Restaurants Run on Star Power

The long list of failed celebrity restaurants includes spots owned by supermodels, rappers, and, of course, actors. Restaurants owned by celebrities aren’t guaranteed to succeed simply because of the famous faces backing them, but many Hollywood thespians do successfully venture into the restaurant business. Below, we look at five celebrity restaurants that paired star power with concepts that didn’t flop.

Wahlburgers (Donnie, Mark, and Paul Wahlberg)

Where You’ve Seen Them: Actor-musicians Donnie (New Kids on the Block, Blue Bloods) and Mark (Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Transformers series) star with chef Paul on A&E’s eponymous reality show about the restaurant

What It Is: Burger restaurant that uses “fresh ground beef, high-quality ingredients, and lots of love”

Wahlburgers plays up the family aspect of the restaurant on the menu, where kids are “Smahlburgs,” several items are served with “Paul’s signature wahl sauce,” and items are indicated as being Mom’s, Donnie’s, Mark’s, or Paul’s favorite. Menu items are also named after the Wahlberg matriarch (“Alma’s classic macaroni” and “Mom’s Sloppy Joe”) and patriarch (“Dad’s basic burger”). The tagline touts, “Our Family, Our Story, Our Burgers,” and by the time you’re done reading about how the Wahlbergs grew up around the kitchen table, you’ll want to buy into the warm-and-cozy Wahlburger image.

The name-heavy restaurant may come off a little cheesy, but least-famous brother Paul is a bona-fide chef and the concept seems to take the culinary aspect of the business as seriously as it does the branding. At least a dozen toppings are house-made, gluten-free substitutes are available, lighter fare (like the option to turn a burger or sandwich into a salad) caters to health-conscious eaters, and the website emphasizes the use of quality ingredients like never-frozen beef and artisanal buns. Reviews of this celebrity restaurant range from unimpressed (“Wahlburgers succeeds more as a shrine than as a restaurant,” according to Pervaiz Shallwani with Newsday) to pleasantly surprised (“It’s good eating” is the judgment of Will Gordon’s Serious Eats review).

If you’ve heard of a Wahlburger before, that could be because Tom Wahl’s has been offering a signature burger by that name for decades. Don’t hold your breath for any exciting litigation, though: Before their restaurant dreams became a reality, the Wahlbergs secured a licensing deal to use the name.

Trejo’s Tacos (Danny Trejo)

Where You’ve Seen Him: Sporting an iconic mustache in dozens of action movies (From Dusk Till Dawn, Anaconda, Machete) and that Snickers commercial

What It Is: A quickly-expanding taqueria concept offering tacos, doughnuts, and breakfast burritos

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Danny Trejo has a recognizable face, and if you live around Los Angeles, you’ve probably seen it most recently on the signs of his restaurants – yes, plural. The film star opened Trejo’s Tacos in early 2016, but has already grown the concept to include two Trejo’s Cantina locations (although the second has yet to officially open) and one Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts location. If that weren’t ambitious enough, there’s also a Trejo’s Tacos food truck, full-service and drop-off catering options, and online ordering.

From 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., the Trejo’s Tacos location offers a breakfast menu featuring breakfast burritos and beverages, while the full La Brea menu includes appetizers, bowls, burritos, quesadillas, salads, and, of course, tacos. The separate Trejo’s Cantina menu also offers a few breakfast burritos, as well as enchiladas. Both menus include vegetarian and vegan options for diners with restricted diets. Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts offers raised doughnuts (more commonly known as yeast or yeast-raised doughnuts) with names like Gringo, The Hail Mary, Three Amigos, and Low Rider, plus vegan cake and buttermilk cake doughnuts.

Trejo’s almost-smiling mug is also featured on the hot sauce and coffee packaging and tray liners, but the celebrity restaurant’s pièce de résistance is a floor-to-ceiling artwork (done in bright blues, greens, and yellows) of the man himself wielding two cleavers – shirtless but sporting an apron.

The flagship taqueria has been hailed by LA Weekly as “a celebrity-themed restaurant that doesn’t suck.” But an Eater Los Angeles review was less favorable, referring to the concept as “a mediocre Mexican option that only plays into the city’s stereotypes about celebrity.” Occasionally mixed reviews haven’t hampered its success, and there’s speculation that Trejo may expand the concept to San Antonio.

Au Fudge (Jessica Biel)

Where You’ve Seen Her: In films (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and television shows (7th Heaven) since the early ’90s, and alongside now-husband Justin Timberlake since the late 2000s

What It Is: A mom-centric and kid-friendly restaurant, marketplace, and creative space

Au Fudge opened in Los Angeles in early 2016, though the project’s initial announcement came back in 2014. The delay gave Biel two years to promote the restaurant, but it also gave the general public two years to form plenty of ideas about what a celebrity restaurant for kids and their parents would be like. It was ridiculed by spectators for its perceived exclusivity and was called both “the Soho House for kids” and a “Chuck E. Cheese for the One Percent.”

