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Who is Jordan Howlett When the Camera is Off?

How a quiet kid from Oceanside went from sleeping in a parking lot to becoming one of the nation's biggest personalities
Tik Tok celebrity Jordan Howlett at San Diego restaurant Kinme Omakase
Photo Credit: Matt Furman

Come close. Jordan Howlett is about to open his book of secrets.

In his instantly recognizable minimalist videos, the 27-year-old Oceanside local (known in feeds as @jordan_the_stallion8) beckons his viewers near. He then dons his reading glasses, opens his famous leather-bound recipe book, and becomes a type of Gen Z Robin Hood, sharing the classified methods behind popular fast food items with his more than 29 million followers across TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. Want to know how to make Taco Bell’s Baja Blast or Olive Garden’s alfredo sauce? Howlett is your huckleberry.

Tik Tok celebrity and influencer Jordan Howlett at San Diego restaurant Kinme Omakase
Photo Credit: Matt Furman

As founder of what he calls the Fast Food Secrets Club, Howlett has become one of the most popular raconteurs on the internet, spouting wisdom and hot takes with self-effacing humor and an infectious love of food (while bringing icons like Kevin Hart and Method Man in for cameos). Yet, despite speaking to more followers on TikTok (12M+) than Jimmy Fallon and more on Instagram (8M+) than Chris Rock, his path to bonafide internet stardom remains mysterious. So how did he get here? What’s his secret?

Meeting Howlett and speaking to those who know him best, a picture emerges of an introverted kid with a unique fire in his belly, carrying the weight of growing up in a family struggling to stay afloat. “We definitely were strapped for money all the time, and I knew it,” Howlett says. “I was aware of it very early.”

Born in LA County, Howlett spent his early childhood in the high desert city of Victorville, CA, where his dad worked jobs at the nearby federal prison and at Best Buy, among other places. When his parents got an offer to help start a new branch of a mailbox installation company in San Diego, the family moved to Oceanside.

Howlett attended a small public school before transferring to Oceanside High sophomore year in order to have access to sports. This, his friends say, is when the early whispers of Howlett’s potential for big things first could be heard. He seemed to know who he was far earlier than most teenagers, carrying himself with the maturity of someone much wiser than the rest of his peers. But that doesn’t mean high school was easy. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Old photo of Tik Tok celebrity and influencer Jordan Howlett in high school playing baseball
Before he was Jordan the Stallion, Howlett was an awkward teenager in love with baseball.
Old photo of Tik Tok celebrity and influencer Jordan Howlett as a teenager in high school

“My first impression with Jordan was I saw this tall, awkward guy with a very big, nappy afro,” says Howlett’s longtime friend Saúl Sandoval Estrada, whom Howlett met soon after transferring. “He had this faded old zip-up hoodie, oversized shorts, really big feet, and mismatched socks that went up to his calves. He was polite and he was humble, but because he looked poor, people made fun of him and would pick on him. A lot.”

“All the girls rejected him,” Estrada adds. “All of them. I mean, in high school you’re not looking for a mature guy with good morals and values and ethics.”

Howlett acknowledges it was tough.

“Every time I tried to talk to girls— or talk to anybody—it was awkward,” he says. “I would always want to give them the utmost kindness, but I was not smooth in the slightest.”

Despite his setbacks, when Howlett found baseball, he didn’t take awkward for an answer. Having never played sports before, he worked maniacally hard to catch up to the kids who’d been playing tee ball since preschool. In a matter of months, Howlett was saying he wanted to play Division 1 ball, with hopes of making it to the big leagues.

“People didn’t like that,” Estrada says. “So they would tell him, ‘You’re not going to college. Look how goofy you are. Look how uncoordinated you are.’”

But Howlett’s ego was unphased.

“When you get coaches in high regard telling you this is not achievable, you have to be half delusional, half mature enough to be like, ‘Hey, I’m gonna do this because I need to see it for myself,’” Howlett says.

He worked out before school at 5 a.m., did his homework at lunch, and attended freshman, JV, and varsity practices in the evenings. Then, he’d be in the batting cages with Estrada into the night, trying to connect with his dream.

After stints in community college, Howlett transferred to UC Riverside in hopes of playing baseball as a walk-on. Unable to afford more than a partial first tuition payment, he was sleeping in his ’97 Chevy Suburban near the field while attending classes and going through tryouts, aiming to make the team and get on scholarship.

Tik Tok celebrity and influencer Jordan Howlett at San Diego restaurant Kinme Omakase taking photos of a sushi dish
Photo Credit: Matt Furman
Known for stealing secrets, Howlett plays along with sushi chef Andretty Lucatero at Kinme Omakase.

“I’m sleeping in my car, so I’m not getting any sleep. I have no money for food, so I’m not eating much. And I’m stressed about this walk-on,” Howlett explains. “I was so exhausted. I was sleeping in classes, and I failed my first test. I was scared. And the same day I failed that test, the financial aid office told me I owed $3,000 because the second payment was due way quicker than I thought. It was a lot of pressure that I’d never experienced before.”

But the gamble paid off when the coaches extended him a 10-day contract to prove himself.

“Man, I didn’t leave that field,” Howlett says. “Six a.m. lifts, I’m there at 4 a.m. I’m making sure I’m the last to leave. And I made the team.”

He got the scholarship.

“The dude was horrible, but he worked his ass off,” says Jeremiah Luster, an Oceanside-based scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks who witnessed Howlett’s development. “I have never seen a kid work that hard, and I’ve been in baseball for 16 years.”

But then came the pandemic. Howlett’s eligibility expired due to a technicality with his credits from community college, and his baseball dreams were forced into early retirement.

