From MMA to Munchies: Keith Lee's Journey to Food Fame

Former fighter turned food influencer, Keith Lee dishes on his rise to social media stardom, family values, and his latest partnership with Pizza Hut.

Food critic Keith Lee is one the most well-known food influencers. A former MMA fighter, the Las Vegas native has grown his brand to include more than 17 million followers across TikTok and Instagram in less than three years.

Without question, he is one of the key tastemakers in the industry. His honest reviews have made him a trusted public figure on where to find the best eats across the county. spoke with Lee about his transition from MMA fighter to food influencer, the importance of family, and his new partnership with Pizza Hut. Before you took off as a food influencer, you were a professional MMA fighter. Is it easier to deal with some of the negativity you’ve encountered as a food critic or to keep up with a strict training regimen?

Keith Lee: Social media by a thousand. I have the same strength and conditioning coach I've had throughout my career. I worked out with him today for the first time in two months because we've been blessed enough to be so busy on the road. So he came to my house and the stretches almost took me out. I'm about to run as we speak because I feel like the food is starting to catch up to me. But if I have to choose between social media and Recently, I came across a phrase that said, “the Keith Lee effect.” How does it feel to be so highly regarded as a food influencer?

Keith Lee: My biggest takeaway throughout this journey is that I'm just blessed. I'm thankful to be where I am. Blessed is the only word that encompasses my feelings because I didn't think I would be here. I thought I was gonna be an MMA fighter my entire life, so I never thought that anything past that for my career. I'm just thankful, and I take everything one day at a time. I love the fact that I'm able to be a full-time dad and husband. I just turn on the camera, eat food, and go about my day. Do you have early memories of Pizza Hut as a child?

Keith Lee: As a professional fighter. I never really ate fast food or pizza because I couldn't. But now, I'm able to eat what I want. My wife is a diehard Pizza Hut fan. I’ve been blessed enough to have a lot of offers from fast food spots, but I didn't have any personal ties to any of them. Pizza Hut was different because my wife and kids love it. When I do eat pizza, Pizza Hut is a choice of mine. How did you connect with Pizza Hut about the partnership?

Keith Lee: Initially, they reached out while we were in Dallas and invited us to the headquarters to see what they were working on. They didn’t want anything from me. They asked me to come in and have a good time with my family. That's a soft spot for me. They knew they had to get my family first, and I love that. It was a genuine interaction. It was like, “We would love for you to have come to headquarters.”I was honored to be there. So that's how it originally started. As part of the partnership, you will give back to your and your wife’s high schools. 

Keith Lee: Everything has to be aligned and make sense for me. I didn't want it to be like, “Hey, we have a pizza, if you want to go try it “kind of thing. I want it to be something that's connected to me and I want it to be something that makes an impact. And I'm just, again, I'm blessed enough to be able to do what I do and in every aspect of the work when I'm offered things, or I'm brought into conversations. I try to sprinkle myself at all times. Getting back to my community was important for me to be a part of it. Because your fame has grown, how do you navigate going to different restaurants without getting noticed?

Keith Lee: I don't go in first. I send my family in. I have family members that nobody has ever seen me with and they have no social media or connections to me, so there’s no paper trail. When they go in, they have no idea they're a part of my family. Sometimes, they will record the interaction; sometimes, they'll just tell me word of mouth and then I'll record the video. We may even go in and have a conversation with the owner afterward. But as far as just my day-to-day, I just eat food. I just be everywhere, man. So if I’m getting shoes in Nike or if I’m Target, I just be walking around. How often do you randomly get offered free food?

Keith Lee: [Laughs]  Every single time I walk outside. I understand that the entrepreneurial spirit is why people try to give me plates. It's something that people put a lot of passion and a lot of heart into. If I'm not purposely doing something, if it's not intentional,  if I'm not making a video, or if I'm not doing something that could help that business, then I don't see a reason why I should get a free plate. The person beside me doesn't get a free plate, and I can never wrap my head around that. Even when I am doing a full review or when we are going or we think there's a possibility that a restaurant could get a boost for their business, I still don't accept free plates. So if the person next to me has to pay for the food, I should, too. Since you’ve gone from making content for fun to being one of the biggest food influencers on social media, what have you learned about yourself throughout the process?

Keith Lee: I got a reassurance that no matter how confusing life may be. I have a strong faith in God and a very strong faith in myself. I've shown myself that I'm stronger. mentally, spiritually, physically. I've learned that family is key. Because I'm a new father with a three-year-old and one-year-old. Everything took off on social media and financially when my oldest daughter was one and a half. Through this whole journey, I've learned how to be a father, I've learned how to be a true family man. I think it's different when you say, “Yeah, I'm a family, man”, but when you bring two daughters under three years old everywhere you go, it teaches you on a different level. Family is a different level. I’ve learned that family is an unbreakable thing for me.

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