Why Are So Many Celebrities Opening Restaurants?

Everyone has a side hustle these days, even celebrities. From Scarlett Johansson's popcorn shop to Ryan Reynold's Aviation Gin and Jessica Alba's designer diapers, all personal interests and hobbies are now open to monetization. When it comes to the hottest investment trend amongst those with star status (and ample buying power), you can't throw a rock without hitting a celebrity-backed restaurant, pop-up, nightclub, or bar, which continue to open at record speed. 

A-listers from all industries are trying their hand within the food industry as founders, entrepreneurs, and investors, hoping star-studded associations will pave the way toward success. This seemingly sudden trend of celebrities opening restaurants is a likely product of the last few years, as food took on a new role by providing creators and audiences access to a form of entertainment, especially when all other forms fell out of arms reach. COVID-19 forced restaurants toward convenience and the hospitality industry as a whole to think creatively about how to attract customers. Though, celebrity restaurants aren't just pandemic related. We explore the many reasons why celebrities have decided to hop on the bandwagon and invest in the latest celebrity accessory — a restaurant. 

Celebrities tell their story through food

Many celebrities are eager to find new ways of expressing themselves outside of their established fields. After all, the deeper the connection they make with audiences, the greater the likelihood they'll remain in the public eye. Restaurants are an avenue for personal expression and a direct connection to fans — provided they get their point across. 

The storytelling in Ed Sheeran's London restaurant might be muddled, as highlighted by the poor review of Bertie Blossoms' food from the Evening Standard and The Times calling the space odd. It at least remains memorable. Sheeran told Square Meal: "It's really good beers and good things on the menu — what I would want in the bar, basically." Named after the wives of Sheeran and his music manager/business partner, its aim is to be a "real local place" according to the Bertie Blossoms website. Sadly, other than its name, the restaurant fails to reveal little more about Sheeran himself.  

Another musician, Eminem, has successfully made his backstory a focal point of his celebrity restaurant. Mom's Spaghetti in Detroit works to create an interactive storytelling experience for customers, displaying key memorabilia around the eatery. The name is based on a lyric from his popular song "Lose Yourself," which details the rapper's struggle and rise to stardom. The star has been known to create local hype, too, from a cable commercial to Eminem working the walk-up window at his restaurant

It's great for brand building

There's only so much one person can do — or money they can earn — at one time. Restaurants can be a great way to create positive brand recognition. Big screen villain Danny Trejo is doing just that with Trejo's Tacos. A positive review from the late Anthony Bourdain quite possibly provides all the street cred Trejo could ever need. Forbes reports that community support has kept Trejo's Tacos afloat during the pandemic and reinforced the brand's legitimacy as its own entity. The news site says Trejo's Tacos not only withstood the pressures faced by the hospitality industry but also delivered meals to essential workers in Los Angeles throughout the early days of the pandemic. Despite Trejo's villainous characters in the movies, his brand showcases a softer image, cementing itself within the L.A. community and beyond.  

Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Lisa Vanderpump uses her reputation as a glamorous boss to help buoy the success of her over-the-top chic restaurants in West Hollywood and French-inspired Vanderpump à Paris in Las Vegas. She also uses connections with Tom Schwartz and Tom Sandoval, made during her reality TV series, "Vanderpump Rules," to launch entrepreneurial partnerships, like Tom Tom Restaurant and Bar. Vanderpump's restaurants and lounges, much like her television series and other entrepreneurial ventures, are seen as an extension of Vanderpump herself and work to reinforce an association with luxury and class.

Celebrities want to help their community

Star-studded spending doesn't have to translate into expensive cars, mansions, or over-the-top vacations. Many celebrities use their surplus income to back hometown efforts and support worthy causes. Jon Bon Jovi and his wife Dorothea Hurley run JBJ Soul Kitchen restaurants, offering diners a pay-what-you-can scheme. The singer told the Big Issue, "We serve a mix of people, many who are working but are underemployed, some unemployed, seniors on fixed incomes, some struggle with mental health issues. We also serve those who want to contribute to their community. They are going out to eat anyway, they know that their donation is being used by someone in the restaurant that night."

