Around 1:15 p.m., restaurant workers began to appear. Mcleod strode to the entrance, planted his Jordans on the sidewalk, pointed his iPhone at the all-black awning outside and tapped over to his camera app. It’s showtime.
“Gooooooooood day, good people,” he said in the husky, District-raised drawl that booms through each of his three-to-six-minute reviews. “This is where I’m at.”
A 47-year-old father of two, Mcleod started reviewing restaurants on Yelp during pandemic idle time in 2020, but his sister, who loves the sound of his voice, nudged him to record his reviews instead. He since has amassed more than 90,000 followers on TikTok and more than 30,000 on Instagram, where he goes by Big Schlim, a twist on a childhood nickname.
Mcleod’s selling point is that he’s D.C. through and through. He dreams of traveling, if he can, of reviewing restaurants up and down Interstate 95 as his one and only job. But for now, his reviews stick to a $60 budget, give or take, and to under-sung neighborhood restaurants on residential blocks and in strip malls, a galaxy from Michelin stars. Such spots matter to Mcleod, because he grew up eating at them himself in tightknit communities in Southeast Washington and Adams Morgan, where he could get a sausage, egg and cheese for breakfast at the corner store each morning.
“It’s just convenient, it’s familiar, and it’s homey,” Mcleod said. “It’s an integral part of living in the city. You don’t really have to go anywhere.”
He finds restaurants most often along his many drives around the D.C. area: ferrying his 16-year-old twins to school or appointments or errands; hustling himself from job to job, a change of clothes in his trunk. Every so often, as with Shellfish, he’ll take a recommendation.
Mcleod doesn’t like to “demean” a restaurant, doesn’t want to put any “on blast.” His most-used ratings for dishes involve various degrees of enjoyment, from his signature five-star “STAMP!” to “Like That,” “Delicious” and “Decent.” Seldom will he invoke “Pass” or “Nah.”
“All this is is a conversation I’m having with my homie on the corner,” he said. “That’s it. If you listen to how I do the review, [it’s like] ‘Hey, Omar, this is where I’m at. … I got this, and I got that, and I ate it and it was stamp — it was good.”
Mcleod had scouted Shellfish’s menu ahead of time, knew what his followers wanted to see and was ready to order: strawberry-watermelon juice, gurgling from a carafe; a deep-fried lobster tail on a bed of jerk Thai fried rice. He tacked on a buffalo shrimp appetizer and salmon cheesesteak and requested the check at the same time. $72.25, before tax and tip.
“Thirty-eight dollars?” he muttered, looking back at the price of the lobster. It may have been what it cost, he acknowledged, but it was a blow.
Mcleod asserts that he pays for almost everything you see on his account to maintain review integrity, though as of late he hasn’t broken even. He’s getting under $500 a month from engagement through TikTok, he said, and Instagram stopped its monthly payments this year. In September, he posted a plea to followers to support his work, and they responded quickly. “Words cannot express how GRATEFUL I am for EACH one of Y’all!!” he posted just the next day. “I MEAN THAT.”
At his table at Shellfish, his eyes darted between the time on his phone, where he keeps notes for his reviews, and the open window into the kitchen, where owner Dwayne Prince was scrambling on a one-man operation. Resigned, Mcleod sipped on the juice until his feast arrived around 2:15 p.m., the buffalo shrimp glowing in a basketball-orange sauce. Mcleod tripped up announcing the mouthful of “deep-fried lobster tail on a bed of jerk Thai fried rice.” Take two was clean.
A bite of the lobster earned an off-camera “good, but for $38, I need basmati rice or something fragrant.” He hit record and gave it a “Like that,” a rating he would later revise. A sliver of salmon cheesesteak, still partly in his mouth: “Oh, I’m stamping this.” Record. “Stamp.” He got down just those few bites, for now, before packing his leftovers to schlep them to the next job’s fridge.
Mcleod edits his videos on his phone after finishing that shift, after midnight. He pores over his angles, ensures his vocal intonation and pronunciation are on point, and syncs it all to his favorite go-go music, because he knows a better-crafted video could lead to more likes, more followers, more monthly earnings — more of a chance to do more of this job.
A woman seated at the Shellfish bar, having seen Mcleod in action, handed over her phone so that he could punch in his Instagram handle. Prince ambled out to chat, too, but while Mcleod told Prince “everything was straight,” he saved his verdict for his followers.
He walked out the door around 2:40 p.m., time to spare, and set up for his closing shot, pointing his camera back at the restaurant’s awning. Then for this little spot in Brightwood Park, Mcleod dropped his highest endorsement, a quintessentially Big Schlim endorsement.
“Get here,” he said, for a video that soon would reach 10,000 views, then 15,000, then more, one of his best this month. “That’s it.”