Teena Thach knows a place

When Teena Thach first downloaded TikTok a few years ago, she, like most of us, struggled to wrap her head around it.

“What’s funny is, I’ve worked in social media for so long that I felt like I understood each channel when it came to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook,” said the Tacoma-bred social media manager and now-TikTok star. “But I was like, ‘I don’t understand TikTok.’ It was just something that, at first, I thought was so weird, and so odd.” 

In July 2020, Thach called her friend Thai Ha, owner of the Mangosteen food stand in Seattle’s International District. She hadn’t yet been, and wanted to stop by. Ha suggested she make a promotional TikTok during her visit in exchange for free boba, given her familiarity with the app and her social-media background. “And I was like, ‘I love free boba,’ so I’m coming,” she said.

The 34-second post — which began with Thach greeting her fellow foodies and continued with her enticingly shot recommendations — unforeseeably became a hit, attracting thousands in hours. 

Going viral was definitely cool. But even better was the giddy-with-disbelief follow-up call from Ha. Post-video, Mangosteen saw an enormous sales bump. It was common for TikTok-savvy customers to play Thach’s endorsement for an employee to make sure they got her same order. They wanted those golden-brown pieces of Korean fried chicken, those crispy fish sauce wings, that refreshingly frosty mangonada. 

She graduated from Mount Tahoma High School, then went to Western Washington University, making her the first person in her family to pursue higher education.

When she started college, she broadly went after communications because of a longstanding interest in social media and storytelling. Then she honed her focus as more classes affirmed where her interests most lay. One public-speaking course was emboldening. But a journalism class where she got to tell a visual story about someone usually pushed to societal sidelines was particularly impactful. (She centered her assignment on a school janitor, with whom she remains in touch.) Because it meaningfully put her then-mostly-untapped storytelling inclinations into practice, the project solidified her purpose. 

“It was just a bunch of, ‘I like telling people’s stories. I like public speaking. I love reporting, but I also love social media and I love getting people together,’” Thach remembers realizing. “It was everything all coming together.”