Atlanta musicians Michael "Killer Mike" Render and T.I. are investing in Bankhead Seafood, a restaurant originally owned and run by Helen Harden before closing in 2018 after struggling to maintain staff (via 11 Alive). As one of his beloved childhood stomping grounds in Atlanta, Eater reports that Killer Mike had the high hopes of watching it achieve national success like Chick-Fil-A or Waffle House, both of which were founded in Atlanta. 

The food site says the celebrity restauranteur is also working to create a Black-owned business entrepreneurial mentorship program, extending it alongside college scholarships to include students at his and Harden's high school alma matter, Douglass. Render hopes these efforts will help to inspire and propel the next generation of Black entrepreneurs, says Eater.

Celebrities want to be lavish hosts

Want to entertain without the hassle? Restaurant ownership provides an opportunity for celebrities to offer a curated experience to a wider audience, cementing their reputations as tastemakers. According to chef Nobu Matsuhisa, in his book, "Nobu: A Memoir," celebrity investor Robert De Niro might have originally just been in search of creating a great local sushi option for himself (and friends) in New York with no intention of scaling the acclaimed Nobu brand to its cosmic reach (via Eater). The restaurant is now popular for both its high-end Japanese food and its high-end clientele — a favorite place for celebrity sightings at Nobu London.

Jay Z's 40/40 club showcases its dedication to the finer things, with even the lounge's name referring to an elite list of sports talent. The 40/40 club is an upscale sports bar and VIP lounge with a full bar, world-class DJs, and a variety of exclusive packages for access to top-shelf liquor and whatever lies behind the velvet rope. This celebrity host offers a chance to spend a lavish night like Jay Z and Beyonce. 

And then, there's Pharrell Williams's Miami-based club, Swan, located in the city's Design District. Swan reads Miami-lux from head to toe, from its pastel-hued interior, to a lavishly furnished dark-wood-lined lounge, and a spacious candle-lit patio — a far cry from Pharrell's early career working in fast food. Like the celebrity restaurant investor himself, we think Swan couldn't be more soigné if it tried.  

Celebrity restaurants sell merch

If you open a new restaurant, and there isn't a branded t-shirt or tote bag to show off on social media, did you really open a restaurant? The answer is no. Eminem's Detroit-based Mom's Spaghetti serves a small menu featuring variations on spaghetti and meatballs downstairs while capitalizing on the separate gift shop upstairs, appropriately named, The Trailer. Alongside a museum, of sorts, featuring memorabilia from the rapper's career, The Trailer sells a range of special-edition merchandise to remind customers, "they've only got one shot to not miss your chance" to show friends you were actually there.

Much like the Wahlberg family themselves, the Wahlburger burger chain appears to be ever-expanding. The family-run burger chain backed by actor Mark Wahlberg offers a whole lot of merchandise to choose from. Its separate merchandise-dedicated website allows you choose how you'd like to wear their logo, including some rather unusual options like golf umbrellas, dog leashes, and, of course, ornaments to deck your Christmas tree.

Celebrities can easily bounce back if a restaurant fails

We've found plenty of celebrity restaurants that failed over the years. However the amount of press actors or musicians receive based on their business ventures often feels minimal, compared to press they receive around their personal lives. This is to say, that although financial loss is a concern, the worry of bad press or tarnished reputations in the wake of a restaurant's shuttered doors probably isn't at the top of most celebrities' lists when plunging into the restaurant biz. 

Oftentimes, those with extensive resources like to spread out their investments, which might be why so many celebrities like to embark into venture capitalism, rolling the dice on new operations with potential like restaurants. Investing in different sectors also offers the ability to bounce back after a failure.

Such is the case with controversial celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. In recent years, almost all of Oliver's restaurants — including 12 Jamie's Italian locations, two Barbecoa locations, and Fifteen restaurants, which worked to train and hire those from disadvantaged backgrounds — were all shuttered (via Big Hospitality). This meant a total loss of around £25 million. However, thanks to generous earnings from Jamie Oliver's popular cookbooks, cooking shows, cookware, and other business deals, this celebrity restaurant owner still made the list of (unassuming) filthy rich celebrities.

