Image by Getty Images/TikTok food reviewer Keith Lee is interviewed after attending a game between the New York Liberty 

By Dani Di Placido Senior Contributor/Forbes

TikTok foodie Keith Lee recently went viral after documenting his frustrating dining experiences in Atlanta, sparking drama and backlash across social media, to the point where even Cardi B got involved.

Who is Keith Lee?

Lee is a 27-year old former MMA fighter who gained millions of followers on TikTok after documenting his pregnant wife’s hyper-specific food cravings. In a sea of manic, fast-talking influencers, Lee’s understated sense of humor and straight-faced monotone was a breath of fresh air.

After pivoting to food reviews, Lee’s direct, down-to-earth style and consistency led to a following of more than 14 million on TikTok, to the point where Lee has collaborated with YouTube titan, Jimmy “MrBeast” Donaldson.

The landscape of the modern internet, particularly YouTube and TikTok, rewards authenticity, or least, the appearance of it; there’s an abundance of content out there, and big names and production values no longer hold as much sway.

Lee’s formula is simple; he rates food on a 10-point scale and usually describes his experience ordering the food. Those big numbers on TikTok translate into real influence, and Lee’s recommendations can completely turn the fortunes of a restaurant, holding the power to make small, struggling businesses thrive.

Lee has repeatedly emphasized his desire to uplift Black-owned businesses, and is known for being a very generous tipper. However, his negative reviews can spark heated backlash, despite Lee’s attempts to calm his audience.

What happened with Keith Lee in Atlanta?

Lee recently took a family trip to Atlanta, and while some of Lee’s dining experiences were positive, his negative reviews sparked heated discourse online.

Atlanta’s restaurant scene has a reputation for strange, seemingly illogical restrictions and lackluster customer service that regularly inspires critical commentary and jokes online (after Lee’s visit, the memes and criticism have surged).

Lee documented his experiences attempting to eat at the restaurants Old Lady Gang and The Real Milk and Honey; both seemed somewhat hostile to convenience, with weekend takeout and DoorDash orders unavailable, and Lee’s attempt to order over the phone ignored.

After attempting to eat in, Lee was told that there was one hour to wait to enter Old Lady Gang but was instantly offered a table after his identity was discovered. Lee refused to be served before the rest of the hungry diners, emphasizing that he wants to experience the exact same service that everyone else does.

The Real Milk and Honey also offered Lee preferential treatment, as did Toast on Lenox; The Real Milk and Honey ended up being Lee’s most-watched Atlanta review, with more than 22 million views on TikTok.

Even rapper Cardi B chimed in on Instagram Live, confirming that Lee’s frustrating dining experiences matched her own, joking, “Atlanta restaurants, they don’t like to make money.”

The Atlanta Backlash

Many Atlanta residents seemed to think that Atlanta’s reckoning was overdue and that Keith Lee’s visit had shined a light on the poor customer service that has long plagued their food scene.

Others felt that Lee was tearing down small businesses; the owner of The Real Milk and Honey was particularly peeved and even uploaded a response video that implied that Keith Lee was irrelevant. The video has since been taken down, but on the internet, nothing is ever really gone.

Lee did give positive reviews to two Jamaican eateries in Atlanta, Juci Jerk and Jamaican Jerk Biz, which apparently resulted in a surge of business. But online, negativity reigns supreme.

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Senior Editor, Digital Manager, Blogger, has been nominated for awards several times as Publisher and Author over the years. Has been with company for almost three years and is a current native St. Louisan.