Restaurants Name Items After Celebrities in a Pandemic-Era Play for Young Visitors

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Four years ago, sneaker enthusiast and popular YouTuber Brad Hall shot a late-night video of himself at the wheel of his car as he headed to a McDonald’s drive-through. The endearingly neurotic Hall confessed that he was depressed that he missed his chance to buy the latest edition of Air Jordan 1s. Hall was opting for the next-best thing he could think of: ordering a McJordan Special.

Unfortunately for him, the burger named after NBA great Michael Jordan hadn’t been on McDonald’s menu boards for 24 years. But no matter. To his half million subscribers, Hall methodically demonstrated a workaround. Order a cheeseburger with no ketchup, add bacon and swap out the regular bun for a sesame-seed one. Then ask for a side of Chicken McNuggets barbecue sauce and dump it under the bun yourself.

“Close ’er up,” he instructs, “and you’ve got yourself a McJordan.”

Odds are there aren’t an abundance of people fanatical enough to go to the lengths that Hall did just to get their hands on a fast-food burger, let alone an extinct one. (Even though a bottle of McJordan BBQ sauce did surface on eBay in 2012, priced at $10,000.) If Hall’s video is proof of anything, it’s this: If consumers will buy shoes, clothes and perfume named after celebrities, they’ll probably buy menu items named after them, too.

And, as it turns out, several brands happen to be testing this hypothesis.

On Sept. 2, Dunkin’ announced The Charli, a limited-time beverage named after Charli D’Amelio, whose TikTok dance videos exceed 30 million views each. The very next day, McDonald’s revealed that it had inked a partnership deal with rapper Travis Scott, whose favorite meal combo sold under his name for $6 until earlier this week. Without missing a beat, McDonald’s just announced a new collaboration, this time with Latin pop star J Balvin (the “Prince of Reggaeton”), whose J Balvin Meal will be on the menu boards until November 1.

Meanwhile, starting on Oct. 1, delivery-only restaurant marketplace Nextbite began operating a new concept called HotBox developed with Wiz Khalifa. With locations promised for Pittsburgh, Houston, New York and other major cities, HotBox will feature a complete “top shelf munchie menu” developed by the rapper, songwriter and actor, including the Taylor Gang turkey burger and a Mile-High dark chocolate brownie.

HotBox by Wiz is a ghost kitchen (read: delivery only) restaurant that launched Oct. 1.

Then there’s 16-unit Umami burger, whose long-running Artist Series has featured limited-time menu items developed by notable personages. including model Cindy Crawford, social media heartthrob Cameron Dallas and, most recently, Jon Bon Jovi. The 1980s hair metal legend’s menu contribution—the Hampton Burger—does not bear the Bon Jovi family name but, in the words of the rocker’s son Jesse, it was “inspired by our time in the Hamptons.”

Suddenly, celebrity-branded food is popping up far and wide. The question is: Why now?

a guy holding a small burger on a square white plate in front of a brick wall
Instagram heartthrob Cameron Dallas was among the celebs to self-brand a burger at Umami.

Eat like a famous person

Food named after famous people is hardly a new idea. Washington, D.C.-based Good Stuff Eatery still has a Prez Obama burger on the menu four years after Obama left office.

Indeed, the idea of naming dishes after famous people is even older than 1992’s McJordan Burger. Beef Wellington takes its name from the Duke of Wellington, who had a roast named for him after defeating Napoleon in 1815. Eggs Benedict, first served at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1894, bears the name of Lemuel Benedict, a stockbroker who asked the kitchen to whip him up a breakfast that would cure his hangover.

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