In recent years, virtual brands have been gaining traction, captivating food lovers with their blend of convenience and culinary innovation. These virtual restaurants provide a unique, digitally-driven dining experience that’s gaining favor in our fast-paced, tech-savvy world. Interestingly, some of the virtual brands making headlines are not stand-alone companies; rather, they are new ventures from established, well-loved restaurant chains. This blog will lift the curtain and reveal the big names orchestrating the success of some of the most popular virtual brands today. Let’s dive into the stories behind these successful virtual brands and discover the established restaurant chains that operate them.
The Burger Den
The Burger Den is a virtual brand by Denny’s, a well-known family-dining restaurant that’s grown to over 1,650 locations worldwide since its inception in 1953. The virtual brand presents a creative take on American comfort food with a variety of uniquely crafted burgers. Denny’s made a strategic move into the virtual dining domain with The Burger Den, using its popular ingredients to attract new customers and increase its market share.
The Burger Den has garnered positive customer feedback nationwide for its taste, variety, and quality, underscoring its place in the growing virtual restaurant trend. As a testament to its success, The Burger Den has even outpaced its parent company, Denny’s, on Yelp with a higher rating of 4 stars compared to Denny’s current 3-star rating. Customers can easily order their delicious offerings through DoorDash, Postmates, and Uber Eats. Backed by Denny’s long standing reputation, The Burger Den illustrates innovation in the food industry by successfully making its mark in the virtual dining sphere.
Badass Breakfast Burritos
Emerging from the inventive kitchen of Dog Haus, a company recognized for its gourmet hot dogs and burgers since 2010, Badass Breakfast Burritos showcases a similar dedication to quality and novelty. Available in nearly all 90 Dog Haus locations across the nation, this daring virtual concept demonstrates the brand’s modern mindset. According to Dog Haus’ co-founder André Vener, Badass Breakfast Burritos may even outperform the revenue of Dog Haus within three years. Impressively, some locations contribute over $1 million in extra revenue, accounting for roughly 15% of Dog Haus’ total sales.
To enjoy a Badass Breakfast Burrito, customers simply use their favorite delivery app and pick from an array of enticing choices including the signature Haus Burrito, the meaty Würst Burrito, or vegetarian options like the Impossible Cali Burrito. The brand’s robust success has prompted Dog Haus leadership to contemplate brand licensing for broader dissemination. As noted by Vener, while many may attempt to enter the breakfast burrito sector, none quite matches the winning streak of Badass Breakfast Burritos.
Slo Roast, a virtual venture by BJ’s Restaurants, has mastered the art of bringing slow-roasted, protein-filled dishes to your table. Born out of a shared passion for slow-cooked meats among a group of friends, Slo Roast made a strategic choice to tap into the growing trend of such dishes. This move dovetailed perfectly with BJ’s Restaurants’ broader goal to take advantage of the booming off-premise dining trend.
While BJ’s Restaurants has earned fame for its deep-dish pizzas and Pizookie desserts, Slo Roast showcases the company’s culinary prowess through a different lens. Its menu features slow-roasted tri-tip entrées, herb-roasted chicken, Atlantic salmon, rib-eye steak, prime rib entrées, and a variety of sides, beverages, and sweet treats, including the signature BJ’s Pizookie.
Slo Roast started as an experimental concept, yet it quickly demonstrated its potential. From operating in a few trial kitchens, it expanded to 13 locations by January 2021. High guest ratings averaging 4.8 out of 5 stars serve as a testament to its success, a success borne out of the founders’ passion and a keen understanding of trending culinary preferences.
Uniquely, BJ’s Restaurants developed Slo Roast with a focus on preserving kitchen efficiency and productivity alongside catering to consumer demands. The company’s emphasis on service and hospitality, the cornerstones of BJ’s Restaurants & Brewhouse, strongly influence the operations of Slo Roast. To enjoy the virtual brand’s offerings, customers can easily navigate their website, choose their preferred dishes, and await the swift delivery of slow-roasted delicacies to their doorsteps.
It’s Just Wings
It’s Just Wings is a successful venture by Brinker International, the parent company of restaurant chains Chili’s and Maggiano’s Little Italy. This brand has a simplified menu full of the delivery favorites—wings, various sauces, curly fries, and a unique dessert: fried Oreos with chocolate sauce. The idea is to ensure consistent quality and depth of flavor. The launch of It’s Just Wings was a strategic move to capitalize on the increasing popularity of chicken wings, especially during the pandemic.
