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Saturday, April 20
The Indiana Daily Student

Black Voices

The Keith Lee Effect: empowering businesses and inspiring success


In the fast-paced world of social media, success stories often emerge from unexpected corners. Keith Lee's journey from mixed martial arts fighter to renowned food critic is nothing short of remarkable. A man of diverse talents, Keith’s unconventional path was paved with determination and authenticity. 

Initially known for his skills in the MMA arena, Keith found himself struggling with feeling comfortable in front of the camera. Press interviews often left him feeling nervous. Seeking a solution, Keith took an unconventional route in 2020 by launching a YouTube channel as a means to enhance his comfort in addressing the public. 

However, what began as an attempt to conquer his fears soon morphed into a platform for sharing lifestyle content and offering glimpses into his personal life, including snippets about his wife and their culinary experiences. Like many influencers, Keith expanded his content to TikTok. 

On TikTok, Keith's subtle, sincere, and straightforward approach became the staple of his engaging food reviews. Keith’s distinctive style and simple 10-point scale for his food ratings captivated the attention of an impressive 15 million devoted followers and counting.  

But Keith's TikTok journey isn't just about food reviews; it is about showcasing the untold stories of smaller primarily Black-owned businesses facing an uphill battle in attracting patrons. His reviews aren't just ratings; they are beacons of hope, propelling struggling eateries to the forefront. 

One thing that has been established this year is that the Keith Lee effect is real. What sets Keith apart is not just the numbers but the impact. As a result of his reviews, these businesses often gain tens of thousands of social media followers and crowds of eager customers to these restaurants within a mere 24-hour window. On the opposing side, his reviews can trigger a wave of challenges for some businesses. 

Keith consistently emphasizes the fact his reviews are subjective opinions. He advocates for his followers to visit these eateries, encouraging them to forge their own dining narratives based on personal experiences. 

During his Atlanta food tour in October and November, Lee reviewed some of the most well-known restaurants in this area, sparking a social media whirlwind. While his food ratings varied, his critiques on service at many of the restaurants fell short of expectations. The aftermath was a flurry of public apologies and explanations from the restaurant owners. Yet, amidst this, Keith highlighted one exceptional eatery in Atlanta, praising its service and even tipping the waiter a thousand dollars. 

In late November, Keith took his food tour to Houston, Texas, where he had a notably better experience overall. His gratitude overflowed as he continued his tradition of leaving generous tips, acknowledging and celebrating the positive experiences. 

Week after week, Keith maintains an engaging connection with his vast audience through his food reviews. His plan is to visit more cities in the new year and it isn't just a checklist; it's an exploration of stories waiting to be told. Keith’s journey serves as an inspiring narrative, offering lessons far beyond dining recommendations. Keith's evolution stands as a testament to resilience; he confronted and triumphed over his fears, transforming them into personal strengths. Throughout, he stayed true to himself, unapologetically displaying authenticity and humility. Despite his significant success, he remains committed to leveraging his platform to uplift others, valuing their success as much as his own. 

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