In a December YouTube video that has since garnered over 37 million views, online star Jimmy Donaldson, more commonly known as MrBeast, announced MrBeast Burger. The online influencer’s brand released its menu to more than 300 locations in the country in partnership with Virtual Dining Concepts.

Robert Earl, cofounder of Virtual Dining Concepts, says the partnership started in 2019 and required a significant amount of time and effort to bring to life.

“You can’t just get a name for someone. You have to work together, make sure it fuels their brand. You have to curate it. You have to test it. And [celebrities] have to feel inspired to be part of it,” Earl says.

Before his tenure at Virtual Dining Concepts, Earl had experience working with celebrities as former CEO of Hard Rock Cafe and as founder and chairman of Planet Hollywood International, Inc.

Now as the head of a technologically forward food concept, the cofounder says the principal mission of his company is to help independent restaurants during their time of need. With total restaurant and foodservice sales $240 billion below the National Restaurant Association’s expected 2020 estimate, working with a virtual brand can give operators a way to stay afloat.

Virtual Dining Concepts operates by offering brick-and-mortar restaurants an extra revenue source by creating food from its virtual brands. Virtual Dining Concepts trains the restaurants, which then become a physical distribution and production point for the company in a matter of weeks.

“We believe that restaurateurs have the best chance of designing a product for other restaurateurs, as opposed to people who are tech driven or just other categories of getting into the space,” Earl says. “We don’t ask for any money whatsoever in advance, and we maximize the profit for the restaurant. We also stop them from being distracted from their core business.”

While Earl hasn’t released the exact number of partnered restaurants, he says “many thousand” are involved with the concept. Virtual Dining Concepts has an array of celebrity partnerships supplying these restaurants, with personalities that range from rappers to TV personalities.

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In the example of MrBeast, restaurants carrying out this virtual brand’s delivery-only menu serve specialty fries, hot chicken sandwiches, and other American-style items to customers on third-party delivery apps. But depending on the virtual brand, brick-and-mortars can opt to serve different foods, like baked goods from singer Mariah Carey’s cookie concept. The concept also offers restaurants an array of non-celebrity virtual brands to work with if they choose.

On Virtual Dining Concepts’ side of the celebrity partnership, the brand takes charge of the market research that goes into the brand, which includes identifying popular food genres and delivery locations. But influencers play a big part in creating the menu and branding. For both Virtual Dining Concepts and its partners, these brands are a prolonged relationship rather than a one-off deal.

“We’re not renting them. We’re not paying them a royalty. They’re our partners. So that really helps in their commitment,” Earl says. “A lot of the people that we’ve engaged with have genuine concerns to help the whole industry survive.”

As the pandemic exemplified demand for restaurants in the virtual space, Earl predicts success for the company even after the eventual vaccine rollout.

“My personal belief is that the entire country, because of COVID, has been formally introduced in a very big way to delivery. I believe over a period of time, there will be differentiation between a brick-and-mortar delivery, i.e. somewhere you drove past, or a virtual delivery where you don’t really think about where it was produced,” Earl says. “I believe that even when we’re back to normal, there is a large percentage that will change their workplace and their habits forever.”

The brand plans to take a slow approach to releasing new celebrity brands, opting to solidify each relationship before moving on to the next. Earl says there are many partnerships in the works for Virtual Dining Concepts, which is ideal for an environment especially receptive to branding.

“The general subject of celebrity being involved in branding––there’s never been a greater time. It’s a whole other subject,” Earl says. “There’s nothing that you turn on the TV or look in a magazine that doesn’t have a celebrity connected to it.”

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