Nisha Godfrey: The woman behind TikTok’s viral chicken salad sound
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“It’s a chicken salad.”
If this phrase sounds familiar, it’s likely because you’ve heard it used as a trending sound in thousands of videos on TikTok and Instagram over the past several weeks. The entire sound features an exchange between frequent deli goer Nisha Godfrey and owner Wael Herbawi at East 81st Street Deli in Cleveland, Ohio.
“Y’all better come up here and get you one of these,” says Nisha.
“What’s that,” Wael replies.
“It’s a chicken salad,” Nisha says firmly.
While there is more to the sound, which originated from a TikTok posted on the @81stdeli account, this exchange has seemed to capture the attention of social media influencers and creators alike.
The video has 20.5 million views on the deli’s account and 2.1 million views on Nisha’s account. However, what makes this sound so special is Nisha’s essence. It’s the stern yet entertaining way that she invites you to order this chicken salad that really pulls you in. So much so that not only Cleveland area residents have been going to the deli in droves to get their own chicken salads but fans have been driving from Texas and other states for Nisha’s specific order.
Those that know me know that I will go on a journey for some good food, especially when I have the munchies, so I had to get the tea on what’s inside Nisha’s salad.
“It’s either with lettuce or spinach, but I prefer spinach. Then chicken, shredded cheese, tomatoes, onions, pickles, and banana peppers. If they have fresh mushrooms and black olives, I’ll add those too. Usually, if they don’t have croutons, I eat it with Flamin’ Hot Doritos like a taco salad,” says Nisha.
Now, as someone who identifies as the main character of her own life, I love to see that same kind of energy in other people. Between the yellow floral dress Nisha is wearing (complete with matching nails) and the now infamous finger placement over her mouth, you would think that Nisha was just an everyday influencer taking us through a day in her life. On the contrary, Nisha Godfrey—in her words—is just a “hard-working mom of one” who was launched into the spotlight by happenstance.
I reached out to Nisha to learn more about her rise to virality and how she’s handling new-found internet fame.
Becoming Ms. Chicken Salad
Although the internet now knows Nisha, 39, as Ms. Chicken Salad or The Chicken Salad Lady, as well as the icon who propelled the East 81st Street Deli into fame, she considers herself a “normal” woman from Cleveland.
“I literally just go to work, go home, get on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, and lay on my bed with a glass of wine,” says Nisha.
By day, Nisha works as a direct support professional (DSP), helping individuals with developmental or mental disabilities transition from living in institutions to homes and settling back into their communities. This kind of work requires a deep understanding of people, empathy, and connection with others. Given Nisha’s roots, this has always come naturally to her. Since she was young, she recalls always wanting to entertain people and tell stories.
“Growing up, I would always joke with my friends and family that I was going to be famous. I would watch movies and wish I could be [a star],” says Nisha.
Today, the influencer girlies would definitely consider a young Nisha’s vocalization of her hopes and desires as manifesting. Just this past September, she posted her first few TikToks—one of which she shared how she had a story to tell even though she was new to the platform. With a knack for connecting to people and a desire to be in the spotlight, TikTok felt like a suitable space to channel her inner child’s dreams.
Little did she know that it would be the platform that propelled her into stardom. After leaving work one day, she decided to visit the deli and order a chicken salad.
“The salad was so beautiful that Wael wanted to make a TikTok, and we did it.”
Although Wael posted the video to the deli’s TikTok account that day, it wasn’t until later on that it blew up.
“I was super surprised. My daughter came to me and told me I was viral on TikTok and needed to watch the video. It was only at 100 thousand views, but I was scared to read the comments because I looked like a hot mess, but when I started reading the comments, it was pure love. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. They were so nice.”
Some fans of the video felt that she made the salad sound like the best meal on the planet. Others shared how much they loved the sound of her voice. One fan even shared that the video felt therapeutic.
As the video began circulating on TikTok and Instagram, creators started using her sound to create reenactments and their own meme-ified versions of the video. Even celebrities like Lizzo, Tia Mowery, Lori Harvey, and Yung Miami jumped on the trend. This visibility has propelled Nisha and the East 81st Street Deli into fame. According to a recent article by Today, the attention from social media has helped increase sales at the deli. The owner, Wael, says he went from selling 40 to about 300 salads daily.
If you ask me, she is thee moment.
With an outpouring of love from her new community that has quickly grown from 107 to over 90,000 followers in just a few months, Nisha feels confident that she can make any of her dreams a reality.
The Challenges Of Being A TikTok Star
Often, when internet personalities are launched into virality, everything seems to happen overnight. Securing the resources needed to maintain a personal presence on social media can be difficult without support.
That’s why Nisha's community is everything—especially regarding negativity on the platforms. While she feels supported by her community on TikTok, Nisha shared that Instagram is where she receives the most hate. Trolls have taken to the video to comment on her weight, which has impacted her mental health.
“For a period of time, my anxiety was on 3000. I would sit in my house and cry all day. It would feel confusing. I don’t know how celebrities handle this. I’m just a TikTok star, so I can only imagine how they feel when they’re reading hateful comments. Now, I like to do it the Beyoncé way. If the comments are negative, I won’t read them.
On Instagram, people just don’t know me. Those that do know that I will take the shirt off my back and give it to someone else. I’ll give someone my last dollar. It feels like it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. On TikTok, I can be myself. I don’t have to have my hair combed. On Instagram, you have to be dolled up. That’s just not my real life,” says Nisha.
Despite the hateration on Instagram, her TikTok supporters inspire her to continue this journey. In the meantime, her family members moderate her comments so that she doesn’t have to deal with the negativity, especially as she continues raising her daughter and working her day job.
“This has also impacted my job. Trying to work my job with my phone constantly in my hand [is hard]. Sometimes I have to tell my boss that I need to leave work early to go to the news station. My co-workers are picking up my slack. I told my boss that I don’t want to quit, but I feel overwhelmed because I’m not really able to focus on my job. I feel like I need a [talent] manager.”
Even though Nisha is willing and able to overcome these challenges, she knows that the support of her family and community will help her stay focused on accomplishing her goals. To those individuals, she has a message of gratitude:
“Thank you. I love you. I appreciate you all from the bottom of my heart. I adore my TikTok community. They want to see me win.”
What’s Next For Nisha & Where To Find Her
Now, the Queen of the Chicken Salad Army is trying to navigate stardom and build a presence that will last a lifetime. So far, brands in the beauty industry have reached out for partnerships, but she has her eyes set on more. As a plus-sized woman, she sees herself working with brands that prioritize inclusivity, like FENTY, Yitty, Dermilogica, Fashion Nova, and in her words, “anything Beyoncé is attached to.”
Until then, Nisha is capitalizing on this viral moment. She recently announced the launch of her online merch store—…It’s Superior. The line includes shirts, hoodies, aprons, stickers, and totes, all of which have graphics featuring her infamous words from the video or her face.
In the meantime, she wants the world to know that she’s ready to secure her bag. She sees herself traveling the world and doing food reviews, and she’s even open to acting and doing voiceover work. As she steps into this new world of influencing and potentially entertainment, Nisha knows that it’s only up from here and is open to all the experiences this journey will offer her.
Whatever she decides to do next, I know it will be superior.
Click the links below if you’d like to follow Nisha and see more of her content: