BARSTOOL SPORTS AIMS TO BECOME MAJOR PLAYER IN VIRTUAL KITCHENS

Campisi, V. (2021, October 3). Barstool Sports aims to become major player in Virtual Kitchens. The Food Institute. Retrieved October 4, 2021, from https://foodinstitute.com/focus/barstool-sports-aims-to-become-major-player-in-virtual-kitchens/.

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Dave Portnoy, founder of the pop culture site Barstool Sports, is jumping in on the virtual ghost kitchen trend, partnering with Planet Hollywood founder Robert Earl to launch a virtual restaurant concept built around the Barstool brand, reported Bloomberg (Sept. 22).

BARSTOOL BITES JOINS GROWING LIST OF VIRTUAL BRANDS

Debuting next month, Barstool Bites will offer 14-inch sandwiches, spicy chicken wings, dips and buckets of flavored popcorn. Though the concept will follow the traditional ghost kitchen playbook for now, physical restaurants and Barstool food trucks are also on the horizon.

“We’re going to experiment with giving our fans the ability to order the types of food we eat when we’re sitting on our couch watching football on Saturdays and Sundays,” said Erika Nardini, Barstool’s CEO, as reported by Bloomberg.

Hundreds of local restaurants will prepare Barstool’s food and deliver via third-party apps like Grubhub and DoorDash. Barstool Bites follows in the footsteps of other pop culture brands and personalities getting into ghost kitchens, such as Mr. Beast Burger, which launched as a virtual brand last December with over 300 locations.

Portnoy picked an opportune time to enter the market, as ghost kitchens are continuing in their pandemic-boosted boom. In the 12 months through June of this year, delivery-only restaurant orders in the U.S. jumped 66%, while on-premises dining fell 39%, according to NPD Group.

NOT BARSTOOL’S FIRST FORAY INTO FOOD AND BEVERAGE

Though Barstool Bites is a new venture, the media company has been making its way into the food and beverage space over the last several years.

Portnoy is famous for his popular One Bite Pizza review videos. The brand has become so synonymous with pizza that it even launched a frozen line with Walmart earlier this month.

The company has also been making moves in the beverage space. In 2019, the company partnered with New Amsterdam Vodka to launch a spirit called Pink Whitney, while in 2020, Barstool teamed up with High Noon for new flavors and a media partnership. Additionally, Barstool inked a deal with Revitalyte this year to add its own offering of the brand’s electrolyte recovery drink.

‘Ghost kitchens’ feed into post-Covid eatertainment trend

Palmeri, C. (2021, September 22). ‘ghost kitchens’ feed into post-Covid eatertainment trend. BusinessLIVE. Retrieved October 4, 2021, from https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/companies/2021-09-22-ghost-kitchens-feed-into-post-covid-eatertainment-trend/.

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The decline in restaurants is being matched by the rise of delivery food

Dave Portnoy, founder of the pop culture site Barstool Sports, has a talent for shape shifting.

In the last year alone, the 44-year-old internet celebrity has alternated between conservative hero, meme-stock evangelist and small business saviour, all while maintaining his day job as a podcast host and hard-to-please reviewer of pizza places. “This is like a faucet of grease,” he memorably described one slice.

Now, add aspiring food mogul to the list. After announcing a new frozen pizza line with Walmart earlier this month, the self-described Stool Presidente is also jumping in on the virtual “ghost kitchen” trend, assembling an army of independent restaurants to deliver peak bro food to his legions of fans. To do so he is partnering with eatertainment pioneer and Planet Hollywood founder Robert Earl to launch a virtual restaurant concept built around the Barstool brand.

Barstool Bites, which will debut in October, plans to offer sandwiches, super spicy chicken wings, dips and buckets of flavoured popcorn to the same hard-core sports buffs who gobble up Barstool’s always irreverent, sometimes sophomoric commentary. There’s more in store, including physical restaurants and Barstool food trucks, which are promoting the brand.

“We’re going to experiment with giving our fans the ability to order the types of food we eat when we’re sitting on our couch watching footballs on Saturdays and Sundays,” said Erika Nardini, Barstool’s CEO.

The New York-based media company, which Portnoy founded in 2003, has expanded from blogging to videos and podcasts that have won it 135-million social media followers. Last year he sold 36% of the company to casino operator Penn National Gaming for $163m. Barstool has since launched an online betting business and an electrolyte-spiked drink designed to address hangovers — all of which can be promoted by the company’s online hosts on programmes such as Pardon My Take and Spittin Chiclets.

“They do like 80 shows a week,” Earl said of his new partner. “All these podcasters are having dishes named after them and they’re all going to be constantly talking about them.”

