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Keith Lee: The voice changing the food world

Graphic by Hermes Falcon

What started as a TikTok account dedicated to his wife’s pregnancy cravings soon sky-rocketed into something much bigger. With almost 16 million followers on the platform, the effect of food critic Keith Lee’s videos has become a topic of conversation between families at the dinner table and restaurant staff across America.

Lee started as an MMA fighter and began making TikTok videos to cope with social anxiety, according to a video by Bleacher Report. Lee commented on that video, stating he is still active in MMA and has a current record of 8-5.

His first videos included content of him and his family, but when his wife developed pregnancy cravings, Lee took on a different project. He started filming food reviews in honor of his wife’s ever-changing appetite, which garnered attention on TikTok and propelled him to fame.

Lee now travels all throughout the U.S. eating at restaurants and recording food reviews. The sincerity and kindness he greets every meal with has made him a reliable source for food recommendations.

Lee’s reviews are so trustworthy that restaurants that have received a high rating from him experience booms in their business overnight, what has come to be known as the “Keith Lee effect.”

Alysse Williams, San Francisco resident and owner of Luxe Box, claimed to experience this phenomenon after Lee named her restaurant the “highlight” of his trip to the Bay Area and left a $2,500 tip, according to CBS News.

“Today I didn’t even post the menu and all these people are here. It’s five o’clock. We’re supposed to sell out at seven but we’re done,” Williams told the news outlet.

But just as the power of the Keith Lee effect can put a restaurant on the map, it can also shut one down in under 24 hours.

In a recent controversy involving North Dallas resident Kim Viverette, owner of a family food truck named Sweetly Seasoned, many people claim that Viverette “fumbled” the Keith Lee effect due to her actions after Lee’s visit.

Lee reportedly left the owner with $4,000 after his visit, with $1,000 expected to go to the barber and another $1,000 to go to the braider that worked nearby. In addition to the $4,000, Lee gave the owner enough money to cover approximately 300 orders from customers. 

All of this would have been well and good if not for the discovery that the barber and braider never received their cut of the check, and customers still had to pay for their meals.

Many of Lee’s fans are now boycotting the food truck and sales have reportedly plummeted,  prompting Viverette to make a statement online.

Lee stated on a TikTok posted on Feb. 2 that he and his family were “under the impression they [barber, braider, food truck staff] were a team.”

At the end of every video, Lee always blesses his audience and thanks God for being able to do what he does for the community. But it’s on the restaurant owner’s shoulders to view the “Keith Lee effect” as a blessing or a curse.

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