Keith Lee's TikTok food reviews have become the latest craze on social media thanks to the former MMA fighter's blunt and honest takes on eateries around the country. However, Lee's latest trip to Atlanta has completely changed the landscape of the city's restaurant scene due to him shining a light on some interesting rules and policies in the local food scene.
Last month, the 27-year-old shared several food reviews of restaurants around the ATL, and while he got to eat from some spots, others left him with nothing to grub on due to specific rules that out-of-towners are not familiar with. As usual, Lee kept his reviews as honest as possible, resulting in social media discussions on the Atlanta food scene that many locals say has the city in shambles.
Some of those conversations have criticized various restaurants for their preference of keeping up with their social media presence rather than their service and food. Lee's reviews have even brought negativity into his own life as people have threatened his and his family's safety, as he stated in one of his latest TikTok videos.
So what happened while Keith Lee went to Atlanta, and why is the city reeling from these reviews?
Who is Keith Lee?
Keith Lee is a former mixed martial arts fighter turned food critic born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. He moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, with his family about 10 years ago so that he and his brother, Kevin Lee, could pursue careers in professional fighting. Between 2017 and 2019, Lee put up an impressive 5-3 record with companies such as TKO, Final Fight Championship, and more before landing in Bellator, one of the biggest fighting promotions in the world.
With Bellator, Lee posted a 2-2 record before losing his contract in 2021, which forced him to go back to the drawing board and find something more sustainable for himself and his family. He had his last professional fight in 2022 at A1 Combat 5, but as he told MMA Fighting in January of this year, "I felt very expendable after I lost my contract with Bellator. I promised myself I'm going to build something that no one can take away from me, and that's me being me. Completely separate from anything else I do. It's just me and you can't take away who I am."
How did Keith Lee build his TikTok following?
While he was still a professional fighter in 2020, Lee used TikTok to create various family and cooking-inspired content to alleviate his social anxiety and prepare him for post-fight interviews, which he said made him nervous. Some of those videos caught the attention of the popular YouTube channel People vs. Food, and a collaboration with them led to a rise in Lee's already growing stock on social media.
From there, Lee and his wife turned to food-centric content by posting one review a day, and by 2021, the training wheels were off as the former pro fighter focused on smaller businesses that requested he try and rate their food in locations such as Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, and Chicago. Lee became so popular for his honest reviews that he started sending family members to get food so he could have the same experience as regular people and avoid special treatment from restaurants.
However, it has gotten harder for Lee to do that as his reviews have become a go-to source for many foodies across the country. Several restaurants that received his coveted "10 out of 10" review reported an increase in sales and customers such as a Las Vegas food truck called Southern Taste Seafood that went from making $200 a day to a 900% increase in revenue thanks to Lee's review.
Fans have called the phenomenon the "Keith Lee Effect," but the man himself keeps things humble. He told TODAY.com back in May, "I'm just a guy who records himself eating food."
What happened during his food tour in Atlanta, Georgia?
Last month, Lee and his family took his food tour to Atlanta, Georgia, and what was supposed to be an exciting moment for fans turned into chaos. Atlanta's food scene has been growing and it's home to several celebrity-owned restaurants. However, Lee's experience was not quite like the glowing comments the food scene has been getting lately.
For starters, restaurants in Atlanta have rules that non-locals are unfamiliar with, such as no take-out orders, dine-in times/party size limits, and fluctuating hours. Several of Lee's videos highlighted these rules at places like The Atlanta Breakfast Club, where he was charged for extra butter and could only make a single order for the whole table. Spots such as The Real Milk & Honey and the Kandi Burress-owned Old Lady Gang said they wouldn't serve his family—but changed their policy once he arrived.
"I pay for my food like everybody else. I walk up in spots like everybody else," said Lee in one of his reviews, where he had no food. "We are all normal people. Respectfully, if you're not going to do it then, don't do it now."
