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L.A. ‘Influencer’ Called Out By St. Louis Chinese Restaurant for Extorting Owner for Free Food

Photo: Corner 17

A Chinese restaurant in St. Louis had a troubling run-in with one our own, an L.A.-based food addict who goes by @antonio_eats_la to his 218,000+ Instagram followers and observant KTLA audiences.

Xin Wei, the owner of family-run Corner 17, is no stranger to adversity, having left a childhood of poverty behind in China for the States at 17 and coming back from the closure of his first restaurant in 2007 to open this place in St. Louis' Delmar Loop neighborhood.

The latest challenge to his dreams arrived in the form of one Antonio Malik, an L.A.-based food-influencer with a relatable penchant for tacos and noodles.

Wei tells the St. Louis Post Dispatch that Malik recently DM'd him with an offer: If Corner 17 would credit him $100 on his bill, he would shoot some of the food being prepared and post some footage to his Instagram.

Wei was not interested, finding his restaurant sufficiently busy and not fully seeing the picture of how an L.A. blogger was going to help his business in the 'Lou. Wei responded politely with his apologies and let Malik know the collaboration wasn't going to work for him.

Nonetheless, Malik, who claimed to have family in STL in the DM, came in to eat at the restaurant on March 26; an imaginably calm meal compared to the social media storm that would shortly follow.

Wei sent him a message that evening from the restaurant's account, expressing hopes that everything was enjoyable. Malik credited "great" service but also said, his food "honestly wasn't good" and that he "wouldn’t recommend this place to anyone... Sorry!"

But it was what Malik did next that makes us cry out for real restaurant critics, what with their fancy codes of ethics, to replace the legions of digitally-driven gourmands demanding freebies and discounts across the land.

Malik posted some of his harsh thoughts on the restaurant, which has a 4.5 star rating on Yelp, on his publicly viewed Antonio Eats LA Instagram stories (since disappeared). He posted a pic of the food and wrote: “Worst dumplings ever!” and compared his experience to something so vulgar the local paper won't print it.

Wei instantly felt like this was a shakedown and that Malik's collaboration offer was appearing to be now more like a threat.

"I realized this is more like (an) attack because … we did not give him, like, $100 off,” he said.

In a post to Corner 17's account showing their initial exchange, Wei wrote:

We understand that we have a small platform here in the social media, and we don’t get as much voice as other media influencers especially with Asian cuisine. Most of time the restaurants don’t have any social accounts or time to manage their accounts. An intentionally bad write-up from a large following influencer because of our refusal to accept their collaboration is unprofessional and a such hostile manner can simply ruin their businesses.

I want to step up because we felt threatened by this media influencer. I want to give a voice to my Asian community that is ok to say no and turn down any promotional offers, no fear to stand up and defend yourself.

Wei ended with his recollection of a recent racial epithet shouted at him the same week:

It reminds me last Saturday at the back of our restaurant parking lot. A guy called me CHINK simply because I ignored his random cursing. I walked up to him even though he was two times bigger than me. There was no fight because there was a nice guy pulling that crazy guy away. What I want to say here is that we respect freedom of speech, but everything has its limit. When you feel disrespectful from anyone anytime, we should all stand up to fight for yourself and the community.

Fans and new supporters of the restaurants have rallied while the post has received over 28,000 likes.

Which means Malik has received a comparable number of new haters. He initially refuted the idea that he would ever "take money for a (positive) review and never leave a (negative) review just because someone didn’t want to work with me," in his Instagram bio, later taking down the page over "death threats."

Today Malik's account stands again, with the words "We cannot change the past. We can only take action in the present and, therefore, change the future" next to his shirtless photo on Instagram.

It doesn't take much of a leap to perceive his exchange with Wei as the case of a big city influencer going to a smaller market, and attempting to swing his big city ego energy around in the hopes of eating well on the cheap.

Whether or not that was Malik's intention, the case is a perfect demonstration of why anyone opining negatively about their food better steer clear of potential conflicts of interest. We need to trust that what we're being told is the truth, with no trace of outside influence other than service to the reader or audience.

The PR industry professionals L.A. TACO have spoken to frequently complain about an environment thick with Instagram hustlers asking for favors, while simultaneously casting doubt on the impact of influencer coverage on a business's bottom line.

Being mentioned in "Best Of" lists and guides tend to get butts into seats, we're told, whereas influencer coverage on social media tends to be something quick and easy that large PR companies can show to their clients to look like they're doing something for them.

At least in this case, Wei's standing up to the bad influence of a popular influencer helped expose the questionable practices amid this environment, thick with scammers and wannabes who can buy thousands of followers for a fiver in the hopes of ransacking local businesses for their suites and tasting menus.

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