“I didn’t know my last time in the uniform was my last time in the uniform,” he says. “So there was a lot of emotion. It was a lot to process.”

He graduated from UC Riverside in 2020 with degrees in African American studies and kinesiology, but he soon found himself back in Oceanside, working a series of low-paying fast food jobs. His older brother, Elijah, had found some success in the early-ish days of TikTok, so like little brothers have done since the dawn of time, Howlett followed his lead.

And once he caught the bug, that same wild drive that had transformed him from a lumbering teenager into a D1 baseball player in record time had him posting handfuls of videos per day. He fed the feeds, and the feeds fed him back. Within a year, he had a million followers on TikTok.

Tik Tok celebrity and influencer Jordan Howlett at San Diego restaurant Kinme Omakase taking a video of a chef preparing food
Photo Credit: Matt Furman

Now, the only thing slowing him down is the human need for sleep. With baseball, his body would run out of gas, but his mind doesn’t. He’s thinking of ideas around the clock, filming and posting videos day and night. And he’s focused on what’s next. Between invites to A-list events, where he’s sometimes approached by celebrity fans, he’s personally involved in the design and fabric selection for the next drop of Fast Food Secrets Club merch and is dreaming of even larger platforms.

“Movies and TV and getting into grander things, it’s always a fun look,” he says. “But at the end of the day, I would not exist without the people who are watching my videos. And I wanna make sure that as we’re growing, it feels like a journey that we are taking together every step of the way.”

With his massive following and these burgeoning Hollywood aspirations, you might think Howlett is living large, but no. He doesn’t even own a car. The bright blue Tesla he drives to our first interview, he rents by the day on an app.

“My family always comes first,” he says. “I let my dad have the car that I had so he could get to work. And, for myself, a car is a big responsibility. I’m just waiting for the right time.”

Financially, Howlett remains a bit of a mystery. Try putting the Jordan Howlett puzzle together and you realize he has pocketed a few pieces. The picture isn’t fully clear. The king of telling secrets seems to keep a few of his own.

His ever-present PR rep asks us to avoid certain topics: religion, politics, his dating life (although he confirms he identifies as straight). And when it comes to money, Howlett remains vague.

“I don’t want to say anything that might give people the idea of, like, this is a benchmark,” he says. “Everybody’s different. So out of respect to all the other content creators, I’m not gonna share [my income].”

As interesting as it might be to know— at least roughly—how much someone with his following actually makes, there’s no set pay schedule for social media stars. Their incomes are based on niche, audience engagement, and how willing they are to turn their feeds into ads.

“When it comes to social media finances, you’ll get sporadic payments in different lapses of time,” Howlett says. “So, it can easily change from ‘I’m very much struggling to get the light bill paid’ to, ‘Okay, now we have emergency funds for if something were to happen.’ Financial responsibility is the number-one thing.”

Tik Tok celebrity and influencer Jordan Howlett at San Diego restaurant Kinme Omakase recording an Instagram reel
Photo Credit: Matt Furman

These days, Howlett’s mom works in the office of a landscaping company; his dad is in loss prevention at a grocery store. And Howlett continues filming his videos in the bathroom and kitchen of the rented house he shares with them, Elijah, and their cats.

These videos—which often hit view counts in the tens of millions—check all the boxes for social media success: They’re funny, engaging, and repeatable, and they appeal to base human desires like hunger and never paying full-price. But as his star power and follower counts continue to rise, Howlett remains what he’s always been—humble, polite, and focused.

“He doesn’t put up a front,” Estrada says. “What people see, that’s what they’re going to get.”

Howlett’s friend and manager Michael Berkowitz agrees. “He’s the same guy when the camera is down,” he says. “He can be reclusive when there’s a creative block until he’s out of it, but, really, he values relationships and human interactions. Something really special about Jordan is that wherever we are, he’s going to say hi to the janitor or the person working the door.”

Example: Today, we’re on set. Howlett walks into the photo shoot for this magazine’s cover and starts shaking hands with everyone—a sincere two-handed affair, with his left hand resting gently on top. It’s early in the morning, he’s been in the car for an hour, and he had to find parking, and yet, immediately when he enters, everyone—the art director, the photographer, the stylist, the various location hosts—gets a quiet, “Hi, I’m Jordan, nice to meet you,” with a smile, eye contact, that earnest handshake.

“A lot of people say that I talk in a whisper,” Howlett admits. “I keep to myself. Maybe that could be due to traumas, it could be due to how I grew up, but I enjoy it. It gives me extreme solace to know that when I walk into a room, I give myself the best chance to be approachable to anybody and for someone to feel comfortable having a conversation with me. It’s nice.”

Maybe this is why his videos catch such fire. On an internet that feels faker by the minute—full of algorithms that reward copycats, AI-generated vids, and pseudo-experts in everything from wellness to war—you can easily find anything online… except sincerity. When you’re scrolling recommended feeds full of overly produced vids made to manufacture emotion—be it outrage, lust, or simple envy—Howlett’s videos feel like a break from the noise. And maybe that’s his secret. Now all he has to do is write it down in his leather-bound book.

Photo Shoot Credits

Producer: Mateo Hoke
Art Director: Samantha Lacy
Stylist: Amelia Rodriguez
Photographer: Matt Furman
Location: Kinme Omakase
Clothing: provided by Bloomingdale’s Fashion Valley
Watch: provided by Fourtane Rolex Boutique at Fashion Valley
Rings: provided by OB Antique Mart

By Mateo Hoke

Mateo Hoke is San Diego Magazine’s executive editor. His books include Six by Ten: Stories from Solitary, and Palestine Speaks: Narratives of Life Under Occupation.

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