Menches Bros. is a small restaurant with a big claim to food history.
The three-unit burger concept in northeastern Ohio is owned and operated by descendants of brothers Charles and Frank Menches, concessionaires who are said to have invented a version of the hamburger at a New York county fair in 1885.
The Menches came up with their concoction—ground beef mixed with brewed coffee and brown sugar—after they ran out of pork for their sausage sandwiches, putting their stamp on the arc of American eating in the process.
Nearly 140 years later, their family is looking to take that story, and the restaurant it inspired, worldwide—but not in the traditional way.
“We really wanted to globalize without necessarily franchising the restaurant,” said Dani Kimble, a professional marketer and the great-great granddaughter of Charles Menches. “We wanted to always keep that family connection to the brand.”
That’s why Menches Bros. this week announced that it will start selling nonfungible tokens, or NFTs—digital images that can be bought and sold online as collectors items, and are tied in with the emerging world of cryptocurrency and the metaverse. Menches Bros. hopes the new technology will allow it to build an audience without actually building restaurants.
Burger fans near and far can choose from 5,655 Lil Mench NFTs, which depict a variety of 1920s-style cartoon burgers designed by artist William Rech. Menches Bros. is reserving 1,855 NFTs for local customers, who can use them to get a 20% discount for a year when they dine in.
The NFTs also grant access to a secret “Cryptoburger” menu for customers as well as tailgate parties, prizes and the Menches’ secret spice mix, allowing owners to make the original Menches hamburger at home.
The idea is to attract burger lovers by highlighting the restaurant’s authentic connection to the fast-food staple, building a community of fans in the process.
“[Charles and Frank’s] story is incredible, and everybody loves cheeseburgers or hamburgers,” Kimble said. “I think there’s a huge opportunity to build some sort of global audience around that.”
It is unusual for a mom-and-pop restaurant like Menches Bros. to wade into the still-new field of NFTs. Big chains with big marketing budgets, like Domino’s, White Castle and Applebee’s, have used them to drum up publicity or offer perks to guests. At Menches’, Kimble was the one-woman force behind the idea, and it took some effort to get everyone else up to speed.
She started by partnering with a company called Metaversal, which would go on to help Menches Bros. create and sell its NFTs. But its first job was to introduce the concept to Kimble’s family, including her uncle, Menches Bros. CEO John Menches. “He’s visionary, he’s very entrepreneurial,” Kimble said—and he ultimately gave Lil Mench the go-ahead.
Educating guests about the project is the next big step. Kimble admitted that most Menches Bros. customers don’t know what NFTs are, let alone have the technological means to buy one: Lil Mench is available only on the Ethereum blockchain, a platform that processes and records cryptocurrency transactions.
“Our local day-to-day customers, this is all very, very new to them,” Kimble said.
The restaurant is working on ways to make the NFTs as accessible as possible. It’s describing Lil Mench as a membership program or a digital access pass and is planning a local “mint party” where guests can learn how to buy one. It’s also hoping to enable customers to pay for the NFTs with a credit card instead of crypto.
“We want it to be as low-barrier to entry as possible in an effort to not confuse them and deter them,” Kimble said.
The price of a Lil Mench is still TBD. Menches Bros. is doing research on its regular customers to determine the right price point—ideally one that would allow buyers to make their money back by dining in two or three times a month at a 20% discount.
“We want to make it a no-brainer for them to buy an NFT,” Kimble said.
On that note, Kimble is undeterred by the recent implosion of the cryptocurrency market, which can also affect the value of NFTs. The price of Ether, the coin used to buy NFTs on the Etherium blockchain, has plunged nearly 45% over the past month.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s holding us back,” she said. “We are in this for the long term. We are not here to do any type of money grab.”
And while Menches Bros. should see some revenue from the sale of NFTs, its top priority is to spread its story and grow its following. It has no intention of leveraging that awareness to help it open new restaurants—but it could lead to other opportunities for growth. Kimble mentioned the idea of combining NFTs with a licensing agreement for Menches’ spice blend that would allow other restaurants to serve its signature burger. And she didn’t rule out the possibility of launching a virtual Menches Bros. restaurant in the metaverse.
The possibilities afforded by these new technologies are endless, she said. “Larger franchises are starting to think about a metaverse strategy. And we are too.”
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