Barstool Bites will follow the ghost kitchen playbook, shunning expensive physical locations for what may ultimately be hundreds of local restaurants that prepare Barstool’s food, then deliver it via third-party apps like DoorDash and GrubHub. The virtual dining brand is the latest entry into an already crowded field that has everyone from restaurant chains like Applebee’s, Chuck E Cheese, and Nathan’s to former Uber Technologies CEO Travis Kalanick chasing the delivery-only business.

Though digital eateries have been around for several years, the concept took off during the pandemic, when many restaurants had to stop serving indoors and left kitchen space idle for other uses. An opening rose for entrepreneurs to launch restaurant concepts almost overnight, without the investment in real estate, kitchen gear, staff and other expenses that can easily run up to $375,000 for each physical location. Instead, they could spin up a new digital storefront built around a narrow food offering and a search engine-optimised brand name.

In the 12 months to June, delivery-only restaurant orders in the US jumped 66%, while on-premises dining fell 39%, according to market researcher NPD Group. Uber’s delivery revenue more than doubled from 2020 to $1.96bn in the second quarter. That business, much of which is food, was bolstered by the acquisition of Postmates.

Sterling Douglass, CEO of restaurant technology supplier Chowly, estimates that there are nearly 100,000 virtual restaurants already in the US. Euromonitor International figures sales from ghost kitchens could reach $1-trillion globally by 2030.

Going all-in on the trend is Earl, a 70-year-old UK native who got his start promoting dinner shows in London with sword fights and six-course meals consumed with a dagger. He ran the Hard Rock Cafes in the 1980s, before founding Planet Hollywood the following decade, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Demi Moore as early spokespeople. The chain expanded too rapidly though, and declared bankruptcy twice.

He still owns restaurants, such as the Buca di Bepo brand, but he has recently recast himself as a ghost kitchen mogul. Earl said he began to think seriously about the delivery business early into the pandemic after seeing sales decline in his traditional restaurants, many of which are based in malls where foot-traffic plummeted.

Earl’s year-old, Orlando, Florida-based company, Virtual Dining Concepts, channels his eatertainment roots, with kitchen concepts often built around celebrities who can generate free publicity or have a vibrant social media following. He has launched brands with singer Mariah Carey (Mariah’s Cookies), Saved by the Bell star Mario Lopez (Mario’s Tortas Lopez), and Jersey Shore character Pauly DelVecchio Jr. (Pauly D’s Italian Subs). The deals are a 50/50 partnership with the celebrities he works with, under which they share the profits.

MrBeast Ecosystem

Earl’s breakout hit is MrBeast Burger, a concept launched in December with YouTube personality Jimmy Donaldson, who is famous for stunts like giving away 40 cars to his 40 millionth subscriber. Earl said the pair have sold one million of the $7.50 burgers so far. The brand now has almost 1,000 kitchens from Bangor, Maine, to Honolulu, preparing its food, with another 1,000 to come. “Which I think makes it by far the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the world,” Earl said.

Also benefiting from the trend are some of the restaurants hit hardest by the pandemic. Marylisa Carrier and her husband, Robert, were just weeks away from shuttering their Sparks, Nevada, burger joint in 2020 when they got a call from a salesperson pitching Earl’s Virtual Dining. The Carriers were told they could generate $200 a day in revenue from MrBeast. Instead, receipts have been triple that. The Carrier’s restaurant, Sizl Burger, retains about 67% of the average $25 order. It has allowed the couple to keep their business open and even consider expanding. “It’s been a huge, huge thing for us,” Marylisa Carrier said.

There are risks that come with the surge in virtual dining, however. One is trying to control quality when the food is prepared by hundreds of independent operators scattered all over the country. It’s also unclear whether the restaurants will lose interest in virtual brands when the pandemic subsides and their kitchens become busy with in-person diners.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen when the guests show up again,” said Greg Golkin, an investor in restaurant businesses through his Kitchen Fund in New York. “A lot of these orders are coming out of the back of an Irish pub.”

Already Barstool employees have gone online to rate their boss’s frozen pizza. No surprise though, they’re not very critical. Portnoy gave himself a 10 out of 10.

A Virtual Restaurant Concept Coming To Nascar Has A Higher Purpose Than Feeding Fans

Engle, G. (2021, August 29). A virtual restaurant concept coming to nascar has a higher purpose than feeding fans. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/gregengle/2021/08/29/a-virtual-restaurant-concept-coming-to-nascar-has-a-higher-purpose-than-feeding-fans/?sh=592ca08f14cc.

