The Instagram user @antonio_eats_la approached Corner 17 with more than 200,000 followers and a $100 deal. Knock that amount off his upcoming visit to the Delmar Loop Chinese restaurant, he wrote in a direct message, and he would record the food as it was being made and then post it on his account.
Xin Wei, the owner of Corner 17, understands the need for his restaurant to gain more Instagram followers, he tells Off the Menu. But the restaurant had already been so busy lately that he didn’t want to participate in promotions — especially since @antonio_eats_la is apparently based in Los Angeles.
Thanks for the offer, Wei wrote back, but the “collaboration” wouldn’t work for Corner 17.
“He still came anyway,” Wei says.
That visit and the negative review that followed would cause an uproar in St. Louis social media about the ethics of so-called influencers.
The user @antonio_eats_la — until recently on his Instagram account and in a 2020 interview, he has identified himself as Antonio Malik — ate at Corner 17 on March 26.
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Wei messaged him that night from Corner 17’s Instagram account: “I hope you liked the food tonight.”
The food “honestly wasn’t good,” Malik replied, though the service was “great.”
“I wouldn’t recommend this place to anyone,” Malik wrote. “Sorry!”
On Tuesday, Malik tagged Corner 17 in a public Instagram story. Over one image of the restaurant’s food, he wrote, “Worst dumplings ever!,” while over another, he made a vulgar comparison of what the food tasted like.
Corner 17 is open to feedback and criticism, Wei says. The restaurant can’t improve otherwise.
But this, he says, “is not criticism anymore. I realized this is more like (an) attack because … we did not give him, like, $100 off.”
On Corner 17’s Instagram account, Wei posted screenshots of Malik’s initial offer and his later review.
“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,” the post’s caption reads in part.
“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.”
As of Friday morning, the post has received just under 16,000 likes and more than 1,500 comments.
“Sometimes, you just have to stand up for yourself,” Wei says.
By Thursday, Malik had made his Instagram account private. He changed the account’s bio to read, “I would never take money for a (positive) review and never leave a (negative) review just because someone didn’t want to work with me.”
His account was now private due to “death threats,” he wrote.
As of Friday, his account is public again. He posted a video statement to “clear the air.” He said the narrative that he left a bad review of Corner 17 because the food wasn’t comped, was “not the case.”
Malik did not reply to an Instagram direct message and an email seeking comment Friday.
Wei says in Asian communities, especially among his parents’ generation, the inclination is to work hard and not seek trouble. During the past week’s events, his own parents told him to “just let it go.”
“I was like, no, I can’t let it go,” he says.
A father now himself, Wei says he didn’t know what he would say to his own kids to get through such a situation.
“At least I want to do something for (the) community,” he says.
The community has rallied around Corner 17, Wei says: “We have a lot of great, loyal customers, and they just swing by and say, ‘Hi.’ And a lot of people tipped the servers with pretty big tips.”
One server was moved to tears by the generosity.
The gesture, Wei says, “was just very warm. It’s so warm.”