Brookline is rarely buzzy, but early on a recent Saturday morning there it was: a legit social-media-induced frenzy. It took the form of a line, maybe 75 people long, young, stylish, and determined to get into a small new bakery.
What’s going on? I asked as I cruised its length. Who sent you?
“The Internet,” the first woman said. And then the people behind her: “TikTok,” “TikTok,” and, “I’m embarrassed to say, TikTok.”
I wanted to see the objects of their desire, and since I was standing in front of Lakon Paris Patisserie it would have made sense to simply look inside, only I couldn’t. The bakery was Orange-Line-at-rush-hour packed.
So I did what everyone else there had done. I pulled out my phone and fell under the spell of photos and videos of come-hither monkey bread and morning buns and beautiful, decadent croissants — Nutella banana, strawberry cheesecake, pistachio mascarpone — many in the process of being theatrically pulled apart to reveal seductive inner creams.
But it’s one thing to read about the powerful role social media plays in driving people to restaurants — to know on an intellectual level that there’s an industry of well-compensated influencers and corporate social media strategies, and that these days, even a noodle needs to be ready for its close-up.
It’s another to observe firsthand — on an otherwise low-key retail stretch of Beacon Street outside of Coolidge Corner — what it’s like when social media whips devotees into such a frenzy that they travel to some random, often distant, location, where they will prove they are part of things by posting their own giddy shots, thereby summoning even more people, until the circus moves on to some other random, often distant, location.
In the case of the Lakon Paris Patisserie, the random, distant location is close to where I live, and over the course of a couple of weeks I found myself repeatedly drawn to the line and its people, many of whom would wait more than an hour, and part with $8.99, for one of the weekend’s special pastries.
A woman staying in a hotel in Randolph told me she had picked her husband up from Logan and driven him straight to the line.
Two Tufts students, one dressed as a unicorn, the other as a dragon, set their alarms for 5 a.m. and waited cheerfully on a damp Sunday morning. “We’re living our best lives in onesies,” the unicorn said.
A mom, 40 minutes into the line and holding a surprisingly patient 2-year-old, feared that the bakery might run out of its famed chocolate cream cube. “I don’t want to have to do this all again,” she said.
In between my visits to the line — having become obsessed with what some people perceive as insanity and others think of as modern marketing — I started calling food influencers and restaurant people and got a real education.
I learned the phrase “the phone eats first” (you take a picture before a bite), and that cocktail program managers need to think like film and TV directors.
“If we put something in front of you and you don’t pull out your camera, I’ve failed,” said Jason Santos, chef and owner of Boston’s Citrus & Salt, which serves a drink that arrives purple but turns pink with the squeeze of a lime.
Food influencer Kyle Robertson, a recent Northeastern University graduate who is headed to medical school, told me about Mortadella Head, a small pizza shop in Somerville that’s become famous for its cheese pulls.
“They’ve gone very viral,” Robertson, aka @beantownbitez,said with admiration.
A cheese pull? Who ever heard of such a thing? Oh, OK, millions and millions of people, apparently, as it’s so common on social media it’s almost hackneyed.
It involves splitting a fried mozzarella stick in half and letting the cheese droop between the ends, and at Mortadella Head, one TikTok (posted by the restaurant itself as part of its marketing strategy) triggered such lust that the restaurant had to rush out for an emergency 45 pounds of mozzarella.
“It’s sexy,” the shop’s co-owner, Chuck Sillari, said by way of explanation.
Lakon Paris Patisserie’s Brookline location is its second. The first opened in Newton Highlands in November 2020. The press was excellent — “Golden, flaky croissants oozing French butter? Yes please,” the Globe wrote — and business was steady.
Back then, the inventory challenge was to make sure they didn’t end the day with leftover pastries, recalled Anthony Grossi, who was a baker and a pastry chef in the Newton location and is now a partner in the Brookline shop.
But about two months ago there was a Boston Magazine piece about the coming Brookline location (it opened on March 22). A social media influencer, or maybe a few, visited the Newton shop, their posts went viral, and early on a Saturday morning, instead of the usual five or six people waiting to get in, there was a crowd.
“We were behind the counter doing production and when we lifted our heads we saw people clawing to get in,” Grossi told me.
Thrilled with the attention, and also overwhelmed, the Lakon pastry chefs urgently more than tripled their flour purchases and started baking at 4 a.m. — two hours earlier than they had been.
Where once they were making 1,000 croissants each weekend day, they are now making about 2,000 — at both locations — but even that isn’t enough, Grossi said.
The intense interest is fantastic for business, of course, but also of course, not without stress, in part over a handful of reviews from disappointed would-be customers.
They include Paul F., from Charlestown, who recently griped on Yelp: “[A]fter waiting for 45 minutes in the cold I arrived inside to see an empty display.”
But Paul F., you can get back on line! In mid-April Lakon made an announcement on Instagram: “We are now expanding our production to a larger kitchen in order to increase our capacity.”
That’s good news, although who knows what it will do to the lines. In Brookline, in a demonstration of secondhand social media, the line has become its own attraction — sucking in even those without Instagram or TikTok. On Sunday, even as the rain started to fall, I felt myself being drawn in.