Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Every place has a story. KNKX Connects showcases people and places around Puget Sound. Through audio, art, photography, music and journalism — discover a new connection with Seattle's iconic Pike Place Market.

TikTok fell in love with a Pike Place fishmonger. Then she mysteriously left the platform

 A young woman with long dark hair and tattoos holds a fish in front of a cellphone camera.
Parker Miles Blohm
Cho, a fishmonger at Pike Place Fish Market, became wildly popular after appearing in the seafood stall's TikTok videos.

Earlier this year, a fishmonger was preparing to crack open an Alaskan king crab for a TikTok video, when the man preparing to film her – Pike Place Fish Market’s social media manager – surprised her by saying: “You’re going to say this is your last TikTok.”

This confused the fishmonger they call Cho, who asked not to be identified by her full name.

“‘I don’t want to say that,’” she recalled saying, but he said, “‘Just do it, just do it.’”

“And then, you know, I said it,” Cho said. “And it just kind of … blew up.”

Cho is a 23-year-old from Minnesota, and in the months previous, she’d become something of an internet icon in the already-iconic Pike Place Fish Market – the one smack in the middle of the public market, by the big bronze pig.

The fish market's official TikTok gets millions of views, and Cho is one of its most popular fishmongers, with both tourists and locals.

Then in February, Cho announced it would be her last TikTok video — with no explanation.

As someone who spends a lot of time online, when I came across this video I wanted to know what happened. In an age when it’s easy to become famous on some corner of the internet, but harder to maintain privacy and protection from unwanted attention, I was curious to hear a story where someone was presented with the possibility of internet fame, and they said, “no thanks.”

In the end, that’s not what I found.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the group of fishmongers who own the fish market are viral on TikTok. The famous fish throwers are seen by millions of tourists a year. They have appeared everywhere from CenturyLink field to the front page of The Seattle Times, back when four of them bought the fish market from its original owner in 2018.

What’s more surprising: It’s not really the fish-throwing that’s popular on TikTok. Even when Bruce Springsteen, Jennifer Garner or Amy Schumer are the ones catching it.

“You figure everyone just wants to see a 20-pound salmon flying through the air, you know, to the next fishmonger behind the counter,” said Diego Moreno, the fish market’s social media manager. “And they don't want to see it.”

The fish market’s most popular video is co-owner Ryan Reese showing how to steak a salmon in the back of the fish market.

“A lot of people don't know what steaking a fish means,” Moreno said. “Visually it looks really cool. And it's a process, and it's an art. All of this is an art. So I was like, ‘Cool, I'm going to take a video and I just want you to pretend like you're telling me how to do it.’”

It now has over nine million views.

This content combo of food prep and behind-the-counter realism is perfect for TikTok, which regularly sees viral hits like a microwaved salmon-rice bowl or bodega sandwiches “the ocky way.”

Pike Place Fish Market’s videos offer “very rich glimpses into something you wouldn’t get to see otherwise,” said Kristen Barta, who completed her doctorate at the University of Washington and has studied TikTok and social media.

“If you go to the grocery store,” Barta said, “the butcher is not going to be talking to you one-on-one about what he's doing and why he's doing it this way. But in these videos, you see how they do it. You can watch [Reese] do this thing he’s done a million times… He's talking to you, but you're also very much in this space. You hear the market noises. You hear them doing the calls and the yells.”

That video is the fish market's most-viewed on TikTok. Reese said he gets recognized often.

 A man in an orange rubber apron cuts a large fish on a metal counter.
Parker Miles Blohm
Pike Place Fish Market Co-owner Ryan Reese is often featured in videos demonstrating how the fishmongers prepare different types and cuts of fish.

But as Cho began appearing more on TikTok late last year and the beginning of 2023, she gathered a committed following.

“Um I have a crush on your new hire,” one commenter said on her first video. Another, later: “I fell in love with a crab girl who doesn't even know my name.”

And another: “Why is this the most attractive thing on TikTok?”

And another: “I'm allergic to shellfish, but I'll risk it for her.”

Cho was surprised.

“I think I got a text from Diego and it was just like, ‘dude, you're going viral,” Cho said. “And I was like, ‘What? For what?’”

The comments started to get more intense:

“I told my parents about us.”

“She want me fr.”

“Ladies love Cho.”

“I told my husband about us.”

