Celebrities Take Over the Restaurant Scene

Rise of celebrity-backed restaurants in North America doubles openings in 2021, driving foot traffic and boosting developers.

May 14, 2024

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Are celebrity restaurants on the rise?

It feels like every celebrity has a restaurant these days. From Shaq’s Big Chicken to Gordon Ramsay’s various concepts, famous faces are fronting food chains across the continent. While we knew that it certainly seemed like there were more celebrity restaurants than there used to be, there were no statistics to support our intuition. So, we created some. Our research team assembled a database of celebrity-backed restaurant openings for the past five years in the U.S. and Canada.

2021 saw twice the number of openings

And yes, our data shows there was absolutely a recent jump in celebrity restaurant openings. 2021 saw more than twice the number of celebrity-backed restaurant openings than 2020.

The jump in celebrity restaurant openings was much greater than the percent increase in overall restaurant openings. In that same period, the total number of U.S. restaurant openings increased by only 13 percent, according to our analysis of Yelp trend data.

A famous name helps cut through the noise

The world of burgers and chicken sandwiches is ultra-competitive. A celebrity face can help a growing concept stand out. That’s one big reason why investors might choose to fund a celebrity-backed chain.

Shaquille O'Neal and the Wahlberg brothers are two leaders in celebrity sandwiches.

  • Wahlburgers, from executive Chef Paul Wahlberg and his brothers Donnie and Mark, opened the most locations in the period of our study. Many of these new locations were inside Hy-Vee supermarkets. In 2018 Hy-Vee announced that it would become the chain’s largest franchisee. Today there are 89 existing and announced locations inside Hy-Vees.

  • Shaq’s Big Chicken has 36 existing and announced locations.

Celebs open eateries for a variety of reasons

For celebrity chefs, new restaurant openings are a natural progression of their careers. For other types of celebrities there are a variety of motivations.

Houston rapper Bun B transformed his love of making smash burgers at home into Trill Burgers. Former NFL quarterback Drew Brees diversified his income as a Jimmy John's franchise owner and investor in Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux and Smalls Sliders. Comedians Pete Davidson and Jason Sudeikis, musician Mark Ronson, and actors Nicholas Braun and Justin Theroux established New York's Pebble Bar as a personal hangout near the Saturday Night Live studio. And Kris Jenner invested in Health Nut, a chain the Kardashians have long enjoyed.

Fame drives foot traffic

Signing a buzzy celebrity-backed project can be a boon to a property developer. It drives public interest and generates an outsized share of earned media and social engagement. This media attention in turn drives foot traffic. A 2023 study by American Express Travel found that 40 percent of surveyed respondents had been inspired by a celebrity influencer to visit a specific destination.

Contact James Cook

Americas Director of Retail Research