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My Pilgrimage to a Viral Holy Site: The Little Caesars of Passaic, New Jersey

Photo: Brian Feldman

Virality can happen anywhere. In a Krispy Kreme in North Carolina. At the Apple Store at the Grove in Los Angeles. In the stands of Boston College’s Alumni Stadium.

If you head to Port Authority and hop on NJ Transit’s 190 bus toward Paterson, you’ll travel through the Lincoln Tunnel, out past the swamps of the Meadowlands and MetLife Stadium. Just after crossing the Passaic River, the bus will turn onto Route 21 North, winding along the river past crew teams and high schoolers playing football. Eventually, the bus will turn onto Main Avenue, and a few blocks down, past a McDonald’s and a KFC, you can step off onto a tiny strip mall called Chestnut Plaza. There’s a Popeye’s, a bagel shop, an MRI center, and — on the end, its orange sign gleaming in the mid-Atlantic autumn sun — your final destination: Little Caesars. If you’re particularly sensitive, you might be able to sense it. You’re at a landmark, a bright node in a great network overlapping the United States. This Little Caesars — the Passaic, New Jersey, Little Caesars — is special. Something viral happened here.

A little before 4 p.m. on September 16, a Twitter user called @lordflaconegro tweeted at the chain’s parent company. “Hey @littlecaesars,” he wrote, “I left my phone at one of your establishments and this video was uploaded on my iCloud help.”

The video is breathtaking. Set to the strains of Rockell’s 1997 hit “In a Dream,” a young man bounces from the front entrance of the store past the counter and into the back, where he turns his body suddenly toward the camera. He opens the door to a walk-in refrigerator. Inside, another teenager, in just his underwear and shoes, pours sauce all over his chest and thrusts his pelvis toward the floor a couple of times. The camera then turns back and exits the cooler, heading over to another door. The door opens to reveal the first boy again, legs spread across a gap between two shelving units, also dancing with his shirt off. He jumps down and out of frame and the video abruptly ends.

As appealing as @lordflaconegro’s story is, the iCloud-upload framing is, as you probably already know, bogus. The low quality of the video indicates that the footage was ripped from other platforms and re-uploaded a few times. So @lordflaconegro sent the video viral, but they were not its maker. The @lordflaconegro tweet, as all viral tweets do, ebbs and flows in popularity, but it has gotten significant attention this week, even as the identity of the video’s actual directors and stars remained obscured.

In fact, the video originated on Facebook, where it was uploaded on August 28 by the man in the refrigerator, who goes by King Curlz on Instagram, and shared a few days later by the man at the start of the video, Adrian, with the caption, “Keep sharing 🤦🏽 😭.” If nothing else, it’s clear that the duo has little reservation about getting as many eyeballs on their workplace antics as possible. As of publishing, it has a little over 4,000 views. In comparison, @lordflaconegro’s tweet has more than 17,000 retweets and almost 40,000 likes.

Over text messages, Adrian said that the video was inspired by social-media celebrity Junebug’s iteration of the #InADreamChallenge, which began as the product of a few friends dancing to the Rockell song. “There’s no secret behind it. We’re literally just filming how we hang out,” Philliip Szeto wrote of the social-media trend.

This week, the pair from the first video (and, I assume, an unseen accomplice holding the camera) uploaded another. In it, they dance around the Little Caesars parking lot, throwing cash around, shedding their shirts, and dumping what appears to be pizza sauce all over each other. “TBH I can’t say why I do what I do but I been like this since high [school]!” King Curlz texted me. “Love making ppl laugh.”

It seems like the world’s chillest Little Caesars. Fast-food locations in general — like the Krispy Kreme of the infamous “back at it again” tumbling mishap — are viral-media incubators. They’re staffed and frequented by the young and creative and bored, and the aesthetic uniformity and banality of a fast-food franchise enhances the uncanny sense of recognition. It could’ve been any McDonald’s, any Krispy Kreme, maybe it’s the Chipotle or the Starbucks you’re standing in right now.

A little more sleuthing on Curlz and Adrian, a little bit more scouring Google Street View, and you wind up at a north Jersey quick-service pizza place named after a small Roman conqueror.

On Thursday, I paid the Little Caesars a visit.

I’ve watched the Little Caesars video dozens of times this week, either of my own volition or because it’s been retweeted into my feed, and there is something oddly invigorating about stepping into the totally normal space in which it was filmed. The internet and social media have made everyone a documentarian, and, in turn, every space a landmark. But there’s nothing particularly monumental about a strip mall in Passaic — nothing physically striking or notable. What’s invigorating is the secret knowledge you have: Something funny or special happened here, and it was seen by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people around the world. The slight energy is generated by the tension between the material world and the digital one that gives it meaning.

Not wanting to seem like a weirdo heavily scrutinizing a strip mall Little Caesars, I got a Hot-N-Ready pizza and a Brisk iced tea. I could peer back to the left corner, and grab a glimpse of the door to the storeroom that Adrian is seen dancing shirtless in at the end of the video. Aside from two chairs forming a makeshift waiting area, there was nowhere to sit, which is how I ended up sitting on some sort of machinery unit in the back and eating half of my $6 pizza alone before my sense of shame finally kicked in.

Afterward, I went back to talk to the cashier, a shy man who gave me a look that said something like, This guy left carrying an entire pizza, and now he’s back ten minutes later without any pizza ... I showed him the video, which he instantly recognized. He told me that the pair in the video got fired on Saturday.

When I told King Curlz about my trip to the store last night, he said, “Nah we still work there ppl jus looking out for us.” I told him I’d try to write this article in such a way that he wouldn’t lose his job, but Little Caesars is just a stepping stone for the pair. “No it’s ok idc if I get fired,” Curlz admitted. On a different text thread, Adrian said, “This is what we wanted. We wanna become instagram famous.”

My Pilgrimage to a Viral Holy Site: Little Caesars