It will happen sometime this weekend. Walker Hayes — the "Fancy Like" singer of TikTok, country radio and TV commercial fame — plans to pull his tour bus, with his wife and six children on board, into an Applebee's parking lot.
He'll order the usual: Bourbon Street steak with an Oreo shake. And diners will probably recognize him and his daughter Lela from their mega-popular TikTok dance clip.
"We get recognized the most when we're together," said Hayes, who performs Saturday at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul, not far from one of the two dozen Applebee's restaurants in the Twin Cities.
A celebration of life's ordinary joys, "Fancy Like" has become one of those infectious and ubiquitous novelty country crossovers like Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" and Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart."
Going to Applebee's has been a big deal for Hayes and his wife, Laney, ever since their dating days as 11th-graders in a suburb of Mobile, Ala.
"Yeah, we fancy like Applebee's on a date night," his song's chorus goes. "Got that Bourbon Street steak with the Oreo shake. Get some whipped cream on the top, too. Two straws, one check, girl I got you."
His team reached out to the restaurant chain after the TikTok video went viral in mid-June and the song became a digital hit. Sales at Applebee's started going up, and the company incorporated the chorus into a TV ad. It also brought back the Oreo shake, which was dropped from the menu during the pandemic.
"Applebee's was very generous," said Hayes, who's pictured with his daughter on placards at the restaurants. "A lot of the higher-ups in the company were very vocal with how that song collided with a downtime for them."
Hayes saw TikTok as a fun thing to do with his kids during the pandemic.
"Without TikTok, I think we're not even talking on the phone right now," he said last week from Nashville. "The power of that outlet, when you're able to create something very pure and infectious, it's amazing to watch it go and watch people put their own spin on it."
The dance that Hayes and 16-year-old Lela created has been replicated many, many times on TikTok. His favorites are by "Fuller House" star Candace Cameron Bure ("my kids really enjoyed it") and one in which Shaquille O'Neal joins a woman dancing in front of an Applebee's ("it blew my mind").
Country's No. 1 song for the past 24 weeks and counting, "Fancy Like" is featured on Hayes' third full-length, "Country Stuff: The Album," released last week. The record starts with the unlikely juxtaposition of "Drinking Songs" (about his love for them) and "AA" (about his need for Alcoholics Anonymous).
"That in itself describes me and probably a lot of humans," Hayes said. "'Drinking Songs' is a beautiful illustration of who I was. And 'AA' is who I am today. I find comfort in letting people know these are my flaws. ... I don't have to hide anything."
His latest single, "AA" has a sing-songy, hip-hop feel — not unlike "Fancy," or Nelly's old hit "Country Grammar."
Now 42, Hayes, grew up on hip-hop and country music, skateboarding in what he calls a suburban strip-mall town.
"For my talent show my senior year [in high school], me and two other friends did Sugarhill Gang's 'Rapper's Delight.' I love the way that music makes me feel.
"I grew up loving lyrics of all genres. ... I've always had the most respect for the turn of a lyric in country music and twist of a phrase."
In 2005, he and Laney moved to Nashville, where he hoped to make a living as a songwriter. He got his songs cut by Colt Ford, Rhett Atkins and others, and landed his own recording contract, releasing his debut, "Reason to Rhyme," in 2011.
But Capitol Records dropped him, and he didn't rebound until 2017 with the hits "You Broke Up With Me" and " '90's Country."
Saved by a stranger
Now Hayes is back with "Country Stuff." The album contains a dreamy R&B duet, "What If We Did," with rising country thrush Carly Pearce; a salute to Hayes' realtor dad called "Briefcase" (which doubles as an apology to his kids for being on the road all the time), and "Craig," a collaboration with Christian group MercyMe that is a tribute to Hayes' benefactor.
One night six or seven years ago, Laney dragged a drunken Hayes, a nonbeliever, to church.
"Craig was the first hand I shook. He said, 'I'm glad you're here.' Something told me he knew I didn't want to be there. I'm sure I reeked of alcohol. That didn't deter him from accepting me.
"That welcome feeling was foreign to me. I was alcoholic, I was working at Costco, I had zero career going on, yet I was calling myself a songwriter. Craig and his family had zero to gain from loving us, but they loved us anyway."
Craig gave the Hayes family a van because their own vehicle didn't have enough seat belts for all six kids.
Hayes was initially mistrustful, but eventually quit drinking. And he found Jesus after he and his wife lost their seventh child, just hours after she was born.
To top it off, the Hayes family moved next door to Craig's family of six in suburban Nashville at the beginning of the pandemic. The first thing the two dads did was tear down part of a fence between their houses so the kids could scoot back and forth.
Now Hayes and Craig Allen Cooper have written a book, "Glad You're Here: Two Unlikely Friends Breaking Bread and Fences," due in May.
On tour, Hayes and his wife are home-schooling their kids, as they've done for years, and showing them sights along the way, especially on their first trip to the Upper Midwest. There's a chance that Lela may join her dad onstage for a little dancing — especially if he keeps visiting Applebee's.
Just how many TikTok dances does it take to burn off an Oreo shake?
"Let's just say a lot. Those Oreo shakes are not diet food."
Opening: MacKenzie Porter.
When: 7 p.m. Sat.
Where: Palace Theatre, 17 W. 7th Place, St. Paul.
Tickets: $25-$50, first-avenue.com
Twitter: @JonBream 612-673-1719