A Wild Week for Alan of Yoshii Express: How the Edmonton Community Came Together to Support A Small Business

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Alan of Yoshii Express - Japanese Edmonton Food
The photo of Alan that spread all over social media!

What a wild week it’s been—in the most amazing and positive way possible—for Edmonton small business owner Alan Demachi.

His story is so heartwarming, and has touched so many people (seriously, SO many), that I wanted to make sure it lived on in a blog post.

Alan runs a small Japanese restaurant called Yoshii Express, located at 104 Street and Whyte Avenue.

He opened the new restaurant during the pandemic, in May 2020, and had been seriously struggling. 

On June 19, 2020, one of my Instagram followers @lisatram messaged me.

Lisa wrote: 

Hi Lindork, This is really random but I felt the need to reach out to you. Today, my fiance and I met the owner of Yoshi Express, that is newly opened as of 4 weeks ago. The owner is an old man originally from Japan. He is beyond wholesome and very kind. While waiting for our order, this man shared how the restaurant has been really slow and was asking my fiance how he can get more customers. In this picture, my fiance is trying to explain what social media is. The man mentioned that he thinks his daughter is working on it (there is no website or any social media of his restaurant currently). This man also mentioned some concerns with rent but understood that it will take time to make a profit. If you ever have the time to, please check this new restaurant out. The food appears to be very authentic. (Fiance only got the chicken Yakitori but he thought it was really delicious). This place is truly a hole in the wall and I hope he can get more support. Anyways please do check out this place if you ever have time and to also meet this very kind man! It is called Yoshii Express (10443 82 Ave NW, Edmonton, AB T6E 2A1).

Alan - Yoshii Express - Japanese Edmonton Food
The photo Lisa sent me on June 19 of her fiance showing Alan what social media is. Shared with permission from Lisa!

I thanked Lisa for her message and said I would definitely try to visit Yoshii Express. 

It took me a couple of weeks, but I finally stopped by on Tuesday, June 30, 2020 with Mike. 

The dates are important because of how quickly everything happened after this visit! 

Alan - Yoshii Express - Japanese Edmonton Food
Chicken Katsu Curry comes with rice, salad, gyoza + miso soup.
Alan - Yoshii Express - Japanese Edmonton Food
The tonkotsu ramen from Yoshii Express!

Yoshii Express is small, with around 10 seats in total. It also has a pretty small menu, offering some affordable Japanese curries, bento boxes, appetizers and ramen. 

Alan, the sweet owner Lisa had told me about, was the only one working when we came in for lunch. 

We ordered the Tonkotsu pork ramen and the Chicken Katsu Curry and asked him how long he’s been open. “About five weeks now,” Alan told us. We asked how business has been. 

“I’m not even paying myself a wage right now, maybe $50. I just hope to make rent.” 

This answer literally destroyed us. 

Picturing this sweet old man, unable to pay rent, with a failed restaurant on Whyte because he opened during the pandemic and doesn’t have an online presence—it made me cry. 

So I asked Alan if I could take a photo of him to share on social media. 

“We’ll hopefully get you some new customers!” I said. 

He was a bit shy, but agreed to the photo. 

Alan - Yoshii Express - Japanese Edmonton Food
Yoshii Express at 10443 Whyte Avenue in Edmonton, Alberta.
Alan - Yoshii Express - Japanese Edmonton Food
Sweet Alan, gazing upon his tonkotsu ramen!

I posted about Yoshii Express on Twitter first, at 1:58 p.m. on Tuesday, June 30, 2020.

Here’s the tweet: 

Hearing stories of local businesses struggling brings me to tears. Someone on IG asked me to try Yoshii Express, a new Japanese spot on Whyte Ave, because the sweet owner Alan opened just weeks ago & is struggling. Hoping to just make rent. Pls consider eating here! #yeg #yegfood

I added two more tweets in that thread: 

“Yoshii Express doesn’t have an online presence. But are doing dine-in and take-out. Also delivery through Uber Eats (but try to pick up if you can, cause of those steep delivery commissions). Great Japanese curries, bentos and ramen bowls! ❤️🙏🏻 #yegfood #yeg”

&

“Yoshii Express menu + prices as of June 30, 2020! 🍜❤️🙏🏻 #yegfood”

Alan Yoshii Express Menu
The Yoshii Express menu as of June 30, 2020.
Alan - Yoshii Express - Japanese Edmonton Food
Mike ordering food from Alan at Yoshii Express on June 30, 2020.

Then I moved over to Instagram, where I shared a Story about Alan.

Alan Yoshii Express - Edmonton Food Old Strathcona Whyte Avenue
The Instagram post about Alan / Yoshii Express, posted at 2:16 p.m. on June 30, 2020.

Then I popped over to Facebook and then back to Instagram to share a post. The Facebook post was shared at 2:42 p.m. The Instagram post shortly after that.

It can’t be understated how quickly news about Alan and his struggling restaurant spread online. Thousands and thousands of shares across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—and someone shared a screenshot of the original plea on the Edmonton subreddit too. 

In a matter of hours, literally, from 1:58 p.m. to around 5 p.m., the social media sharing turned into in-person support. There were line-ups out the door at Yoshii Express!

Alan - Yoshii Express Tweets
Just a sample of the great posts about support for Alan!

Alan had to close early that night, June 30, because he ran out of food.

His phone was ringing non-stop. He couldn’t answer it, he was busy.

The next day, July 1, 2020, just 6 minutes after opening at 11:30 a.m., there were already people lined-up outside the restaurant. Shortly after that, the line was down the block.

