With a tweet, famed YouTube influencer MrBeast launched a nationwide burger chain. Overnight, 300 locations across the United States began operation, offering the young celebrities’ signature brand of beef to fans exclusively through delivery apps. Powered by an army of ghost kitchens and launched into the stratosphere by social media, MrBeast Burger offers a glimpse of retail powered by Gen Z.
Jimmy “MrBeast” Donaldson’s YouTube channel has 47.8 million subscribers, where his videos have more than 3 billion views. His channel alone earns the 22-year-old an estimated $24 million a year. His channel is known for attention-grabbing stunts, like giving away large sums of money and pranking fellow YouTube celebrities. His latest stunt is launching a fast food empire that bears his brand name. But is it more than a stunt?
Strictly speaking, Mr Beast Burger is a ‘virtual restaurant,’ only available through delivery. Will Hyde, a producer for MrBeast, led the charge, working with Virtual Dining Concepts to develop the initial locations and establish franchising rights. The partnership with MrBeast is one of many for the new age real estate operation. Virtual Dining Concepts is working with television actor and host Mario Lopez and reality TV lighting rod Pauly D on similar concepts, offering tortas and italian subs, respectively. Legendary music icon Mariah Carey is working with VDC to sell cookies and rap star Tyga has cut his own deal for a chicken nugget concept ghost kitchen franchise. Celebrity chef restaurants are giving way to celebrity-branded restaurants. MrBeast’s swatches of millions of young fans may eclipse them all.
“Even if I just get to see [MrBeast], it would be a dream come true,” 12-year old Matthew Baker told Wake Weekly as he waited in line for his first MrBeast Burger.
To launch his new fast food empire, MrBeast did what he does best: put together a massive stunt. MrBeast Burger temporarily took over the Wilson, North Carolina burger spot Burger Boy, converting it to a real MrBeast Burger, inviting nearby fans to come eat. They got more than a burger. Burgers, iPads, AirPods, and cold hard cash were given to all customers for free, creating a 20-mile line of traffic requiring police presence as word of mouth spread. Wait an extra minute in the drive-thru? Here’s another $100 dollars. The chaos and joy was captured and released on his YouTube channel, where was seen over 20 million times in just two days.
“The power of celebrity Virtual Dining Concepts provides is an added value for restaurateurs across the country,” said Robert Earl, Co-Founder of Virtual Dining Concepts. “Similar to Tyga, Mario Lopez and DJ Pauly D come in as partners, playing an active role in marketing and promoting their brands to their millions of followers, driving revenue to the restaurants.”
In a day and age where restaurants and chains can’t rely on their real estate strategy and child play areas to draw customers, viral marketing aimed at a young audience can spark an intense demand. YouTube, ghost kitchens and social media have formed a new equation for success, hacking the old model that traditional restaurateurs spend decades developing. The initial hype around MrBeast Burgers’ launch had delivery apps crashing, struggling to keep up. But as any operator or owner of a restaurant knows, the hype can only last so long. Execution and consistency are the keys to survival for restaurants.
Social media buzz is a double-edged sword. Users may have generated enough buzz to send a brand new fast food chain viral overnight, but that level of publicity can quickly turn against the business. Not long after the launch, social media began to fill with user complaints, mostly around raw beef. As the marketing figurehead, MrBeast likely has very little control over the quality of the product. Fast food chains, especially at the scale debuted by Mr Beast Burger, are notoriously hard to operate even for seasoned veterans of the industry. There are sure to be kinks in a nation-wide roll-out of 300 locations over night. Then there’s the problem of the delivery apps themselves, which too often leaves customers with a bad taste. Anyone who’s used Door Dash, Uber Eats, Postmates or any of the like know that getting your order correct is not a likely scenario.
As a property type, ghost kitchens operate within a ‘kitchen-as-a service’ business model within a light industrial area, which used to be a niche asset category, serving a small segment of caterers and food truck operators. The proliferation of ghost kitchens is changing the conversation. Munchery, CloudKitchens and Kitchen United each have their own method of providing kitchens as a service. Some convert warehouses, others have converted big box stores, providing virtual restaurants with space, cooking equipment and pick-up infrastructure.
Where exactly the ghost kitchens are is part of the magic, it seems. Most aren’t publicly listed and locations on websites aren’t disclosed. Finding them can be tough. In the world of retail, being able to find your location is perhaps the single most important foundational concept to getting through the door. Ghost kitchens don’t want to be found, but they do want to be close. Part of the reason locations are shrouded is that it can set delivery expectations. Knowing a restaurant is too far may discourage a customer from ordering, yet knowing it’s close may give customers unrealistic expectations about speed. Being vague about the location creates an information asymmetry that the ghost kitchen operators can leverage.
The adaptability and vagueness of locations means ghost kitchens are a growing real estate segment that can fit in almost anywhere. Ghost kitchens with no need for customers to come to the store can operate in less dense areas to save even more, but few do. Speed to the customers is still paramount, which requires proximity in dense areas. Owners with a handful of space in office buildings, shopping centers, warehouses and other light industrial places are well positioned to benefit from the rise of ghost kitchens and restaurant delivery. Places with the restaurant quality plumbing and ventilation infrastructure but not the space for customers make ideal candidates.
While ghost kitchens are all the rage, they are anything but foolproof. Some kitchen-as-a-service providers, like Piltoworks, have already failed. The virtual restaurants that use the space however appear to be successful, at least as an initial proof of concept. Make no mistake about it, in a world that orders nearly everything via app, ghost kitchens are a threat to brick and mortar restaurants everywhere. As Gen Z matures, so too will the relationship between social media, influencers, and real estate. Gen X saw the rise of the shopping mall, Millennials brought experiential retail to prominence. Our nation’s youngest generation is now moving the ‘retail’ experience to the cloud.