Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
TikTok influencer and the Black people’s food critic Keith Lee made a trip down to Atlanta this past weekend, and as one Twitter user put it, “the grass walls are shaking.”
It appears some of the more popular Black-owned restaurants were not prepared for the presence of the humble foodie who has the ability to make or break a restaurant based on whether he liked the food and service.
Whether you follow him or not, you have likely heard of Keith Lee. the MMA fighter who has turned his passion for good food into an influencer career. He started out reviewing small businesses in Las Vegas, and as his popularity and reach grew, so did the demand for him to come review restaurants in cities around the country.
He told theGrio in June that his food review videos were borne of “his passion for food, his love of small businesses, and his desire to be a vessel to help others.”
His many videos have done just that, shining a light on restaurants that may otherwise go unnoticed without amplification from his platform.
He’s become so popular that when he gets food from restaurants he wants to review, he places takeout orders and has one of his family members pick the food up so he does not receive any type of special treatment in the process. He prides himself on paying for his own meals and delivering honest reviews that don’t disparage restaurants even when the service is poor.
He simply relays his personal experiences, and all 14.2 million of his followers pay attention.
Knowing all of this, you would think Atlanta restaurants would have been on their A-game when he showed up in town, but this was not the case for two of the more popular joints — Old Lady Gang, a restaurant owned by singer, actress, and reality television star Kandi Burruss, as well as The Real Milk & Honey — received incredibly polite but bad reviews from Lee.
Lee said he attempted to do a phone order at Milk & Honey, but a recording at the restaurant advised that takeout orders could only be done through DoorDash. When Lee attempted to use DoorDash, it said the restaurant was closed. He and his family were near the restaurant, so his family members attempted to go inside and place a to-go order, but they were told that the restaurant was closed for “deep cleaning.” Lee said they could see other people going inside the restaurant to pick up orders, but they weren’t sure if those people had placed their orders ahead of time or not.
Lee said that he then went into the restaurant himself, and when the people inside recognized him, they immediately rushed to accommodate him, but he declined because he strives not to receive preferential treatment from restaurants.
Lee said he and his family were at an event when someone who works for Old Lady Gang approached him and told him they had been trying to get in touch with him so he could eat at and review the restaurant.
Lee once again attempted to place an order through DoorDash but was unable to. At the restaurant, his family members were told that takeout orders are not done on the weekends due to how busy the restaurant is.
Lee’s family members then asked to be seated and were told that it would be a 90-minute wait for a table.
When Lee himself went into the restaurant, he was told he could be seated in five minutes. Lee purposely asked how that was the case when there were people outside who had been waiting more than an hour for a table, and the employee informed him that no one on the waitlist had responded when they called, so it was now first-come, first-serve.
Lee didn’t think that was right since his family members had just asked a few minutes prior for a table and were told they would have to wait, so he once again declined to be seated and told the staffers he would go elsewhere for food.
And because when Keith Lee speaks his audience listens and reacts, the bad reviews poured in for both restaurants all across social media. People on Twitter and TikTok added their two cents and their personal experiences to what Keith shared, and the general consensus was that a lot of Black-owned restaurants in Atlanta don’t quite have the “hospitality” part of the business down pat yet. Oh, and everybody should be scared of a bad Keith Lee review.
Also, if you are not following Kyla Lacey, you are missing out, fam, because this is hilarious.
Speaking of reviews, Yelp is actively monitoring reviews on The Real Milk & Honey’s page, citing a recent influx of negative reviews following Keith Lee’s video. It doesn’t really matter though; a search through the reviews on Yelp shows that people already had a lot of negative things to say about the restaurant before Keith Lee ever opened his mouth about it; it has a 3.8 overall rating on Yelp.
The same can be said about Old Lady Gang. One of its locations has a 3.1 star rating on Yelp while the other has a 3.2.
The problems at these eateries were clearly already there; Keith Lee simply amplified them on his platform.
It should be noted that the owner of The Real Milk and Honey responded to Lee’s very polite and constructive criticism of his restaurant by posting a video where he claimed to not know who Lee was even though his entire caption was dedicated to Lee’s review.
The video has since been deleted, as it should have been, but not before the entirety of social media roasted the restaurant even further for not handling constructive criticism in a proper way.
A post from an alleged employee of The Real Milk and Honey also caught a lot of negative attention for being ablest and calling Keith Lee “autistic” in response to his review.
To be clear, this is not how you handle criticism. You should acknowledge his poor experience and talk about how you are going to do better. Attempting to “clap back” at someone who relayed their very real experience with your establishment is childish and just underscores the general consensus that a lot of these restaurant owners in Atlanta are simply business owners; they are not in the restaurant or hospitality business.
Monique Judge is a storyteller, content creator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at moniquejudge.com.
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