Issues with ordering food ahead, lackluster customer service, and his family being denied only to get service after Lee showed up with them fueled discussion on social media, where people began sharing their own experiences at said restaurants. Despite his experiences, Lee also urged his followers not to spam or trash these restaurants and recommended going there yourself to see what kind of experience you have.
“I do not support, condone, or agree with tearing down these businesses," said Lee, in his Real Milk and Honey review. "While we personally may not have the best personal service experience, it does not mean you will have the same experience. It also don’t mean go on Twitter and tear these businesses down. At the end of the day, business owners are people and you never know what people are going through.”
How did Atlanta restaurants respond to Keith Lee's reviews?
Lee's reviews even brought on responses from some of the food spots. The Real Milk and Honey shared a since-deleted video in which a person asked, "Who is this Keith Lee?" Due to the backlash, the restaurant shared another post apologizing and revealing changes were being made to their house rules.
"In no way were we trying to discredit anyone, if the comments came across as such, kindly accept our apologies," read the statement. "The house rules that are circulating are outdated, and current one is to be published soon on our social platforms so everyone can see it's a vibe not rules."
According to Atlanta 11, Devon Green, part owner of another restaurant called Milk and Honey, has stated people have been confusing his establishment for the one reviewed by Lee and sending him threats.
"A bomb from negative comments, death threats, threats to blow the building up, threats to end our business," Green said. "We started getting bad reviews on Yelp. People were calling our phones. It was a nightmare."
Burress posted a video on her page stating, "I just really want to say, I do appreciate Keith Lee for stopping by our restaurant and trying to show us love. It is very unfortunate that we couldn't serve him and his family," she said. "On the weekends, we get a lot of community support, people in our city that show up for us, as well as a lot of people from out of town. So, with that being said, we don't want to overwhelm our kitchen by having to, you know, have such long times for the people who are actually at the restaurant, plus having to do to-go orders."
How did social media respond to Keith Lee's Atlanta restaurant reviews?
People from the city and out-of-towners took to social media with their own takes on the Atlanta food scene. Many were happy to see Lee open the door on the city's restaurants and their arbitrary rules that have seemingly ruined some people's experience of enjoying a good meal at a nice establishment.
"I'm so glad he's exposing how terrible these Atlanta restaurants are," one person tweeted. "Mid ass food, dumb ass rules, over priced, same shit on all their menus. Nothing but grass walls, lamb chops, shrimp & grits and hookah."
Another said, "The fact that people are putting a statewide PSA because Keith Lee is in Atlanta is hilarious 😂😂😂😂. The grass walls are shaking off the walls. He got Atlanta breakfast club and Milk & Honey 😭."
Cardi B even took to her Instagram Live to talk about Lee's reviews and how difficult it is to get food in Atlanta if you're not a celebrity. "I feel like Atlanta restaurants, they don't like to make money," said Cardi B. "I feel bad for Atlanta residents. Thank you, Jesus, I'm famous, but even me being famous, it's like a hassle!"
What did Keith Lee have to say about this all?
Once his Atlanta food tour came to an end, Lee posted a video recapping the whole trip. He suggested that he and his family received threats from random people who were upset with his reviews. According to Lee, he goes to restaurants that are recommended to him and he never comes from a place of malicious intent. He also revealed there could be changes coming to his platform if the reactions in other cities will be the same as what happened in Atlanta.
"I'm going to be 100 percent transparent, 100 percent candid, me and my family will postpone touring if other cities are going to be like this. Every review [is] not going to be the best," Lee said earlier this week. "I understand with great power comes great responsibility. God made me for this. I'm built for this. At the end of the day, I just want to eat food, walking my path. If you want to be on a journey with me, you are more than welcome."
He added, "I understand everybody gonna have an opinion on the situation. You can disagree with me. You can not like what I say. Completely understand. I'm ok with that. But when my safety and my family safety are coming into play, that's where I draw the line."