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  5. Food critic Keith Lee rocked the Atlanta food industry with negative reviews. While some restaurant owners questioned his expertise, others are loving it — here's what's going on.

Food critic Keith Lee rocked the Atlanta food industry with negative reviews. While some restaurant owners questioned his expertise, others are loving it here's what's going on.

Lauren Edmonds,Maria Noyen   

Food critic Keith Lee rocked the Atlanta food industry with negative reviews. While some restaurant owners questioned his expertise, others are loving it — here's what's going on.
  • Keith Lee, a TikTok food critic, recently critiqued restaurants in Atlanta while on a food tour.
  • Lee shared criticisms about certain restaurants and their rules, sparking a fierce response online.

Keith Lee, a popular food critic who uses TikTok to share his opinions, may be done touring Atlanta, but his restaurant reviews are still making waves among locals who say he's exposed the frustrating reality of what it's like to dine out in the city.

Lee, a 27-year-old former MMA fighter, achieved viral status on TikTok in early 2022 with his restaurant reviews. With over 14.2 million followers, he uses his influence to spotlight small restaurants struggling to attract customers.

@keith_lee125 Atlanta Food Tour Recap would you try it ? #foodcritic ♬ original sound - Keith Lee

The TikToker has taken his food reviews from his base in Las Vegas to cities like New Orleans and Chicago, providing hot takes and constructive feedback for mom-and-pop shops and community staples to hot spots even locals haven't heard about.

In most of his food review TikToks, Lee begins by saying that he isn't interested in special treatment and prefers to experience the restaurant as a normal patron.

Lee began a tour of Atlanta restaurants last month and his videos have showcased the customer service and "unique rules" that local diners say they experience on a regular basis. Lee reviewed nine different restaurants in Atlanta, including Old Lady Gang, a restaurant owned by Kandi Burruss, a Grammy Award-winning singer and a star of "The Real Housewives of Atlanta."

Lee's Atlanta reviews caught the attention of the rapper Cardi B, who weighed in on the drama in an Instagram Live on Monday. The rapper said she'd had experiences at restaurants similar to the ones he talked about.

"I feel like Atlanta restaurants, they don't like to make money," Cardi B said in the video. "I feel like they don't like people, they don't like the customers, they just don't fucking like it. You could barely order in Atlanta restaurants."

"It gets to the point that I have to tell people that order food for me, 'Can you just name-drop my name?'" she continued. "Because they don't do no pick-up orders, they don't do deliveries, they just don't do shit."

Lee exposed the 'unique' rules some Atlanta restaurants follow

Lee said that some of the restaurants he visited have unusual rules about dining in and ordering takeout.

In an October 25 review of Atlanta Breakfast Club, a popular brunch destination, Lee said a staff member told his party they weren't allowed to order takeout. When he said they wanted to dine in, they were told everyone needed to be seated to place an order.

@keith_lee125 Atlanta Breakfast Club taste test would you try it ? #foodcritic ♬ original sound - Keith Lee

"Those are their rules, unique to me, but it is what it is," Lee said in his video.

Lee was also taken aback when he discovered extra butter cost $1. "The butter a dollar at a breakfast place," Lee said in his review. "Butter is a dollar. That's crazy."

Representatives for the Atlanta Breakfast Club did not respond to Insider's request for comment.

Atlanta Breakfast Club wasn't the only place Lee couldn't eat because of service rules.

In his review of The Real Milk & Honey on October 27, Lee said he tried to order from the brunch spot over the phone but was met with an automated voicemail instructing customers to order via the delivery app DoorDash. Lee said the app said the restaurant was closed, though the hours of operation listed online indicated it was open.

@keith_lee125 The Real Milk & Honey taste test would you try it ? #foodcritic ♬ original sound - Keith Lee

Monique Sneed, the owner of The Bodega, a sandwich restaurant that Lee reviewed, said some restaurants don't take phone orders for good reason.

"We do not take credit-card information over the phone," Sneed told Insider on Tuesday. "Atlanta has way too many charge-backs and it is an extreme burden on us financially, but we do and always have taken online orders via our website as well as DoorDash and Uber orders."

According to NerdWallet, a charge-back happens after a customer is successfully reimbursed following a debit or credit-card-charge dispute with their bank. This can lead to extra fees for the business, the website says.

In his The Real Milk & Honey review, Lee said he decided to take his family in person. To avoid being recognized, Lee said his family went in without him, but staff told them the restaurant was closed for "deep cleaning," even though he said they saw other customers entering for orders.

"The people who relayed this message, my family said, were really nice. It's just the rules, and so far being in Atlanta, I found some places do have unique rules," Lee said in his video review.

After his family was turned away, Lee said he entered and was offered service after being recognized but declined because he wanted to be treated like a "normal person."

In response to Lee's review, which has over 19.6 million views, the restaurant initially posted and deleted a response video that went viral on social media in which a man who claimed to be the owner questioned Lee's authority.

"Now who is this Keith Lee?" a man says in the video.

