Stephanie Sollers, CEO of Virtual Dining Concepts, said virtual brands need to make an emotional connection with their audience. /Photo by W. Scott Mitchell.
When creating a virtual restaurant brand, it’s best to partner with someone who truly understands how to speak to an audience on the internet.
So said Stephanie Sollers, CEO of Virtual Dining Concepts, the restaurant company behind MrBeast Burger, which is a partnership with YouTube sensation Jimmy Donaldson of MrBeast fame.
Sollers was part of a “CEOs in the Hot Seat” lightning round session at the FSTEC restaurant technology conference in Dallas on Monday.
MrBeast first launched as a virtual restaurant in 2020 in 300 outlets and “broke the internet,” she said. Now VDC says the brand is available for delivery only out of host restaurants or ghost kitchens in 1,700 locations.
Earlier this month, the first brick-and-mortar location of MrBeast opened in New Jersey and had as many as 17,000 people enter the line, Sollers said. Officials at the mall where it operates said foot traffic hit 130,000 on opening day.
Last week, Donaldson also hinted on Twitter at a possible MrBeast franchise.
But when asked if franchising is a consideration, Sollers deflected, saying, “I can tell you that Jimmy loves to be on Twitter and it’s a fantastic thing to see what he shares with his audience
The virtual brand trend is now being driven by companies that are tapping into “super-engaged fandom,” Sollers said. “It’s about being with those leaders with the most valuable IP in the world.”
Initially, VDC was designed to help restaurants generate more revenue out of existing kitchens that were underused during the pandemic.
That excess kitchen capacity is less of a problem now, but Sollers noted that the unit economics of running restaurants remains a challenge.
And while the barrier for entry is relatively low to launch virtual brands, it’s not just creating a brand and logo. Restaurant operators need to build a brand from the ground up, thinking about the audience they want to target and what they care about, as well as creating long-term emotional relationships.
“That ethos is still core to VDC,” she said. “We want to create a brand that can scale and provide value, whether virtual, physical and beyond.”
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