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Forbes

COVID-19 changed the world as we know it, in many ways permanently. The devastating pandemic affected everyone, forcing us to quarantine; mask up and practice “social distancing” on the few occasions we dared venture out.

Shut off from the world, we all adapted to a new normal. We had groceries delivered directly to our doors, along with just about everything else we needed to get through the week. Our lives carried on through Zoom, we binge watched Netflix NFLX and learned how to make sourdough starter.

More than a year removed its start, the pandemic is still with us. But we are quarantining less, doing our own grocery shopping, and on occasion visiting restaurants. At least those restaurants that survived.

Of all the industries that were devastated when the world shut down, perhaps no industry took a harder hit than the restaurant industry. According to some estimates more than 110,000 eateries were forced to shutter their doors with a loss of 2.5 million jobs.

Those that did survive had to overcome, adapt, and pivot. Delivery and take out became an important part of the business, in many cases the only part of the business.

With the world slowly emerging from COVID the restaurants that remain are once again seating diners. Yet, many of the lessons learned, and habits formed, during the shutdown remain. New ways of doing business that were once unthought of are sticking around.

One entrepreneur taking advantage of this is Robert Earl.

Earl Enterprises owns over 200 eateries ranging from his flagship Planet Hollywood to the Buca di Beppo chain along with the Earl of Sandwich among others.

In January of this year, Earl launched a new platform for restaurants. The Virtual Dining Concept (VDC) VDC -0.3% uses an infrastructure that is delivery only. Earl supplies the brand, the packaging, the menu, and partners with DoorDash for delivery. The company also markets the brand using a proprietary online platform. It’s a way that brick and mortar kitchens can create a revenue stream without having to create an entirely new brand.

According to Earl, online delivery is the fastest growing element of food consumption.  Thanks to COVID most families have ordered meals for delivery and that’s something he thinks will stick around.

“We’ll probably buy one less meal a week from the supermarket,” Earl said. “Now we realize that the pricing’s the same and whoever had to cook the food in the house, doesn’t have to do it now and can order it on their way home or the kids when they’re coming home from school.

“Online food delivery is the future now,” he added. “Where there is a brand that is only virtual, meaning you can’t get this experience in a restaurant. That will increase the demand of this type of brand and where there’s an affiliation where there’s a story behind it, where it’s experimental as we are, because we’re bringing these unique foods.”

Since its inception, VDC has developed brands with celebrities like Mariah Carey, Mario Lopez, and Pauly D.

NASCAR is now jumping onboard this virtual world. NASCAR and Earl unveiled “NASCAR Refuel” Friday at Daytona International Speedway a virtual dining concept that will deliver menu items from NASCAR tracks directly to customers at home.

NASCAR sees it as an opportunity.

“Obviously during the pandemic,” Chip Wile, NASCAR senior vice president and chief track properties office said. “We focused on a number of opportunities to take NASCAR to the fan knowing that they didn’t have the opportunity to come to the racetrack because of capacity limitations or, or local and state guidelines. So for us, it makes a ton of sense for us to continue to elevate that experience, whether it be at the racetrack or at home.”

There are 200 of the VDC kitchens in place already with more coming on board every day. Earl is quick to point out however that this isn’t a way for him to simply increase the footprints of his own restaurants.

“Out of those, I think we’re about 25% of those happen to be in restaurants that we own,” he said. “We use those restaurants to test and, and to make sure on quality and training for everyone else.”

Earl is hoping to grow the VDC world, and the NASCAR brand as well.

“In a matter of months, we plan for this to be over 1000 kitchens,” Earl said. “The opportunity is there courtesy of NASCAR that a lot of small independent restaurants that have needed help can now have a second menu. We call these virtual brands. A virtual brand simply means something that is online delivery only.”

The menu consists of offerings from several NASCAR tracks or inspired by them, like the “Daytona Firecracker Dog”, the “Victory Lane Burger Dog”, and the “Darlington Pimento Cheese Sandwich.”

“I’m a huge fan of our NASCAR fare,” Wile said. “Obviously you can see that I like to eat. And so for us to be able to order Martinsville hot dogs on a Tuesday night when our kids have late basketball practice and be able to come home and have those I think is certainly, it really helps us elevate our brand and the uniqueness of each individual race.”

While NASCAR hopes this new venture will help elevate its brand, and give fans a race day experience at home, for Earl the overall VDC mission is about something else. For restaurants interested in joining the VDC, there is no startup cost, and they are supported all along the way. 

“With NASCAR Refuel,” Earl said. “We are continuing our mission to assist restaurants by producing virtual brands that provide crucial added revenue, which is needed now more than ever.