding to a comment from a viewer, something she and her team do a lot with their platform.

“It was me making a walking taco. So we added a new menu item, which is a walking taco, which is ultimately like a bag of crushed up Doritos with a bunch of different fun toppings on it,” Swanz explained. “And it was just what I would pick.”

“I think it was really a perfect combination of responding to a comment that someone had and also we have seen the videos where the staff makes the food and like says what they’re making, those have performed pretty well around the board,” Andrews said.

Getting Noticed

Both Muchachas and Pop! Goes the Waffle have similar strategies to getting noticed on the platform, making it a team effort.

“We actually for Muchachas and Empamamas, we typically do monthly filming. So we really plan out what we want to do for the month. We look back at what has done well the past month,” said Andrews. “We look at questions that we were asked. We of course look at what’s trending and then we put together a list of videos that we think will really take off in the next month.”

Fludd said she and her team have a “loose” strategy. She said they all watch TikTok and see what’s trending, and make a list each week. They then have an informal team meeting where they decide how many videos and what kind of content they want to put out for the week.

“Sometimes we put a lot of thought into them and you don’t get lots of views, and then like, one when I was shaking the iced coffee, you just never know. It could just be the most random things that do really well,” Fludd said.

But it’s not always easy, especially with the restaurants getting more attention from the platform.

“I would say the hardest part is that because, it was always busy, but because of TikTok, both the restaurants are very, very busy. So we only have an hour and a half because once they’re open, it’s just, it’s impossible to film,” said George.

Finding Success

Both businesses have seen increases in sales since going viral on TikTok.

Fludd explained 25-30% of Pop! Goes the Waffles’ sales come through social media. She said 50% of those sales are now coming through TikTok. She said someone who subscribes from Manhattan, Kansas orders a lot of her waffles online every month.

While the brick-and-mortar café is only open Saturdays and Sundays, Fludd said they are doing really well both days.

Muchachas saw an increase of around 40% in sales one week after Swanz’ “walking taco” viral video, but she said it’s not just about money and business anymore.

“It’s more than just business for us now. Our team is thoroughly enjoying this. It’s added a different element to our culture and who we are and they love getting noticed,” she said.

Fludd’s team of waffle experts feel the same.

“It’s really something they look forward to doing and it’s really like, they come to me with ideas,” she said. “What we do is physical labor, it’s hard work, it’s 50 lb. bags of flower, it’s 50 lb. bags of sugar, it’s a lot of lifting, a lot of work, hot waffle irons, so TikTok has kind of become are team building vehicle.”

“For me… it’s kind of like our own little mini reality TV series where we can get information and ideas and products out. A lot of people know about who we are and what our culture is,” said Swanz.

You can follow along with the Muchachas and Pop! Goes the Waffle teams on TikTok.