Brinker International’s CEO, Wyman Roberts, confirmed in an August 2023 conference call that the brand’s sales have been increasing weekly, suggesting great promise for It’s Just Wings. The company even expects the brand to surpass $150 million in its first year, indicating a promising future in the food delivery market. To place an order, customers can simply access the DoorDash platform, search for “It’s Just Wings,” pick their desired wings, sauces, and sides, and wait for their order to be delivered right to their doorstep.
The Wing Experience
Smokey Bones, a popular restaurant chain celebrated for its barbecue dishes, introduced the virtual brand, The Wing Experience, in 2019. Operating out of Smokey Bones’ kitchens in 16 states, The Wing Experience reimagines the chicken wing, serving the largest and juiciest wings drenched in 50 unique sauces. This venture has made a name for itself with successful marketing campaigns like the nationwide search for the College Wingman (or Wingwoman) of the Year, a strategic move that boosted brand visibility and connected with younger audiences.
The Wing Experience’s commitment to high-quality ingredients, diverse flavor profiles, and customer satisfaction has been the main drivers of its success. The introduction of the Wing Club, a loyalty program, demonstrates the brand’s customer appreciation. Customers can conveniently order these jumbo wings through The Wing Experience’s website, Uber Eats, or DoorDash, and receive the latest news and deals on their social media platforms. All these factors combined have allowed The Wing Experience to redefine the chicken wing category in the virtual brand space.
Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings
Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings, a virtual brand launched in spring 2020, combines pizza and wings to offer customers a bold and creative culinary experience. The brand, created by CEC Entertainment, parent company of Chuck E. Cheese, appeals to a more mature audience compared to its children’s entertainment counterpart. Using Chuck E. Cheese’s existing kitchen infrastructure, Pasqually’s has rapidly expanded, establishing more than 400 ghost locations nationwide, catering to a broad customer base with their dynamic pizza and wings selection.
The ordering process is straightforward, as the brand operates through online orders placed either via their own website or through third-party delivery platforms like DoorDash, GrubHub, and UberEats. Ultimately, Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings serves as a prime example of a traditional food industry player successfully venturing into the virtual brand space. With their unique menu and broad accessibility, they are making significant strides in the digital food delivery sector.
Tender Shack, a virtual restaurant brand specializing in hand-breaded chicken tenders, sandwiches, fries, and cookies, is a unique venture from Bloomin’ Brands, known for its extensive restaurant portfolio including Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, and Bonefish Grill. Interestingly, Tender Shack has successfully distinguished itself from its parent company’s other offerings, attracting a unique customer base, with 80% of its patrons having not previously ordered from other Bloomin’ Brands outlets.
Launched nationally in 2021, Tender Shack’s success is visible in its rapid expansion and impressive sales targets. With a presence in over 725 locations, primarily hosted at Carrabba’s and Outback Steakhouse restaurants, the brand is aiming for an ambitious $75 million in incremental sales annually. For those interested in trying Tender Shack’s offerings, it is easily accessible through DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Grubhub, making its popular chicken tenders only a few clicks away.
Behind the Curtains of Virtual Brands
It’s clear that established restaurant chains are leveraging their industry knowledge and resources to make a significant impact in the growing virtual brand space. By marrying their expertise with the convenience of digital platforms, these restaurant giants have successfully fostered innovative and enticing virtual brands. They have managed to keep pace with the evolving consumer demands and preferences, simultaneously providing familiarity and novelty. As we continue to navigate an increasingly digital world, it will be fascinating to observe how these and other players continue to shape and redefine our dining experiences. Keep an eye out for the big names behind your next virtual dining adventure, as your grub may be coming from a familiar face under a new guise.
If your curiosity about virtual brands has been piqued and you’re eager to explore further, don’t hesitate to delve deeper into our related blog posts. Start with “What the Heck is a Virtual Brand?” to get a comprehensive understanding of this digital revolution in the culinary world. This post covers the basics, explaining what virtual brands are, how they operate, and why they’ve become so popular in recent years. Afterwards, for a bit of fun and intrigue, move onto “The Top 7 Celebrity Virtual Brands in 2023”. This post explores how famous personalities, from musicians to movie stars, have dipped their toes into the virtual dining scene. You might be surprised to discover which of your favorite celebrities are serving up delicious meals from the virtual kitchens.
Between these two posts, you’ll be well-equipped with insights and fun facts about the virtual dining trend.
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