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Keith Lee is TikTok's favorite food reviewer — and he's just getting started

The creator has been posting videos since 2020 but blew up last year with his restaurant commentary.
Photo Illustration: Keith Lee eats and reviews foods on TikTok.
Keith Lee has become TikTok’s go-to food reviewer, growing a platform of 10 million followers.Lauren Schatzman / NBC News

Keith Lee has had a massive 2023 — and it’s only February. 

In recent months, he has become TikTok’s go-to food reviewer, growing a platform of 10 million followers. During that time, he has collaborated with MrBeast, partnered with “Good Morning America” to help a small business and appeared on the popular YouTube series “People vs Food.” Now, he’s been honored as an “industry disruptor” on TikTok’s inaugural Visionary Voices list, which honored 15 Black creators who are innovators in their fields, for Black History Month.

“I don’t think I’m even, like, halfway up,” Lee told NBC News. “I know a lot of people have seen my journey and they like, ‘Oh, you’re at your peak. You need to get it while the getting’s good,’ but honestly, I think I’m at the very beginning. I think things are just starting for me. And I’m just enjoying the journey.”

Lee is known for his earnest takes, uncompromising values and life-changing impact on family-owned restaurants. While he didn’t set out to be an influential food reviewer, he doesn’t take this responsibility lightly. Like many before him, he has demonstrated that TikTok is a powerful tool in selling out products and building up businesses. Through his videos, he has helped struggling restaurants raise funds and gain a larger customer base — a welcome boost for many in this economy.

“With great power comes great responsibility,” he said, quoting the famous line from the “Spider-Man” franchise. “As somebody who’s in this position, I think it’s up to me to understand that and not shy away from it.”

The Las Vegas-based creator has been steadily posting a variety of content since 2020 — including family vlogging with his wife, Ronni, and daughters Karter and Riley; behind-the-scenes looks at his professional mixed martial arts career; and food reviews of mom-and-pop restaurants. While people love the latter videos, he refuses to let himself get boxed into a niche.

“I stand on my integrity. I stand on my values and I don’t allow those to be wavered or to be shook no matter the amount of money, the opportunity or the people I’m surrounded by,” he said.

He feels that he set himself apart from other creators, saying, “I think I’ve moved like me and I don’t move like anybody else.”

While Lee has been doing food reviews on his page since at least 2021, one of his reviews of a local food truck, 303 in the Cut, in November 2022 blew up. It garnered 35.5 million TikTok views — and served as one of the first instances of Lee driving business to a family-owned restaurant. 

A man of faith, Lee said this boom in his engagement and influence was “just God’s timing.” Since November, Lee has seen major audience growth, going from 1.5 million followers to 10.5 million in three months.

Lee said he has built a community of fellow foodies who, like him, love the experience of waiting in long lines to try hyped-up eateries. His audience appreciates his authenticity and his transparency about his personal tastes.

“A lot of food reviewers or a lot of people who do food content just go, ‘Oh, this is amazing. This is really good. I know you gon’ like it. You got to try it.’ I’ve never done that. I like it, it’s good to me. You might like it, you might not like it,” he said.

This is perhaps the reason why many of his comments include civil debates about different foods Lee is especially critical of. In a recent video, Lee gave a negative review to pastry chef Dominique Ansel’s new Las Vegas bakery. Viewers knew to take it with a pinch of salt. 

“That sounded just like a croque monsieur should be. I love that [you] acknowledge you’re not the target audience AND still give your honest opinion,” one viewer said. 

“As soon as you showed the description for each item I knew you wouldn’t like it. All of those things have soft textures,” another said.

Still, Lee’s audience takes his recommendations seriously. That is evident in the way he creates lines down the blocks of the stores he praises.

Frank Steele, owner of Frankensons, in Las Vegas, received an influx of customers after Lee reviewed his restaurant. While he said the interest has been “really amazing,” he said it was overwhelming at first because his staff wasn’t prepared for the sudden increase in orders. 

“It’s a challenge but a great challenge. … Me and my family are grateful for Keith,” Steele told NBC News.

Steele said in the six weeks since Lee’s review of Frankensons, he has hired 23 new team members and had guests from all over the world patiently wait for over three hours for his pizzas. He said he was thankful that Lee helped his business and the overall “community at large in Las Vegas.”

“Las Vegas absolutely loves Keith,” Steele said. 

Yasser Zermeno, owner of Aroma Latin American Cocina, echoed this sentiment in an interview with NBC News Now earlier this month. Lee reviewed the restaurant after Zermeno’s family emailed him to ask him to try the restaurant’s food.

“We went from not being able to pay the bills to now having to hire people to come and help us,” he said. “We call it the Keith effect.”

Lee said that “every action has a positive and negative reaction regardless of how we want to look at it.” He said that while it’s great that he can bring business to struggling restaurants, he acknowledged that many of the owners don’t have the resources to keep up with the sudden demand at first.

“I think it’s always important for me to let it be known to the people who follow me … to tell them, ‘Hey, this is a small business. This is a family-owned business. They will be overwhelmed. It will be a long line. Please be patient. Please allow them to have an adjustment period like everybody else,’” he said.

As Lee rises in prominence, small businesses have started reaching out to him to visit their restaurants. This is sometimes a divisive move in the eyes of Lee’s audience, especially if the business makes a TikTok publicly inviting Lee to their store. However, Lee said that it doesn’t bother him and that he understands that his platform can be a major opportunity for a lot of entrepreneurs. But he said he is mostly interested in boosting “restaurants who can’t help themselves.”

“If I can provide the marketing to restaurants who again are trying to survive, I think that’s what I truly enjoy doing,” he said. “And those are businesses I don’t mind reaching out to me. If you reach out to me and you were in that case, I absolutely will go on my way to go and eat the food.”

As for the future, Lee said he just wants to continue being himself and continue on his path — wherever it takes him. When asked if there were any big projects in the works, Lee smiled and simply put a finger to his lips in a hush-hush motion. 

“I’m very thankful to be in a position that I’m in,” he said. “I have a lot of really, really big things coming up. I’m in a lot of talks and a lot of meetings that I never thought that I would be in.”