How a Bay Area dad became father figure to 1.4M followers on TikTok

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Are you on TikTok? If you are of a certain generation, your answer might be: My kids are. So, how did a 47-year-old Bay Area father become a TikTok superstar?

As co-founder of San Francisco’s Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters, Nick Cho was already relatively well-known among people who are serious about their coffee.

Now, TikTok fame is presenting a new existential question.

"Who I am?" he laughed, when asked to say his name and who he is for an audio check before a KCBS Radio interview. "You know what’s been really funny is, am I Your Korean Dad? Am I The Korean Dad? Or for people it’s like, it is My Korean Dad or Our Korean Dad?"

That is a question one could ask about 1.5 million followers on a platform favored by people who are generally much younger than 47-year-old Cho.

"TikTok famous is really unique," he told KCBS Radio. "Because it’s young people - especially like teenagers who will come up to me in public very often. And it’s always kind of funny and unexpected."

His videos of a loving and supportive father just doing regular Dad stuff are proving hugely popular. Among the most viewed posts are videos of Cho shopping for snacks at the drugstore with an off-camera child - asking which bag of chips they prefer.

Some people tell him they find the videos cute and fun. Others have shared emotional reaction videos of themselves in tears.

"I didn’t plan for it. I didn’t expect it. I wasn’t even hoping for that sort of response," said Cho. "But as soon as it started happening, I realized why."

"I get a lot of people - very heartfelt messages expressing that they don’t have a dad, or they did but their dad died, or their dad walked out on them, or that their father is abusive or neglectful in some sort of way."

His caring and supportive presence reminds some people of an iconic neighborhood figure.

"One of the things that has come up from time to time is that people are comparing me to Mr. Rogers," laughed Cho. "Kind of saying that I’m like a Korean Mr. Rogers of this time. And it’s really funny that people say that because Mr. Rogers is like one of my top three heroes of my life."

"People think of him as a really sweet, kind person - Mr. Rogers was fierce. He was a fierce warrior for what he believed in, and he believed in children and the health and safety of children."

Cho injects his beliefs into his content, too.

"Fundamentally, I want to be as inclusive as possible," he explained.

That comes through in videos expressing love to his LGBTQ kids and talking to his followers about the Black Lives Matter movement.

There is also a message in the fact that this encouraging and available father just happens to be Korean.

"I’m very proud to be Korean," he said. "I don’t want that to be erased. In fact, I want that to be celebrated. But also, I want to subvert and kind of open people’s minds about what being Korean is - whether you’re Korean or whether you’re not Korean. I think a lot of times - especially in America - we do tend to kind of pigeonhole ourselves into certain stereotypes and that’s not good for anyone."

Cho is broadening his support for kids through a fundraiser he launched to celebrate reaching (and since surpassing) one million followers.

"There had been a lot requests for some sort of merch - for like hoodies or t-shirts and stickers and things like that," he explained, "But when I’m talking about young people, I don’t want to take their money. But the way I figured out how to reconcile that was - what if we did do the merch so that people could have it because it’s fun for them, but then 100% of the profits would go to a nonprofit? And my wife and I identified Larkin Street Youth Services here in San Francisco, focused on unhoused young people - a large number of whom are non-white and a large number of whom are LGBTQ+."

Your Korean Dad has two teenagers IRL. His daughters were the ones who introduced him to TikTok, and they are now sharing their celebrity dad with more than a million other TikTok "kids."

"The younger one is delighted. She thinks everything is pretty fun and amazing," said Cho. "The older one…also does. From time to time for her she’s like, 'OK can we quit it with this TikTok thing? I have college applications to focus on that I need help on.'"