Meet Keith Lee, the pro fighter with social anxiety who became TikTok’s ‘food godfather’ and savior of local Las Vegas restaurants in a matter of months
- Keith Lee, 26, rose to new heights of TikTok at the end of 2022 as his videos gained exposure.
- He started 2022 with one million followers and now has more than 8.6 million.
- Lee uses his platform to help struggling Las Vegas businesses gain visibility.
Keith Lee started 2022 with one million TikTok followers, a number that stayed near constant until November, when his food review videos reached a level of virality that helped him gain over seven million followers in three months.
Now at 8.6 million followers, the 26-year-old professional athlete began posting on the video-sharing app in 2020 to help with his social anxiety and interviewing skills, Lee told Insider. He started by sharing cooking videos and clips centered around his wife and two children.
His relatable family content earned him a large following, but it was his extremely honest food reviews that made him the 13th most followed account on TikTok for December, according to Lee. As December 2022, the app had a total of over one billion users worldwide, the app data site Business of Apps reported.
Here’s how Lee developed his following and put his platform to good use.
‘I make content that I would watch’
The self-proclaimed foodie moved to Las Vegas from his hometown of Detroit at 18-years-old to pursue a career as a mixed martial arts fighter, and his involvement in the sport led to a turbulent relationship with food, Lee said.
“Weight has always been a big focal point for me as a professional athlete,” Lee told Insider. “When I was younger, I developed an eating disorder.”
He continued: “I think a lot of people in the wrestling world have body issues, but no one was really speaking on it. It just came with the job. Now I’m diving into a healthier relationship with food.”
It wasn’t until 2020 that he said he was able to start enjoying food without counting calories. Although he’s still competing, he’s now receiving nationwide recognition for his love of food.
For most of 2022, he shared videos of himself cooking and trying new food he liked. When he noticed his food review videos gaining traction on TikTok, he decided to commit to filming reviews more often.
Lee credits his interest in food-related content to the popular YouTube channel “People vs. Food,” of which he’s been a fan of for years. It was “People vs. Food” that motivated him to make food reviews the main focus of his content after the channel invited him to be featured in a video shared with its 12 million subscribers in October.
“I eat with my eyes, so I like to watch people try new foods,” Lee said. “I make content that I would watch, and I stay true to myself. I’m a foodie at heart, so I’ll sometimes drive hours or get on a plane just to go get food.”
Making an impact
Lee began using his growing platform to highlight food from small restaurants in his area that struggled to attract business after a viewer contacted him asking if he’d review their parents’ restaurant, he said in a TikTok video. His positive review of the food garnered over 20 million views and tens of thousands of comments.
In January, he responded to a similar request from an employee at Frankensons Pizzeria in Las Vegas. This time, the video raked in nearly 35 million views and gained the attention of local news.
“You literally change lives with one video … amazing,” one TikTok commenter wrote.
Frank Steele, owner of Frankensons Pizzeria, told Las Vegas ABC-affiliate KTNV he went from only making $400 a day to selling out daily after Lee posted his review of the restaurant.
“Our phone never stopped ringing. I’ve sold more lemon pepper wings in the last two days than I have in the past four months,” Steele told the outlet, adding, “I have people coming in from Iowa, people from California, Lake Havasu. I had people come down from Utah, all because of this video.”
Although Lee said he understands the power of TikTok, he told Insider he’s still adjusting to his new status as a trusted food reviewer.
“It’s still so shocking to me,” Lee said. “It’s one thing to see a comment saying they trust what I say, but it’s different to see people standing in line for two hours in the cold just to try food I said I like.”