With a restaurant, marketplace, and creative space, Au Fudge is a unique concept, designed to allow parents and kids to dine out in a comfortable space where kids can play and parents can drink. It isn’t technically exclusive, but it is expensive. Marketplace items are available in the online store, if $29 flower crowns and $45 animal masks are in your budget, and if you visit the restaurant for dinner, you can order a $13 grilled cheese for your kid and a $15 vegan Caesar salad for yourself.

The Au Fudge menu promises “fresh, local and delicious cuisine in a safe, all natural, and sustainable environment,” but the appeal for most diners is undoubtedly the creative space and the “au pairs” that, for an additional fee, will supervise children while parents enjoy their meals. The creative space features adjoining rooms full of kid-friendly activities and “Creative Space Commandments,” which let parents know how the whole process works and include rules that help ensure the safety of the children playing there.

In a review written for Jezebel, Kara Brown, who visited the restaurant with a friend and her friend’s child, wrote that Au Fudge is a “pricey but visionary idea” that will resonate with parents simply because the restaurant offers an experience they can’t get anywhere else. It’s also worth noting that the author’s trip to the celebrity restaurant included sightings and interactions with actual celebrities (including Biel herself and actor-slash-dad Taye Diggs), which may justify the expense for plenty of diners.

Nic & Norman’s (Norman Reedus)

Where You’ve Seen Them: Actor Norman Reedus stars in The Walking Dead, and special makeup effects expert Greg Nicotero is an executive producer on the show

What It Is: An American restaurant with an emphasis on burgers

A TV star and a behind-the-scenes guru opening a restaurant in Georgia is only weird if you don’t know that the state – particularly in and around Atlanta, where The Walking Dead has filmed since season one – has become a hub for the film industry. Nic & Norman’s (often called N&N) is located in Senoia, Ga., a town outside of the capital city that became a main backdrop for season three of the popular television series.

Nic & Norman’s opened in June 2016 to a crowd winding down the sidewalk, and the majority of Yelp reviewers have left favorable assessments for the joint project. N&N undoubtedly owes much of its success to the loyal fans of The Walking Dead who travel far and wide to participate in tours of filming locations in the area. Those involved with the restaurant are aware of what draws diners in, subtly playing up the connection to the TV show when they can. The logo features a paintbrush to reflect Nicotero’s special effects expertise and an arrow as a nod to the fan-favorite character Reedus plays, and the online shop lets fans purchase the restaurant’s apparel even if they haven’t yet eaten there.

Although there’s no guarantee diners will actually spot a famous face from the show, Nic & Norman’s also routinely hosts viewing parties for new episodes of The Walking Dead – and fans are welcome to dress up as their favorite characters. The menu, however, is zombie-free, and highlights N&N’s dedication to using GMO-free (as well as sustainable and natural) ingredients.

The restaurant taps into the show’s supportive fanbase, but the sense of community it wants to capture doesn’t appear to be an act: Nic & Norman’s announced in social media posts on April 18 that it would be closed on April 20 to mourn the unexpected loss of an employee.

Chef Goldblum’s (Jeff Goldblum)

Where You’ve Seen Him: In more than 100 films and TV shows since 1974, including classic ’90s movies (Independence Day, Jurassic Park) and their many sequels

What It Is: A mysterious food truck

In April 2017, charismatic actor Jeff Goldblum appeared in Australia in a food truck called Chef Goldblum’s Jazzy Snags, serving three sausage sandwiches: the Goldblum, Silverblum, and Bronzeblum. Helmed by the smiling celebrity, who was pleased to pose for photos and chat with fans, the mobile meatery created a commotion that was amplified by Goldblum remaining coy about why he was serving sandwiches Down Under.

The internet was left to theorize, wondering if he was really launching his own type of celebrity restaurant or if it had something to do with research for an acting role. The latter was the most popular explanation, though no one knew exactly what project he was promoting since it seemed unlikely that Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, in which he actually played a character named Chef Goldblum, had received a sequel.

The circumstances behind Chef Goldblum’s Jazzy Snags were revealed a couple of weeks later when Menulog, an online food ordering and delivery company, debuted a new ad campaign starring Jeff Goldblum. The food truck turned out to be a short-lived publicity stunt, but since the internet, uh, finds a way, the joy it brought us can live forever.

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Ariana Keller
Ariana Keller

Ariana Keller was raised on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in south Alabama, where she learned to fish and love football. She moved to Knoxville with her family when she was 12 and later graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in English. Passionate about Marvel Comics, Critical Role, and all things geeky, she spends her free time playing tabletop and video games, collecting beer caps from craft breweries around the country, and passionately rooting for mediocre sports teams. She is an advocate for animal rescue and lives in Knoxville with her husband and their two adopted pets: a hound dog named Beau and a Maine Coon mix named Vesper.

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