How TikTok's Keith Lee Gained Millions Of Followers Reviewing Food - Exclusive Interview

Keith Lee started posting food reviews on TikTok in 2020 and has already amassed more than 10 million followers. Part of his charm is the way he talks to his audience like a trusted friend, which is refreshing in this age of everything being sponsored content and not always knowing what's genuine. One of his most popular posts to date features him talking about the family-owned restaurant Frankensons Pizzeria in Las Vegas, Nevada, which was struggling financially at the time that he decided to try their food. 

In his video, the Detroit native lets his fans know that an employee at the eatery reached out to him to get publicity because the food is delicious, but they didn't have the money for marketing. Lee goes on to review them for free and even pays for his own meal without them knowing, and he's blown away by their options, giving them top scores across the board on their Italian fare like garlic knots with red chili flakes, classic white pizza, and lemon pepper sauce wings. But true to form, the TikTok star is honest with his following that he doesn't enjoy Frankensons' fries or their ranch, which he finds a little bitter.

Since his glowing review, the restaurant has had lines out the door and has had to hire more people — and this is only one story of the many places he has helped through his content. Lee told us in an exclusive interview that showcasing businesses in this way is a dream and feels surreal for him. He also revealed what it feels like to be part of TikTok's first-ever Visionary Voice List in honor of Black History Month, why he initially started making food review videos, how he struggled with an eating disorder as a teen, and which famous chef he'd want to cook him dinner today.

How he got his start in the food world

Congratulations on being part of TikTok's inaugural Visionary Voices. What does it feel like to be on that list?

It's dope. I'm appreciative. I'm honored to be on it, especially with a lot of people that are on there who are great creators.

Growing up, did you always know that you wanted to get into the food realm, or how did that come about?

I started wrestling when I was in middle school, and I developed an eating disorder very early on. That propelled me to learn how to cook and to learn how to fall in love with food rather than using food as a vice. That turned into one of the main things that I did in life — trying to figure out how food works for me.

I wrestled all through high school, and I was about 106, 107 pounds. I would literally not eat anything all day, and I would look at food as the enemy ... because I would [need to] weigh in at 103 pounds. Even though I was extremely skinny already, I would only eat a jar of apple sauce for an entire week, and I wouldn't eat any food. Then when I was able to eat food, I would eat anything. I would binge eat like crazy until it was time for me to make weight again.

This is the first time in [my] life that I've ever actually been able to eat what I want and enjoy myself because my diet has been so strict, and it started becoming a thing where I didn't understand that it was only for wrestling. I started doing it in my day-to-day. I wouldn't eat all day, or I would be a little bit bigger than I'm used to being, and it would completely throw off my mood. It was a full thing.

I'm sorry you went through that. You started cooking yourself to try to navigate that?

Yes. I started to cook to figure out how can I eat foods that I want to eat and still look the way I want to look — and still enjoy my performance and have the best performance in the gym while eating, making it look like I'm eating how I want to.

Did your family cook around you while you were growing up?

My mom cooked all the time, but my brother was an influence that made me start cooking because he was a fighter as well. But a lot of it was self-taught, watching cooking videos, watching stuff that I do now — food reviews and cooking shows and stuff like that.

If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who does, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

Why he decided to review food places

How did you initially come up with the idea to review small and family-owned restaurants?

Everything that I do is natural. I pray a lot, so it all comes by when it's supposed to happen and how it's supposed to happen. I've been doing full reviews since 2021, but it didn't become a main focal point until the beginning of November of last year. I got reached out to by "People Vs Food," which is a YouTube channel, and they do food reviews. I asked my wife, "What can I post to make them not only come and look at my page but actually want to follow me?" We decided to do food reviews.

I was like, "I'll post one food review every day until I get on "People Vs Food." Then I posted the first two, and they did amazing. They got like 20 million views, so I kept posting them, and restaurants started reaching out to me. It just so happened to be small restaurants. On a day-to-day basis, I usually only go to small restaurants. I'm not really a fast food guy or a big chain guy anyway, so all of the restaurants I was going to before were small restaurants. Again, it's natural — everything happened the way it's supposed to.

You have a huge following on TikTok. What do you think it is about your videos that resonates with so many people?

I think it is that I don't shoot content, per se. I go get food, and people enjoy the originality. Me being myself, I'm a "you get what you get" kind of person. I'd literally go look on Yelp, and I'm like, "What am I about to eat tonight?" Then I go get it and record myself rather than saying, "Hey, I want to make a video today. What can get views or what would do well? Let me go get the specific food or the specific thing." I just go get food.

