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’Exposure they deserve’: food reviewer takes bite out of COVID negativity

Published: Sep. 28, 2020 at 8:52 AM AKDT
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EAGLE RIVER, Alaska (KTUU) - Before the pandemic, Justin Williams was just a regular customer at Anchorage restaurants. Now, it’s turned him into the food reviewer some local restaurants never knew they needed during the trying times of COVID-19.

Williams said he was working as a receptionist before coronavirus led to cuts that left him out of that job. When that happened he said he saw others struggling and tried to figure out something he could do to put some positive energy back out.

So, he turned to food.

“The idea behind it was just making people laugh,” he said, “one of the first ideas that I did was going to Arctic Roadrunner and trying their Kenai Burger with the intent of just letting people know this is my favorite burger. That’s it.”

Williams said it started on the Facebook page, Anchorage To-Go, but now he’s started his own.

He said it ‘blew up,' and a lot of people started watching his videos. Naturally, he asked himself, “how can I do more?”

Williams' formula for his videos is entertainment and actual food analysis in one package. In every video, he shows you where he’s eating, takes the food somewhere he can eat socially distanced and proceeds to show you how good it is through the kind of expressions one always could only make when eating a particularly tasty meal.

It’s a lot of laughs, a lot of really big bites, and most of all a lot of really good grub.

It’s fun to watch, but he said he never expected to near 1,000 followers after one summer of making them. He said he didn’t even intend on helping struggling restaurants get some extra exposure at first, but once he saw that happening he felt obligated to continue.

“I realized these aren’t just full of people who like food like me,” he said, “these are business owners and they’re chefs and they’re starting restaurants and food trucks. I’m getting to know these people, and this is their livelihood.”

It’s gotten to the point where restaurants are inviting him out to do his reviews. In Eagle River, Da J3rk Spot opened just weeks ago said owner Vieannie Wu.

Da J3rk Spot is a hole-in-the-wall serving authentic Caribbean cuisine. Wu said a lot of people mistake it for another standard BBQ joint, but that is a major inaccuracy. Williams helped people understand that while putting out his trademark positive energy according to her.

A J3rk dog from Da J3rk Spot in Eagle River. Chef Vieannie Wu said the sausage is home-made, topped with spicy jerk sauce, and sauteed pepper and onion, with a side of plantain chips.
A J3rk dog from Da J3rk Spot in Eagle River. Chef Vieannie Wu said the sausage is home-made, topped with spicy jerk sauce, and sauteed pepper and onion, with a side of plantain chips.(Taylor Clark)

“He helped us broaden our customer base and showed people, ‘hey, this is something you have to try,’" she said, “the reviews that Justin does take people away from all the negativity going on right now.”

Wu’s husband, James, does the bookkeeping for the restaurant. He said what Williams does definitely works. At the time of the review, Da J3rk Spot was still a tent set up at the South Anchorage farmer’s market.

The day after the review, James Wu said the sales were up by 230%. Nearly all the orders they filled were what Williams ordered the day before.

Now, that same meal is a special order at the restaurant called ‘Justin’s a J3rk,' but the Wu’s think he is anything but.

A special menu item for Justin Williams at Da J3rk Spot after he reviewed their restaurants leading to a 230% spike in sales the following day.
A special menu item for Justin Williams at Da J3rk Spot after he reviewed their restaurants leading to a 230% spike in sales the following day.(Da J3rk Spot)

Admittedly, Williams said he hasn’t gone somewhere he didn’t like, but he’s also “afraid to.”

He said doing a bad review wouldn’t just be off-brand for him, but he’s also afraid of the consequences.

Williams stays local with his reviews. He said he tries to find either new places or hidden gems to do reviews on. He said if he were to do a scathing review about a place, he could cost someone their job. He doesn’t want that.

Instead, when that time comes, Williams said he plans on going to the chef and explaining what he didn’t like so adjustments can be made in the kitchen rather than fewer customers coming through the door.

It’s that kind of community-mindedness that he’s trying to evoke in his new role of ‘super-duper food reviewer.’ To him, some good food and helping each other out might see us through to the other side of the pandemic.

“This is something that we always need to come back to and never forget,” he said, “like if you want to be happy, get some food man. Take your girl on a date, take your boy on a date. Just get some food man!”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of the businesses “Arctic Roadrunner” as “Artic Roadrunner." The correction was made.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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