Restaurants can help keep a celebrity's name in the spotlight

Jimmy Buffett's 1977 hit song "Margaritaville" may have only been on the top 100 chart for nine weeks, according to Billboard, but the singer's ever-expanding resort, restaurant, and lifestyle brand has kept Buffett's fortune growing. Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville first opened as a retail store in 1987 before branching into branded restaurants. In fact, the Margaritaville hospitality brand, which exudes the laid-back, tropical lifestyle Buffet sang about, is responsible for keeping him feeling breezy by making up most of the musician's worth of $50M, according to Forbes

Sometimes it's not about global reach but about the local community. For musicians like Rick Astley, whose music career is still going in the UK, but remains less well known on a global scale, it's all about the local scene. Hailing from the UK himself, Londoners in search of a beer that's "never going to let you down," might want to check out Astley's brewpub. 

After brewing a beer together with founder Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, Astley decided to help open the Mikkeller Bar London in the trendy Shoreditch neighborhood. The modern industrial-style brewpub and restaurant opened in 2019, coinciding with the release of Astley's greatest hits album, "Best of Me," making for a PR rep's dream. When not on tour, the celebrity restaurant partner is known to show up regularly at Mikkeller Bar, much to the delight of local customers and fans.

Celebrities can embrace their love of food

Many celebrities are passionate about eating, cooking, and drinking. For celebrities like Ayesha Curry and Phil Rosenthal, food has always been at the heart of their interests. Curry might have been given a platform due to her relationship with basketball star Stephen Curry, but she's become a stand-alone household name for her NYTimes best-selling cookbooks, Food Network show, and now her restaurant, International Smoke

Run with chef Michael Mina, the Curry-backed restaurant puts all things barbecue front and center. Curry's interest in food began during childhood in Toronto. According to Biography, she was inspired by her international neighborhood and the community and curiosity it sparked. She also focuses on making cooking accessible to accommodate her family life. 

The unlikely star of the food and travel series "Somebody Feed Phil," Rosenthal originally made a name for himself as the creator of the family sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond." Rosenthal told the Chicago Tribune that the food-focused set included everyone from the writers to the cast: "We use food to define the politics of the family ... I bet there's a food reference in almost every episode." It's no wonder then why the comedy writer became an investor in approximately 25 different restaurants. He told Fast Company, "I'm stupid enough to invest in restaurants, not to make money, but to support the artists that work in the kitchen ... I've done well because I always bet on the chef."

It provides opportunities for family members

Celebrity restaurants can be a way to create a fun and fulfilling opportunity for family members to live out their culinary or entrepreneurial dreams while sharing or minimizing the financial risk. Successful family-run celebrity restaurants include the parents of Lady Gaga, who co-own Joanne Trattoria in NYC. Joanne the restaurant plays tribute to the family's Italian American roots and includes a few family recipes on the menu. It also hosts open mic nights and helps support local performers, helped by its proximity to the Lincoln Center in New York City.

Wahlburgers is a franchise owned by three of the nine Wahlberg siblings, Donnie, Mark, and Paul, putting the Wahlberg family front and center. The celebrity-backed restaurant plays up Mark and Donnie's fame by calling the brothers a "perfectly imperfect cast of characters" on their website. Chef Paul also attributes the family dinner table as inspiration for the Wahlburger menu. And, with restaurants in 23 states and five countries, as well as its recent status as the official burger of the Boston Red Socks, there is certainly enough work to keep Wahlberg brothers very busy.

Delivery-only models are an easy paycheck

Cooking personality Guy Fieri joined the trend of ghost kitchens by creating flavor villages working mainly out of established commercial operations. Simply by adding Guy's, or any other celebrity's name and associated dishes, to a commercial kitchen's food offerings results in Mariah Carey cookies or MrBeast Burger — food brands with low overhead and instant name recognition. Fieri sings the praises of the ghost kitchen business model by noting its ability to adapt and maximize potential revenue thanks to built-in celebrity brands.

Wiz Khalifa's HotBox works under the same delivery-only model. HotBox offers hungry customers a full menu of guilty pleasures sprinkled with hot Cheetos dust, guaranteed to cure a case of the munchies with locations in major cities. Hotbox by Khalifa is one of the better ghost kitchen brands thanks to this celebrity's hands-on approach. 

Even Mario Lopez is on board with the restaurant concept: Mario's Tortas Lopez will churn out healthy food while earning him a healthy passive income and help struggling restaurants by employing existing kitchens to prepare food for the "virtual" delivery-only restaurants. The actor also enjoys passive income thanks to sandwiches straight to your door.