What does it feel like when you give a positive review to a restaurant that's struggling, like Frankensons Pizzeria, and you give them a huge boost to their sales?

It feels surreal. I was just going to get food. He had about three or four customers a day. Now, he's up to a three- to four-hour wait time. He has a luggage area in his dining room, where people can literally come and put their luggage because they get straight off the plane and go straight there.

That's incredible. What's been your favorite food place to review so far and why?

Food-wise, it would have to be Aroma Latin American Cocina because it's some of the best food I've ever had, and it was cultural food. It's [also] a family-owned business. The daughter reached out to me, and she basically said she would love for me to come try the food because they were about to close. It was basically set in stone. "We're about to close; we want you to try the food before we close," basically. I went and tried it, and now they have a wait list on the weekends.

How he tries to stay anonymous and if he'd want his kids to join him in the food realm

Typically, you like to stay anonymous when you try new cuisine. Have you ever been recognized, and what did you do?

I'm up to taking a hundred pictures a day now. Whenever I go out, whenever I go anywhere, I'm immediately taking pictures, and I don't mind at all. It is one of the things that I actually thought that I wouldn't enjoy about the job, but I do because the people who follow me and people who do come up to me are always respectful [and] always nice. I have social anxiety, so one of my main fears was going in public and getting mobbed by people.

But to this day, all the people that walk up to me are extremely nice and extremely friendly. I have to go in disguise sometimes when it comes to different restaurants, because if I don't, I'll walk in and get platters and platters of food. It'll be 20 or 30 different items, and it's only me and my wife in the house.

Speaking of your family, you post so many sweet videos of them. Would you want your daughters to ever join you in the food world?

I'm very supportive of anything they do. I have two daughters — they're two and five months old. My 2-year-old has been in the spotlight since I started doing TikTok in 2020. Family content was the very first thing that I did. From 2020 and 2021, she was on the camera almost every day. She grew up in front of people who were on my TikTok at that time.

My 5-month-old is pretty much the complete opposite because now I'm doing nothing but food reviews since she was born. My 2-year-old loves the spotlight. She'll literally walk in the room and grab my phone and set it up and start talking. We have a campaign coming up with a brand for her specifically, and it's going to be dope.

His favorite famous chef and go-to fast food order

Now that you've tried all this delicious food, who is the one chef you'd want to cook you dinner?

Alton Brown. He's one of the people who I watched nonstop, day in and day out, on Food Network. [A] quick fun fact about me — when you're fighting, you have to cut weight. You have to cut weight the week of and the day before because you have to be a certain weight in order to fight your weight class. I usually have to cut about 10 to 12 pounds the week of the fight.

Usually, you cut down on your calories and you drink a lot of water, and it's a whole process. Most fighters, when they're doing that, don't like watching people eat, or they don't want to see anything with food because they can't eat. I'm the complete opposite. I literally watched Alton Brown nonstop while I'm cutting weight, and I'd be like "suck it up" and not having any food that whole day. I'd be lying on the floor and watching him on Food Network.

His food looks so delicious — that would be tough to do. Wasn't that difficult?

Yes, I keep on my mind. I'm a true foodie. I was enjoying it, but then I'm all right.

When you're in a rush, what is your go-to fast food order, and at which restaurant?

Cane's would probably be up there. Cane's or Chick-fil-A are my top two go-tos if I'm not around any other food. If Chipotle counts as fast food, Chipotle is number one for sure. But if it doesn't count as fast food, I would say Cane's, and my go-to order would be a four-piece with honey mustard, two extra toast, and coleslaw, and then I make a sandwich out of it.

What would be your go-to from Chipotle?

Chipotle would be a bowl with brown rice, no beans, half chicken, half steak, fajitas, cheese, corn, medium salsa or mild salsa, two things of sour cream on the side, and two vinaigrettes on the side. You put the sour cream and the vinaigrette together, you mix it, and you grab chips and eat it with chips. They're like nachos.

Do you have a go-to snack or meal?

Chips and salsa, beef jerky, bread ... I'm a bread lover, so croissants, chocolate croissants, muffins — anything in that realm.

Do you have any other projects coming up that you can tell us about?

I do have a lot. The thing that I have coming up the closest is [the] Kids' Choice Awards. It's going to be super dope. I'm extremely excited. After we get back from that, we have a few that I can't actually name, but they're really big. I'm forever blessed to be in the position that I'm in.

To see Keith Lee's food reviews, check out his TikTok.

This interview has been edited for clarity.