Amid the pandemic-fueled boom in food delivery services circa 2021, the celebrity ghost kitchen emerged as a trend among novelty-seeking diners. Customers could use delivery apps to order dishes bearing the images and names of their favorite stars from "restaurants" including Food Network host Guy Fieri's Flavortown Kitchen, Mario's Tortas Lopez by actor Mario Lopez or Mariah's Cookies from pop diva Mariah Carey.
Among the most prominent of these was MrBeast Burger, whose face is the YouTuber MrBeast, known for his elaborate "stunt philanthropy," in which he gives away huge cash prizes and extravagant gifts to the delight of his 172 million followers. But now the star is suing the company he partnered with for his restaurant brand, claiming Florida-based Virtual Dining Concepts - which also provides the logistics behind many other celebrity food-delivery offerings - has let quality slip and is serving customers inferior food.
MrBeast, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, filed a lawsuit Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking to end the partnership with Virtual Dining Concepts, saying the negative reviews online from customers are harming his reputation. In the Virtual Dining Concepts model, existing restaurants or other commercial kitchens can produce food branded under various names and offer them for delivery alongside their own menus, giving a portion of the sales revenue to the company.
In the filing, Donaldson accuses the company of breach of contract and is also asking for a review of the accounting for his brand, claiming that although Virtual Dining Concepts established 1,700 locations serving MrBeast burgers since 2020, Donaldson has "not earned a dime" from the arrangement. "Plaintiff has not yet received any profit share from the business since its inception almost three years ago and does not have access to the relevant books and records of the business," the lawsuit states.
He is asking for undetermined compensation and damages.
In response to a request for comment, Virtual Dining Concepts sent The Washington Post a statement saying Donaldson's lawsuit is "riddled with false statements and inaccuracies." The company said it takes quality very seriously and that the customers who complained about bad experiences represent a "very small minority." It also suggested that his complaint was prompted by a business dispute.
"Mr. Donaldson recently attempted to negotiate a new deal to serve his own monetary interests," the statement read. "When VDC refused to accede to his bullying tactics to give up more of the company to him, he filed this ill-advised and meritless lawsuit seeking to undermine the MrBeast Burger brand and terminate his existing contractual obligations without cause."
Donaldson's lawsuit cites complaints from people on social media and on sites such as Reddit who ordered MrBeast burgers and fries, only to be disappointed - and then blamed the guy whose name was on the packaging. Donaldson said in the filing that he had raised the concerns he was hearing about poor quality to Virtual Dining Concepts, but says the company didn't respond to the complaints. He says food was delivered late and sometimes with items missing, without branded packaging, and in some instances the food was "inedible."
"There are literally thousands of negative reviews, articles, and comments from people who are deeply disappointed by the fact that MrBeast would put his name on this product," the lawsuit says. "Because the entire business is based on the tremendous global value of the MrBeast brand, it is MrBeast himself, and not Virtual Dining Concepts, who has borne the brunt of the (justified) attacks and criticisms."
Donaldson also alleged that the company was more focused on growth than quality.
"Virtual Dining Concepts was more focused on rapidly expanding the business as a way to pitch the virtual restaurant model to other celebrities for its own benefit, it was not focused on controlling the quality of the MrBeast Burger customer experience and products," the complaint alleges.
MrBeast Burgers debuted with a splash. Thousands of cars turned up at a pop-up location in North Carolina, where Donaldson was giving out free burgers along with wads of cash and a free car to a man whose vehicle was damaged, according to reports. Police eventually had to clear the streets, and Donaldson posted a video titled "I Opened A Restaurant That Pays You To Eat At It."