For about a year, a couple of buddies of Los Angeles–based restaurateur Andy Nguyen had been pushing him to jump into the Web3 space, particularly NFTs.
“They kept telling me: ‘Hey, this space is built for you. It makes sense. It’s about community and marketing,’” Nguyen tells Input.
He didn’t pay them much heed. At the time, he was busy opening restaurants. Nguyen has launched at a number of food brands, including Afters Ice Cream, which has nearly 30 outlets across Southern California and Las Vegas. “I didn’t really understand what NFTs were,” he admits.
But he eventually came round to the idea. A break in his busy schedule coincided with a recognition of the challenges the restaurant industry is facing. “It’s really struggling to hire people,” he says. “The pay is rough. Food costs are increasing.” So he looked again at NFTs. “I found a void where I figured out it might help save the restaurant industry,” he says, although he doesn’t offer much in the way of specifics.
By December 2021, he had started developing his new idea, which will launch April 9 as a 90-day pop-up in Long Beach, California: an NFT-backed fast food outlet called Bored & Hungry. The burger joint layers Bored Ape Yacht Club branding on top of two pre-existing businesses: Trill Burgers, which he owns, and a partner, Beleaf Burgers, a vegan food company.
Nguyen has spent nearly $387,000 on one Bored Ape and two Mutant Apes that will adorn the burger boxes, fry holders, and soft drink cups at Bored & Hungry. He hopes to accept payment for meals in crypto, with discounts offered initially to those who own a Bored Ape NFT.
Bored & Hungry is one of a handful of planned restaurants — including some high-end establishments — that will incorporate NFTs in an attempt to capture the zeitgeist. Key among them is Flyfish Club, a members-only restaurant set to launch in New York in the second quarter of 2023. You’ll have to own a token to get into the seafood eatery, the brainchild of tech impresario Gary Vaynerchuk.
Flyfish’s January token release raised $14 million. The smart contract associated with the NFTs includes a provision that Flyfish Club gets 10 percent of all resales — which has netted the group an additional $2.3 million, according to one of the co-founders, David Rodolitz. “The financial model is different than a regular restaurant,” Rodolitz says. “You have a product sale and minting of the NFT, then you have ongoing royalties.”
Elsewhere in New York, the steakhouse Brooklyn Chop House has plans to open a second location that will include a dining room accessible only to those who own a non-fungible membership, which starts at around $8,000. (Stratis Morfogen, the restaurant’s Director of Operations, was on vacation and unable to speak to Input for this story.)
Meanwhile, entertainment brand Superplastic, which has minted a range of NFTs, has announced that it will soon launch “an extremely lavish and totally fucked up sushi restaurant in the heart of Wynwood in Miami.” The website copy continues: “Jankyverse accomplices get special access to a secret menu and exclusive offerings including toys & delicious apparel.” (Superplastic reps declined to speak for this piece.)
Nguyen says it was a no-brainer to deploy the Bored Ape branding for a restaurant concept. “Everyone that understands pop culture in the entire world pretty much knows what a Bored Ape is,” he says.
“What we’re doing is giving back to the Web3 community, getting an in-real-life experience for them,” Nguyen adds. “But also for people that are skeptical — who love referring to NFTs as JPEGs — it shows them that we’re building up a business, a brand, and a new ecosystem out of the IP that we purchased.”
By buying the Bored Ape NFTs, Nguyen has secured the rights to use them in whatever way he wants. “The reason we used the Bored Ape as an experiment is that it makes a large statement,” he says. “But it goes beyond Bored Apes. We can tap into other NFT products, team up with another company and work with their IP, developing concepts and their community.”
Those entering the NFT dining space foresee a big, ongoing business. “Hopefully, after we execute and do a good job and create value for our partners and members, the idea is to do that in likeminded markets and cities that share a passion for food and beverage, and innovation and creativity,” says Rodolitz. “We plan on running that playbook back and doing it again in multiple, multiple cities.”
The hope is that NFTs can reinvigorate a restaurant industry hit hard by the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced, however. “This is a concept that is only likely going to work in places where there is a high level of internet meme knowledge, or as a marketing gimmick to draw in those who are part of ‘the club,’” says Catherine Flick, an academic from De Montfort University, U.K. who is focusing on NFTs.
“It will be interesting to see how the prospect of taking cryptocurrency payments works, though, given that the volatility of the market might mean that $20 paid for a burger today might only be worth $15 or less tomorrow,” Flick says. “That’s hard for businesses to plan around.”
Despite the naysayers, those who have fully aped into the potential of NFTs won’t be dissuaded. “I think a lot of people are understanding the Web3 and NFT world is here,” says Nguyen, “and we definitely all believe it’s going to be the future.”
One major challenge? Taking payments in crypto. “We’re still trying to work those kinks out,” says Nguyen. “A lot of this hasn’t been done before, but we’re trying to be the ones that are leading the way. At the same time, we’re trying to figure out that we’re not doing anything illegal.”