The Real Milk & Honey did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

The restaurant issued a statement on Tuesday extending "apologies to all" for their initial response.

"In no way were we trying to discredit anyone, if the comments came across as such, kindly accept our apologies," the statement read.

"It's crucial to always take feedback and make improvements for the success of our business," the restaurant said, adding that the staff had begun a series of "internal correction actions" regarding communication styles.

In online comments, many of Lee's fans and Atlanta natives agreed that some of the restaurants' rules are baffling.

"I'm glad Keith Lee is exposing all of these bogus ass rules these restaurants in Atlanta be having," one person wrote.

Another added: "The thing I find intriguing about this Keith Lee thing is he has gone to multiple cities and multiple establishments and been able to eat. His issue in Atlanta isn't just the service but these rules that make it difficult TO EAT."

Some commentators were less outraged than others, including someone who wrote that Lee should've visited earlier in the day as the restaurant is "predominantly a breakfast spot."

"So maybe try going first thing in the morning. Hopefully you get a better experience," they added.

Some restaurants welcomed Lee's honest feedback

Other restaurants took the criticism in stride.

Although Lee didn't review The Seafood Menu restaurant because he has a shellfish allergy, his sister and wife talked about their visit in an October 25 TikTok video. They gave a mixed review of their $129.48 meal, which included a fried-fish platter, a jerk-seafood boil bag, a side of boiled eggs, and shellfish seasoned with lemon, butter, and garlic. They gave the restaurant's jerk-seasoned crab legs a six out of 10.

@keith_lee125 The Seafood Menu Atlanta taste test would you try it ? #foodcritic ♬ original sound - Keith Lee

"Having the iconic foodie come by our establishment was not on our bingo card but we appreciate the honest and constructive review," a statement shared by the restaurant's representative with Insider on Tuesday read. "As always we're taking notes and doing our absolute best to ensure a happy and pleasant dining experience."

In a video he posted on Monday, Lee said he didn't eat at the Old Lady Gang — the restaurant Burruss owns, which features Southern cuisine — because of the long wait times, though he added that staff wanted to seat his family ahead of other customers who had to wait an hour or more, an offer he declined.

@kandi Thanks for stopping by #OldLadyGang @Keith Lee ♬ original sound - kandi

Burruss posted a response on TikTok on Tuesday, saying it was "unfortunate" the Old Lady Gang couldn't serve his family, but she appreciated him stopping by, adding, "Maybe next time, we'll still get a chance to serve you."

Some restaurateurs say Lee's criticism could improve the Atlanta restaurant scene

Not all of Lee's experiences in Atlanta included questionable customer service and "unique rules."

In his review of Jamaican Jerk Biz, a family-run restaurant that serves Jamaican food with original homemade seasonings, Lee shared that the owner kept the restaurant open late to serve him and his family without knowing who he was. That review has been viewed more than 7.9 million times.

After the group ordered, Lee filmed the tearful reaction of the owner, Ayanna Chambers, who revealed she'd written to him several times over the past year asking for a review. To show his appreciation, Lee left a tip that matched the total sales the restaurant made on the day of his visit.

Chambers told Insider on Tuesday that Lee's visit came during a difficult time for the business. She said she and two of her siblings had planned to open the restaurant eight months ago, but they died before the new location opened.

"A lot of times I wanted to give up, but I had too much invested and I just couldn't give up for some reason because of them," Chambers said, referring to her siblings. "It was slow. It was really slow. So it is a small company, it's family-owned. It's just me and my husband. So it was hard."

Chambers said Lee's review has already made a "big impact" on her sales. "It's just a blessing."

Kenya Simpkins also experienced a boom in business after Lee reviewed her restaurant, The Dining Experience, which serves Southern-style food. In the video published Saturday, Lee said the restaurant served the best brunch compared to others he reviewed and praised the customer service. Lee was so blown away by the staff, he gave a $1,000 tip to his waiter and another $1,000 to be split among other staffers.

"It's been amazing," Simpkins told Insider on Tuesday. "At this point, we have lines wrapped around the door. We're so busy, we can't even answer the phone."

Simpkins, who didn't know about Lee or his following before the visit, added the restaurant has gained about 5,000 new followers on social media. The Dining Experience is open Friday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., but with the sudden surge in popularity, Simpkins hopes to expand the hours and staff.

As for Lee's less positive reviews and criticisms of other restaurants, Chambers said the local industry should take it as a learning opportunity.

"I feel everyone should appreciate him because it's not like he's telling stories. It's factual, it's facts," she said. "It's making me more aware of my surroundings and things that I need to do or not do and make me better."

Sneed, the owner of The Bodega who used to own The Real Milk & Honey, agreed.

"I understand his feedback and do think that perhaps collectively restaurants in Atlanta can improve," Sneed said.

She added, though, that "it is very difficult for a full-service restaurant to also accommodate takeout and delivery orders when their dining room is also packed."

That said, Sneed said she felt Lee's review was fair and honest. "If my employees had dropped the ball, I would've respected his review just the same," she said.


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