What a difference a day makes — especially for one formerly struggling food truck.
On Jan. 19, popular TikTok food reviewer Keith Lee posted a video recounting the story about a food truck owner parked on a lonely street in Las Vegas. The video, which has since gone viral, describes how the life of Gary Shanks, owner and chef of Southern Taste Seafood, changed for the better, all because of a chance encounter with the influential social media star.
“Today I spent $450 on a burger. Let’s try it and rate it 1 through 10,” Lee says in his TikTok. Lee explains that he likes to work out a lot, and that night had completed a 10-mile bike ride around the Las Vegas area, where he lives.
On the way home from the bike ride, Lee says he came across Shanks’ food truck, one that he'd never seen in the area before.
“The foodie in me got interested immediately,” Lee says. “So I said, ‘Let me go see what they’re talking about.’ I thank God that I did.”
As he approached, Shanks asked Lee what he wanted to order, and that’s when the TikToker noticed the menu was seafood-based — and Lee has an allergy to shellfish.
Still, even with that roadblock, Shanks generously offered Lee other items on his menu, like burgers, fries and catfish, and offered to prepare those dishes in separate bowls, with separate dishes and fresh oil to accommodate him, if he showed up the next day. Lee agreed to return.
“He told me he’s just trying to survive right now. It’s very slow. He’s lucky if he gets five to 10 people in,” he recounts.
Lee says the next day, when he arrived, Shanks served him a burger and fries made with new oil and separate utensils, just as he said he would. Shanks, surprised that Lee came back, offered to make him his order of a burger and seasoned fries for free, but the famously generous TikTok star wasn't going to let that happen.
“I went live the other day with Miss Shirley, passing out food to the less fortunate,” says Lee, referring to fellow TikToker @beauty2thestreetz, who he had just spent an afternoon with on TikTok Live. “During that live, you sent $450 worth of gifts. I took all that money and I sent it directly to his Cash App.”
Shanks, clearly shocked in the clip, was overcome with emotion at Lee’s generosity. After Shanks tried to return the gift multiple times, Lee assured him that the donation was not a mistake. “I love moments like that ‘cause I’m so thankful and grateful from the bottom of my heart to be a vessel, and to help people like that,” Lee says.
After the pair had a 20-minute conversation, Lee went home and sampled Shanks’ food. In the TikTok, he gives the fries a score of 8.5 out of 10 based on the seasoning, and the burger a 9.5 out of 10.
"Yeah, Gary," he says as he has a visceral reaction to his first bite. "Gary, you about to make me cry."
“Delicious. It was juicy, it was cheesy … immaculate,” Lee says after recovering from the taste test. “Especially to be a place that don’t specialize in burgers. He makes seafood!”
Lee is now known for his ability to change the fortunes of businesses big and small. His viral TikTok review of a Chipotle quesadilla hack in December caused it to go so viral, it ended up being added to the national chain’s menu. Then, earlier this month, Lee’s sterling review of Frankensons, a once-struggling pizza shop in Las Vegas, led to lines down the block overnight.
Now Shanks and his business are feeling the Keith Lee love. Strangers far and wide have been sending him support via Cash App, which he says he was confused about at first.
“I didn’t understand what was going on or what that was about,” Shanks tells TODAY.com. He says he had a conversation with Lee about why people were sending him money, which he was wary of accepting at first. “You know, a lot of scams and stuff are going on so I wasn’t expecting that. I was just expecting some customers.”
In a follow-up TikTok, Lee shares that so many people were sending Shanks money that within 24 hours he had received $30,000 without even selling a thing.
“I’m overwhelmed with it, but not overwhelmed in a bad way,” Shanks says, adding that it took less than an hour after Lee posted his TikTok for the phone calls, gifts and attention to start rolling in. “You know, I get so many phone calls. People just want to say hi.”
The day after Lee posted his first TikTok about the food truck, Shanks enlisted help from his girlfriend and son to handle the uptick in customers. Shanks says he was making $50 to $200 dollars depending on the day, but he's seen about a 900% increase in revenue since then.
“I’m getting out-of-towners that are probably here visiting from Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Arizona, California,” Shanks says, adding that since Lee referred to him as "Mr. Gary" in the titles of his TikToks, the new nickname stuck. “I’m Mr. Gary now — I’m trying to get used to that, but somehow that caught on.”
Shanks’ son is now running the truck’s social media, which can be found on Yelp, Facebook and Instagram, where the truck has gained tens of thousands of followers this week. But Shanks is not yet on TikTok.
“I don’t really know a lot about TikTok to be honest,” he explains.
As for how Lee's and Shanks’ paths crossed in the first place, that might be the luckiest coincidence of all.
“That was either the first day or the second day I’ve been at the new location,” Shanks explains, adding that someone had sold the property where he had been stationed for months.
At this new location on Jan. 18, he had basically no customers — and then Lee showed up.
“It’s God-sent," Shanks says. "That’s what I’ll say.”