#1 Life After Going Viral: How This Houston Business Benefitted From The “Keith Lee Effect”

Life After Going Viral: How This Houston Business Benefitted From The “Keith Lee Effect”
After experiencing the "Keith Lee Effect" firsthand, this Houston dessert shop owner reflects on what she's learned since going viral and what's next for her booming business.
by Maya Rollings Mar 11, 2024 — 4 min read
Life After Going Viral: How This Houston Business Benefitted From The “Keith Lee Effect”

About this series

The Viral Effect

The Viral Effect

The Viral Effect is a series that follows viral businesses in order to help business owners apply learnings and navigate vigorous growth.

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“This is probably a once in a lifetime thing,” said Janel Prator, owner and founder of The Puddery, on the possibility of viral success. But after receiving a rare rave review from popular food critic Keith Lee for her one-of-a-kind banana pudding and croffles, everything changed for her business.

In a kismet set of events, a rave review is actually what led to The Puddery being born. In 2006, while working for AT&T, Prator made a batch of banana pudding to impress her coworkers, and the feedback made her realize that she had something special on her hands. “[Everybody] loved it so much they were like, man, this is so good. You can sell it,” she recalled. So she did.  

Having never witnessed a restaurant completely dedicated to banana pudding, she knew she had to take the concept and make it special. “I just played with things. I would go and browse the grocery store aisles, like, ‘Okay, what cookie can I use this time? What fruit can I put with this to make it taste this flavor or that flavor?’” she explained. These questions eventually led to The Puddery’s robust dessert menu, which offers over six types of banana pudding alongside other items including six types of cheesecake on a stick and three types of croffles (a combination of a croissant and waffle).

In late 2023, food critic Keith Lee reviewed several items and gave star ratings, eventually going on to say: “this might be the best dessert I’ve ever had in my life.”

Setting the stage to stand out

Receiving the highly coveted review from Lee, however, was not easy. With a following of 15.9 million followers on TikTok, the number of business owners seeking the “Keith Lee Effect” is vast, ranging from your neighborhood mom and pop shop to the Kevin Hart–backed Hart House. That’s why when Prator discovered that Lee was coming to Houston on his food tour, she left nothing to chance. “I remember when he made the announcement he was coming to Houston, he said the businesses that get the most tags will get a review,” she explained. “So I said, Okay. I’m going to push my way to the top of the list.’”

For days on end, Prator made memes and other forms of content encouraging people to tell Keith Lee to visit her business. “There were times when we were closed, I would post, ‘Hey guys, we’re closed.’ But I would take his picture and put it on the post,” she laughed. Lee ultimately came to visit her business, and she went from having ten or fewer customers a day to a line wrapped around her building for weeks. The traffic was so intense that the wait time for a dish went from fifteen minutes to three hours. 

The effect of going viral

When it comes to what Prator wished she would’ve known before going viral, she’s clear: “I didn’t consider the amount of work that goes into it,” she said. “The spotlight is on. People trust other people, and they trust [Keith Lee’s] opinion. They’re going to come see if he’s right or wrong. And you’ve got to be prepared for the constructive criticism that comes with that,” she explained.

To Prator, being prepared is the name of the game. She adapted new preparation strategies for her desserts to cut down on the wait time, purchased more equipment and inventory, and grew her team to better break up the host of responsibilities.  

Having the right tools in place early on also proved to be instrumental. Using Square Stand and a Square partner integration with KioskBuddy, Prator has been able to make her operations more efficient. “It was so convenient, and it worked perfectly,” she said of her Square Stand. “It cuts down on having to have someone stand here and take each individual order. Now I can use that person to help produce the product instead of taking each individual order,” she added. 

After servicing a customer, it’s integral for her to build on the relationship to encourage them to return after the initial experience, ensuring virality ultimately becomes the norm. She uses Square Marketing to reach customers through email blasts, and it’s helped make maintaining her growth easy. “Square and Square Marketing have so many options and so many things that help my small business,” she noted. “The [Square Marketing] templates are really cool. They have a way to help you if you’re not really tech-savvy. It’s kind of done for you,” she explained. 

Building a customer-centric future

Creating and building deeper relationships with customers, however, is crucial to Prator’s long-term vision for The Puddery. On The Puddery’s Instagram account, she often jokes about her desire to have the best customer service in the industry (in her words, better than Chik-Fil-A), so the next iteration of her customer service is what she’s focused on now.

She’s looking for a bigger space so she can bring back nationwide shipping and better accommodate in-person orders. “People nationwide have been asking, ‘When are you going to start shipping again?’ And I did have loyal customers who were nationwide before all this happened. So for them not to be able to get their pudding hasn’t been okay,” she said. 

Prator is determined to remedy this and establish a process where customers near and far feel valued. “I’m just so grateful because now, instead of worrying about keeping the doors open, [I’m focused on] coming up with better processes to accommodate all these new customers.”

To learn more about how Square tools can help you grow and withstand viral success, explore the Square ecosystem.

Maya Rollings
Maya Rollings is an editor at Square where she writes about all things customer experience, from building a solid customer base to leveraging tools and technology that meets them where they are in their journey.


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