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The Case for Celebrity Restaurants

When fame fuels food ventures

Photo by Neven Krcmarek/Unsplash

What do rapper Drake and actress Sandra Bullock have in common with Matteo Guidicelli and Alden Richards?

Popularity and celebrity status aside, they have all expanded their brands in the food business. Drake co-owns Toronto-based night club Pick 6ix, while Bullock has a takeout deli and coffee shop called Walton’s Fancy & Staple in Austin, Texas. Guidicelli’s Italian roots inspired him and his family to set up Da Gianni first in Cebu then in Alabang, while Richards opened two branches of Concha’s Garden Café last year.

Inevitably, dining choices like these are put on a different level because they are attached to personalities who either have truly dedicated fans who will spend to support their idols or curious diners who are simply willing to take a chance for the heck of it.

The possibilities are quite endless when you elect to eat in a celebrity-owned restaurant. The sight of the famous owner and their equally known friends is a definite come-on. A check-in, along with a post on social media, can impress a friend or two. And the chance of saying something—whether good or bad—about a dish prepared with a sprinkle of an award-winning musician’s or heartthrob’s name is an added thrill.

But just as fans do not go to movies or concerts to eat great food, they go to see celebrities do what  they do best—whether it’s acting, singing, or playing a sport, opines culinary blog The Daily Meal. In the article “Best Celebrity-Owned Restaurants,” it says diners should therefore not go to a restaurant simply because they might see the celebrity who is one of the creative forces behind it.

Over the years, fame cannot be solely counted on as one that makes a business afloat. Just ask Jennifer Lopez (Madres) and Eva Longoria (Beso Resto) whose restaurants tanked.

“Opening a restaurant is far from easy,” the piece continues. “And despite their… familiarity with the industry (by way of struggling through auditions, by way of waiting on tables), celebrities don’t necessarily have the know-how to create eateries with sticking power beyond their own 15 minutes.” Money is hardly a problem, they say, so establishing culinary success will be the puzzle that famous business-minded personalities need to solve.

Celebrities have long attempted to leverage their brand in various ways to widen their sources of income. Around the world, branches of Planet Hollywood still attract diners who want to eat burgers and fries with a jacket of Arnold Schwarzenegger from his blockbuster movie The Terminator in sight. Since opening in 1991, its Hollywood concept that lets anyone “dine among the stars” continues to be successful in cities like Paris and New York and has even led to the opening of the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. No less than Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, and Schwarzenegger have invested in the restaurant.

Four years after in 1995, Italian brothers and entrepreneurs Tommaso and Francesco Butis opened a themed restaurant called Fashion Cafe in New York City. No less than supermodels Claudia Schiffer, Elle Macpherson, Christy Turlington, and Naomi Campbell were enlisted to invite people to dine in glamour and style. After three years and multiple locations around the world—oncluding one in the Philippines—the business veritably ran out of runway in the worst possible way. The Italian brothers faced fraud and money-laundering charges.

But even before all the mess, New York Times critic Ruth Reichl already told the world the Fashion Café’s “seven-page menu convinced me that the owners didn’t get to the top of their profession by eating their own food.” In her article “The Theme is Fashion,” she told readers of her impression that the place “was just a new twist on an old theme; sex and food are being marketed here as surely as they were when women wore bunny ears.”

Fame aside, every restaurateur should have a vision of the dining experience they want to offer and, more importantly, finding the right people who will translate that vision to reality.

Over the years, fame cannot be solely counted on as one that makes a business afloat. Just ask Jennifer Lopez (Madres) and Eva Longoria (Beso Resto) whose restaurants tanked. On the other hand, actors Robert De Niro (Locanda Verde, Nobu) and Susan Surandon (SPiN) still have their kitchens open. Just like any dining experiment, price, service, and experience contribute to the gastronomical experience they offer. Finding the right food concept and serving it in the right city is a challenge that is common to all owners, whether they are Instagram-famous or not.

The game is probably easier for those who open shop and become celebrities like professional chefs who start from scratch and build their brands like celebrities. The only difference is they themselves can prepare dishes that impress. According to moneyinc.com, celebrities recognize that restaurants “are excellent alternative income streams,” with some pursuits stemming out of their passion for good food or their innate desire “to contribute to society by using their fortunes to sponsor excellence and meet the needs of the hungry around the world.”

It points out that the pillars of success in a dining experience include “extensive and specific industry-related business intelligence” where some ventures “often fail miserably.” Fame aside, every restaurateur should have a vision of the dining experience they want to offer and, more importantly, finding the right people who will translate that vision to reality.

This is probably why some of the more successful ones depend on their partners with business acumen. In the case of Guidicelli, having an Italian dad who knows his way in the kitchen, and another knowledgeable partner in Patricia Villa-Abrilla provide a strong reason for electing to open an Italian restaurant.

There is no guarantee to success in a world where one social media post or blog can tremendously alter the fate of a business. While celebrities can bank on their fame, they also need to be delicate about it as it can also be a stigma on their investment. It is all fair game, popularity aside. Longevity will measure what diners are truly after: a slice of fame or a slice of cake.

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