Virtual restaurant-brand creator Nextbite Brands LLC has hired Brian Furano as vice president of celebrity and brand licensing and expects to have more star-studded foodservice concepts beyond a current offering with rapper Wiz Khalifa.
Denver-based Nextbite expects to make its next celebrity virtual brand announcement May 5.
It debuted delivery-only HotBox by Wiz in October 2020, offering 12 menu items such as burnt brisket ends with barbecue sauce, a turkey burger with chips tossed in Parmesan and lemon and the “Mac And Yellow” mac and cheese, a nod to Khalifa's hit song, “Black And Yellow.” For dessert, the menu offers a dark chocolate brownie called the Mile High. The HotBox menu is now available in more than 30 cities.
“We’re really focused on finding the right celebrity and the right concept so we're targeting not just celebrities for celebrities sake,” said Furano, who joined Nextbite in February, in an interview. “We're looking for those people have an authentic connection to food. … They love food, and their fan base is aware of their connection to food.”
Furano, left, joined Nextbite after working on celebrity partnerships and entertainment at boutique talent and brand license agency Outer/One, where he led and advised on collaborations for Rock & Brew Restaurants with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS and George Lopez’s Chingon Kitchen restaurant concepts.
“With strong relationships in the entertainment, music and restaurant industries, Brian is the ideal person to lead our celebrity and brand partnership efforts,” said Alex Canter, Nextbite CEO, in a statement. “We provide an incredible opportunity for select celebrities to create their own food industry brands, with the highest-quality company in the virtual restaurant world.”
Nextbite is owned by Los Angeles-based Ordermark, which provides online ordering management solutions for restaurants and virtual foodservice concepts. Ordermark in October 2020 closed on a new $120 million Series C funding round led by Softbank Vision Fund and joined by returning investor Act One Ventures.
Since the start of COVID-19, Nextbite has launched 15 brands and has added over 1,000 delivery-only restaurants nationwide.
Furano said celebrity-backed restaurant brands have built-in audiences.
“We want to find something that's great for the celebrity’s brand,” he said, “and it's great for our partners.” Furano added that he expects some great ideas to be developed through what is an incubation process.
“This is a new revenue stream for a lot of these artists and celebrities,” he said.
Nextbite is looking for artists and sports figures who have awareness, influence and a passionate fanbase, Furano said. The menus are developed by the culinary team at Nextbite’s Denver headquarters.
“When you get that magic mix of someone with a lot of influence in a fan base that really cares about what they say and if and when that talent points them in the right direction to something that is tasty and and sustainable at the right price,” Furano said, “you really hit it out of the park.”
Because Nextbite was created before the COVID-19 pandemic with more than a dozen delivery-only virtual brands and thrived during it, Furano said the company is excited about markets reopening. Other brands include Firebelly Wings, The Big Melt and Toss It Up.
“Our concepts are here to support the restaurant industry and to help our partners,” Furano said. “We never compete with our restaurants. We believe in the future of the on-prem[ise] restaurant. We think it's going to be an awesome hybrid of multiple concepts for delivery.”
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