Brian Arya’s family has owned the Lincoln Tunnel Motel in New Jersey for years now. While he attempted to foster an acting career, Arya started working the night shift to make ends meet in 2012. While the grueling shift wasn’t exactly ideal, it allowed him to pay the bills while pursuing his acting career during the day.
As years went by and his involvement in the family business grew, Arya garnered two things from the experience: a partial ownership of the motel, and over 800k followers on TikTok.
The ownership was a simpler path—seeing his son’s hard work, his father gifted him a partial stake in the family business in 2017. The impressive TikTok following is a newer experience. To bring his love of acting and his work-life under the safe roof, Arya started filming short skits and posting them on the platform. There, viewers can find skits from his character “Steven the maid,” jokes about his “Motel Hell,” and games played with the guests.
Brian Arya, owner of Lincoln Tunnel Hotel
In one video, he “speaks” with 16-year-old Brian Arya, and assures him one key detail: “We’re helping people.”
In working at a motel, Arya sees firsthand how often people struggle with affordable housing. This problem was exacerbated at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, when lockdown forced businesses to close and led to a spike of unemployed Americans. Supported by his sizable audience, Arya started to wonder: could he make free rooms available to those who needed a place to stay?
The answer was yes.
“People started getting quarantined, lockdowns starting happening, and then we started seeing an influx of unhoused people,” Arya says. “You know, they just couldn’t afford rent anymore. And so, they’d come to our motel. And that just snowballed from there.”
Brian Arya took to TikTok to promote his “Free Room for You” program. His followers, in awe of what kind gesture, sprung into action. His Amazon Wish List maxed out. Monetary donations as well as those of food and toiletries began pouring in. A group of college students delivered a stack of supplies from their food pantry.
@ltmotel Answer @im_siowei the day I made 2Pac proud #motelhell #AreYouNewHere ♬ come into my arms – november
As the bitter winter cold began to settle in, Arya’s followers rose to a new challenge: the “pay it forward brigade.” Those in the area will come in and rent a room not for themselves, but whoever comes to stay next.
“…And just the other day, someone – who remained anonymous – dropped off care packages that they’ve made themselves, full of items,” Arya says. “And they dropped off like 20 of them, just for me to give to a random person just walking off the street. Which I did, just last night.”
So far, Arya has managed to give away around 60 free rooms. His long-term guests—many of whom lost their homes in the midst of the pandemic—have grown to be like a family. Some of their faces and stories even appear on his TikTok page. To Brian Arya, he feels fortune to know these people and share their stories.
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