Try 5: Celebrities jump aboard the virtual kitchen bandwagon

George Lopez Tacos recently launched in Atlanta. / Courtesy of NextBite

George Lopez Tacos recently launched in Atlanta. / Courtesy of NextBite

Celebrities like George Lopez, Wiz Khalifa, Mariah Carey and Tyga are all already multi-hyphenates, but in the past year, they’ve each added another starring role: The face of a virtual kitchen.

The popularity of virtual kitchens — also known as ghost or cloud kitchens — began during the pandemic and the growth shows no signs of stopping. A 2020 report from market research company Euromonitor estimates that ghost kitchens could be a $1 trillion global industry by 2030.

Aspiring restaurateurs seeking to launch new concepts are able to bypass the traditional brick-and-mortar model to offer their menus in an online-only capacity, running their business out of rented kitchen space. Alternatively, established restaurants can leverage their kitchen space during off-hours to serve new, delivery-only offerings.

As with anything that’s gone mainstream, it didn’t take long for celebrities to enter the fold. George Lopez is now the face of George Lopez Tacos, while Carey lends her likeness to Mariah’s Cookies. Other stars looking to hop on the virtual kitchen bandwagon include TV personality Mario Lopez and reality star Pauly D.

Conchitha Hargrove, who operates virtual kitchen business VFC Kitchen (VFC stands for Virtual Food Court) out of a 1,600-square-foot kitchen in Jonesboro, features the brands of several celebrities on her roster of more than 25 virtual concepts, including George Lopez and YouTube star MrBeast.

Food from the menu of George Lopez Tacos. / Courtesy of Nextbite

Credit: Marc Piscotty

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Credit: Marc Piscotty

“You have people that follow these celebrities,” she said. “It doesn’t matter the food type, they’re interested in what they’re doing. MrBeast could tweet, ‘Have you had your burger today?’ and we’ll be overrun with orders,” Hargrove said.

The name recognition that celebrities provide can also help restaurateurs who are hoping to maximize profits, according to Alex Canter, the CEO of Nextbite, the company behind the George Lopez and Wiz Khalifa brands, as well as several non-celebrity virtual kitchens.

“A lot of restaurants already have the excess capacity to handle more volume,” said Canter, who also founded digital food ordering platform Ordermark.

Established restaurants can lean on existing staff and kitchen space to offer virtual kitchen menus to the tune of a 30% profit margin, Canter said. The flexibility of being able to decide when to turn on and off ordering capability can also make adding a new virtual concept more appealing, allowing owners to make use of their kitchens and leverage a new audience when their primary business slows down.

Denver-based Nextbite recently hired Jeff Haskell, an “Iron Chef” winner, to help develop its menus and work with celebrities to make sure dishes are representative of their overall brands.

“We’re about authenticity,” Canter said. “We’re not just going to put a celebrity brand name on a concept that doesn’t make sense.”

Want to try a celebrity-backed virtual kitchen? Here are five available for delivery in metro Atlanta:

George Lopez Tacos. Street tacos are the star of the menu at Lopez’s virtual kitchen. The comedian, who hosted late-night show “Lopez Tonight” and has co-starred in several movies including “Valentine’s Day” and “Balls of Fury,” offers a tight menu of tacos with a choice of protein, chips and guac or salsa, and churro bites for dessert.

Guy Fieri Flavortown Kitchen. Fieri, best known for his Food Network shows “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and “Guy’s Grocery Games,” recently rolled out the Flavortown Kitchen ghost kitchen concept in more than 30 states, including Georgia. Look for dishes including Jalapeno Pig Poppers, Chicken Parm-eroni and Mac Daddy Mac N Cheese.

Mariah’s Cookies from Mariah Carey. Pop star Carey now offers sweet treats along with her sweet vocals by way of this delivery-only cookie company. Flavors include chocolate chunk, lemon cooler, spiced oatmeal raisin and Heath Bar, among others.

MrBeast Burger. YouTube star MrBeast, who has more than 66 million subscribers on the video platform, entered the virtual restaurant game in late 2020 with MrBeast Burger. Menu items include several burgers, including the Beast Style with smashed beef patties, seasoning, American cheese, pickles, onions, mayo, ketchup and brown mustard; several sandwiches, including a Nashville hot chicken tender sandwich; fries; and chocolate chip cookies.

Tyga Bites. Craving chicken? Rapper Tyga has you covered with chicken bites with a choice of dust (black garlic, lemon black pepper or peri-peri) and 12 sauces, with options including Korean BBQ, tamarind chipotle and garlic parm. Rounding out the menu are Tyga Tota tater tots and chocolate chip cookie bites.

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