“I repeat, is Cho looking for a wife?”

This is also not uncommon for TikTok, where even fairly average-looking computer programmers can draw thousands of thirsty comments and “simping” is almost a sport.

Though creators are posting videos of themselves, there’s a heightened sense of “perceived anonymity,” according to Barta. Because most people find content not through pages or people that they follow, but through the algorithm – in the form of the main “For You” page on TikTok – posters don’t always think their friends or family will ever see their TikToks or comments.

“A place like Reddit is maybe organized in a similar way, where you're in subreddits based on topics and you're usually pretty anonymous. You could use your real name on Reddit, but most people don't,” Barta said.

“And TikTok kind of follows a similar pattern. But there's this interesting other layer of visuality… It's very video based. Creators are often present in their content. And so there's this sense of anonymity, but you're still very much talking to a real person.”

Some commenters scolded: “I know we're all gay in Seattle, but maybe y'all could cool it with the thirst comments,” one said. “She's at work.”

Cho is a little uncomfortable with some of the attention. She’s a drummer – a performer, but not as much in the spotlight as other members of the band.

“If I want to be known for something, I want it to be something that I'm contributing, you know? To the community, whether it's like art or music or, you know, something like that,” Cho said.

“It is a little weird, but to put myself in their shoes, I have said I loved, like, musicians. I mean, when Bruce Springsteen came, I was just like – ‘I love you so much.’ And then I started serenading him and he was like, ‘Oh, my God, please stop,’” Cho said. (He didn’t say that, but she could read it in his expression.)

So the “last TikTok” announcement earlier this year was a combination of things: Moreno thought Cho could use a break, but he also wanted to see what would happen if they told TikTok she would be gone. The fish market has pulled publicity stunts like this in the past — last year on April Fools' Day, they announced they would stop throwing fish, and this April 1st they tricked some viewers into believing they were leaving Pike Place Market altogether.

Just like those stunts, this one worked: Cho's video announcing she was leaving has nearly 3 million views, the most of a Cho video to-date. Commenters apologized for being too thirsty. Others asked if Cho was being let go. A Californian housing advocate tweeted, “you're looking at housing in seattle because you got a job. i'm looking for housing in seattle because i'm in love with cho from the pike place fish market's tiktok. we are not the same.”

Others declared their love in person.

 Two women, one wearing an orange apron, talk while standing in front of a case filled with seafood including dungeness crab, sword fish and tuna.
Parker Miles Blohm
Cho, in the orange apron, talks to a visitor in front of Pike Place Fish Market's stall.

Many commenters said after she disappeared from the fish market’s TikTok that she needed her own – but Cho keeps a low profile on social media. At one point she deleted all of it for a whole year, and she said she was more productive than she’s ever been.

“I really do think that if we didn't have phones, you know, life would be a lot different, and maybe for the better. Honestly, social media can do a lot of damage to a person. Comparison, and just like, standards of what your life should be like,” Cho said. “'Comparison is the thief of joy.'”

If Twitter traffics primarily in words and Instagram in images, TikTok traffics in aesthetic: A sound and a video or set of images working together to give you an experience. And TikTok is full of aestheticized, perfect homes and vacations that are easy to compare with your own life.

But there are great things about social media — and TikTok — too. Moreno, the social media manager, was down behind the counter shooting a video recently when a family from Tennessee came up holding a phone in the air with one of Cho's TikToks playing.

"The younger kids, the wife, the dad — they're like, 'Cho, we love you.' And she's just standing there like, 'oh, my gosh, hey, what's up?'" Moreno said.

To those people, Cho is a piece of the Pike Place Market experience — a beloved character in a new chapter of the market's over 100-year history.

And when it comes to social media, love it or hate it, it's hard to stay off it. Even for Cho, who made her big return to Pike Place Fish Market’s TikTok in May.

But Cho would still say the reality is the best part.

“Come down to the fish market,” she said at the end of our interview. “It's better in person.”

KNKX Connects is an ongoing series showcasing the people and places of our diverse and vibrant region. Your support helps KNKX connect listeners throughout Western Washington, presenting a much deeper look at the place we call home. Donate to this vital community service today.

Scott Greenstone is a former KNKX reporter. His reporting focused on under-covered communities, and spotlighting the powerful people making decisions that affect all of us throughout Western Washington.
More From Pike Place Market