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Side hustles get big: Tacoma's Side Piece Kitchen finds success with authentic advertising

Hailey Hernandez, co-owner and creator behind Side Piece Kitchen stands outside her storefront located in Tacoma.
Destiny Valencia
Hailey Hernandez, co-owner and creator behind Side Piece Kitchen stands outside her storefront located in Tacoma, Washington.

When Side Piece Kitchen owners Hailey and Dante Hernandez opened the doors for their brick-and-mortar location back in October 2023, Hailey wasn’t sure just how busy they would be. What she didn’t expect was nearly 20 times the business they were used to, selling out consistently since opening.

Side Piece Kitchen is a part of the growing trend of restaurants in Tacoma, Washington, that started as businesses run by passionate individuals, cooking out of commissary kitchens and selling their food in take-out spots or pop-ups around the Tacoma area.

Businesses like Buddy’s Chicken and Waffles, Howdy Bagel, and others have similar origin stories, starting their business during the pandemic relying on advertising via Instagram, TikTok, and other social media platforms to promote their food.

This reliance on social media has created an interesting dynamic when it comes to customer interactions and which restaurants they follow. Not only does it help boost the word-of-mouth advertising for the restaurants, but customers get a glimpse of the people behind the business more authentically.

“Social media for us is a tool to break the third wall between the customer and the business,” Hernandez said. “For us it is an opportunity to show the people of the business and humanize us to say, we’re not just a business, we are not just a place that you can exchange money. We are real human beings.”

Hernandez created Side Piece Kitchen after a negative experience working for another company in Tacoma. Realizing that she wanted to become her own boss, she took the ideas for brunch and cheesecakes, (popular items she had catered for her former employer) and decided that would become her staple to sell.

Since then, the popularity of Side Piece Kitchen has exploded, moving through multiple commissary kitchens to their brick-and-mortar location. Now they are looking to expand further, to increase their dine-in area and limited kitchen space.

One look at their Instagram one would understand the appeal of following Side Piece Kitchen. It is where you can find out what weekly specials Hernandez and her staff have whipped up along with a funny video or audio to accompany the weekly special.

Special boxes of cheesecake bites? That warranted “Cake in a Box,” a parody of a song by The Lonely Island.

“It's fun to pick flavors for the cheesecake. At the end of every Sunday, we all get together and start throwing s--- around and seeing what sticks,” said Ivan Carrillo, the sous chef at Side Piece Kitchen.

Side Piece Kitchen’s cheesecake of the week board
Destiny Valencia
Side Piece Kitchen’s cheesecake of the week board

These specials can be inspired by fast food items like an “M&M McFlurry cheesecake”, or “Wild Things” Buffalo chicken biscuit sandwich. A favorite of Hernandez's is the Pear Gorgonzola cheesecake.

Along with working together to decide on the next weekly theme, it is a collaborative effort to work on the social media side of the business with staff often featured in videos, dancing, and playing along with the weekly shenanigans.

“We get dozens of resumes a week because people see how genuinely happy our staff is,” Hernandez said.

“I’ve had a lot of managers not know my name which really sets in,” Carillo said. “I don’t think I’ve ever really been so closely bonded with coworkers too which is really nice.”

Working on the Instagram posts is not a chore to Hernandez but something she enjoys. Having no previous experience running a business social media account, Side Piece Kitchen is a blank canvas for her to post whatever silly or weird post she thinks would resonate with her followers.

“If you see [our post] because your friend shares it on their story, and they are going to share it because it is stupid. Why wouldn’t they? You see it and you’re like what is this… Then they also see that we do cool food too, then we make a customer out of these stupid a-- posts,” Hernandez said. “Which we think are great, we treat it like we are in film school every time.”

For those looking to boost their follower engagement for their business, Hernandez has a few tips and suggestions. Avoiding AI-generated posts is number one, avoiding Canva and other template websites is another one. Utilizing the story feature on Instagram is also a great way to test engagement and see if something would make a good post later.

“I think my best piece of advice, which can also be my worst advice, just post it,” Hernandez said. “If you thought that it would be fun, if you think that it's something that you'd like to share, just post it and see what happens. The worst thing that you will have to do is delete it and maybe send a few apologies.”

If one does take Hernandez up on her social media tips, you may find yourself a new audience with a desire for authenticity and memes. Or at least you may find yourself craving cheesecake and having fun, and how bad can that be?

Destiny Valencia is a freelance writer from Tacoma, The City of Destiny. A recent graduate from the University of Washington Tacoma campus, she's contributed to South Sound Business Magazine, 425 Business, and her school paper The Ledger.