I got updates from people around 5 p.m. on July 1 that were still line-ups. Another update at 7 p.m., still seeing line-ups. The next day, June 2, 2020, someone sent me a tweet at 5 p.m. that there was still a line-up at Yoshii Express!! (He brought in helpers to manage the influx of customers). 

Below is a screen recording of just a sample of the thousands of Instagram Story re-shares I received about Alan:

Alan - Yoshii Express - Instagram Story Shares - Edmonton Food
Blown away by ALL the shares and support for Alan of Yoshii Express!
Alan Yoshii Express Facebook Post
Engagement and reach for the Facebook post about Alan (as of July 2, 2020).

As of writing this blog (July 2, two days after the original social media posts):

  • The Facebook post has reached over half a million people (578,938 users) with over 800 comments and 5,000 shares
  • The tweet has been shared over 600 times with over 1,000 likes (and many, many comments), and nearly 100,000 impressions
  • The Instagram post had received over 8,000 likes, over 300 comments and had reached 40,000 users. It had also been shared either via Instagram DM or on Instagram Story over 4,000 times

In addition to everyone who actually showed up to the restaurant to support Alan. 

This story also received coverage on CityNews Edmonton, CTV Edmonton, SONiC 102.9 and 96.3 The Breeze. Check out Carly Robinson’s story and full video interview with Alan!! So sweet. I also love this side-by-side video Carly posted of Alan feeling sad before the social media attention and feeling ecstatic after the social media attention!

CityNews Edmonton - Alan Yoshii Express Edmonton Food
Alan showing CityNews how happy he is with the response to the social media posts!
Alan - Yoshii Express - Japanese Edmonton Food
Line-ups out the door for days!
Alan - Yoshii Express - Japanese Edmonton Food
The social posts truly moved people.

Late July 2, I received a sweet message from Alan’s daughter, as he still doesn’t have an online presence. She said he had not been prepared for the huge crowds, and while grateful, needed to take at least a day to prep. So on July 3, he’ll be closed to do that. And hopefully when he re-opens, things will be a bit more manageable. He also added that he will likely be able to make rent this month! And that was all thanks to each and everyone of you who shared and supported him. 

I do social media for a living, both as a social media strategist and as a blogger/social media influencer, and in my professional career, I have never experienced this type of organic reach, engagement, and response on any post I’ve ever shared or have helped an organization share before. Heck, a lot of social media projects that include paid / promoted posts don’t receive this type of response. (lol, this doesn’t mean I or other social media people are bad at our jobs, it just means this is one of those once-in-a-social media-career / lifetime things that don’t happen all the time but when it does, wow is it ever cool).

Alan’s story is truly such an incredibly powerful example of how social media can be an amazing force for good, and how a single social media post can truly lead to change. It’s a heartwarming story that moved so many people (I got lots of messages saying the posts brought them to tears—which definitely spurred on the shares).

It doesn’t happen all the time. It can’t happen all the time, really.

But sometimes a post, a plea, hits just the right notes, comes at just the right timing, and includes just the right photo (Alan—a sweetheart who we must protecc at all costs), that it takes off.

And really positive change happens.

I hope that the momentum continues for Alan.

I hope he can pay his rent this month and next and the one after that.

Alan though, is really just one example of many small businesses that are having a hard time right now. And while I know we can’t all support all businesses, all at once, all the time, I think it’s a very important reminder that a single share, a single post, a single message, can truly make a difference. If you don’t have the money to spend, then share. Even if you have the money to spend, still share on social media! You don’t know who will see it, who will be affected by it, who will take action on it.

I had a bigger audience to begin with, that’s why Lisa messaged me in the first place, so that certainly helped get the news about Alan going initially, but it truly would not have had the same impact had each and every person who shared, not shared on their own social networks. 

Everyone helped make this happen. Edmonton (and area) shared and showed up. 

Collectively, we came together for Alan in a stunning show of not only social media support but real, tangible support too that definitely changed his week, hopefully his year. Hopefully all of his new customers become returning and regular customers (I know I will!) 

Alan of Yoshii Express - Japanese Edmonton Food
The community came together to help this man, Alan, of Yoshii Express this week. What a heartwarming story.

I want to thank Lisa for sending me the original message about Alan and Yoshii Express. 

And I sincerely want to thank everyone who shared, messaged, and showed up to support Alan.

People can do pretty incredible things when they come together. 

There’s a lot of bad on social media, certainly, but I’ve always believed in the positive aspects of the platforms—the opportunities, the real impact that can come from social media posts, and positive social posts at that. I’m just so thrilled this amazing local example happened. 

Thank you everyone!

Your actions truly made a difference for Alan and I just want you to bring that idea along with you. Your social posts can truly change a day, a life, everything.

This week marked 13 years since I signed up to Twitter and so I was especially reflect-y on that power of social media. Twitter (all social media) has shaped almost every aspect of my life and career. It certainly gets a bad reputation. And there’s certainly lots of garbage and negativity online these days (and perhaps, always), but there are always positives, there are always lights, and you can always contribute to that.

If you get a chance, please do try Yoshii Express. We really enjoyed the ramen and the curry and I’m told the takoyaki is 10/10. But also please think about other restaurants and small businesses who could use your support right now. And also think about the ones that aren’t online. In fact, go out of your way to find ones that aren’t online and need your help. 

I feel very fortunate to have experienced this and I hope everyone who shared about Alan knows that you helped make this happen. So thank you!! 

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