On a recent Thursday evening in the West Village, dozens of people gathered at Emmets on Grove to eat pizza and drink beer. It would have been like any other night at a popular Manhattan eatery, but for the price of admission: Not a standard reservation, or forty-minute wait for a walk-in seat, but NFT, which features Papy’s hot pizza embodied with fried egg eyes and a bacon smile .
NFTs were the handiwork of new company Front of House, which launched in early June with the goal of becoming “the one-stop shop for digital collectibles from the best bars and restaurants anywhere.” Currently, it serves NFTs associated with special dinner concessions at New York hotspots Dame and Wildair, as well as Emmett’s on Grove. All of them can be purchased with cryptocurrency or old credit cards. (NFTs, in case you’re living under a rock, are “non-fungible tokens,” aka unique digital crypto-assets registered on the blockchain, and are increasingly being used to access member-only clubs, services, and subscriptions.)
To enter the pizza party, guests need to present a good $33 NFT for that specific event, or one of the heavier-hit NFTs that Front of House currently offers, such as the $1,000 collectible Dame’s Fish & Chips Hospitality Club, designed by Mariana Fierro and can Redeemable for 1 table per week until the end of 2022.
The turnout was strong, with about sixty adults, two children and a very fluffy gray dog in attendance. Revelers drank beer from tall glasses emblazoned with the cheeky FOH logo (the satirical and colorful 2017-era Mag Food brand seems to be the company’s strength) and ate as many slices of pizza as possible. A bearded man wandered into the room cleverly displaying a black bag from ApeFest. At 7 p.m. on point, party guests were politely delivered, so regular service could begin.
According to Front of House co-founder Phil Toronto, a consumer technology investor and partner at VaynerFund, the company has so far sold about 100 NFTs, including 40 tokens belonging to one restaurant at a higher price. In addition to the $1,000 Dame Hospitality Club collection, Emmett’s on Grove offers a similar token with access to reserve through the end of this year for $300, and Wildair offers a series of Donut Friend collectibles for $200 a pop, which provide access (vaguely specified ) to specialty donut flavors and events, as well as a hint about potential additional benefits in the future. Front of House expects its next drop to be a series of NFTs from East Village Hanoi House Restaurant.
“The beauty of this opportunity is that we don’t need to understand what perks are being offered [with the NFT]. On an ongoing basis, we can try out different offers. “There is an opportunity to establish a meaningful relationship with the restaurant’s major supporters,” says Sarah Peter, Emmett’s chief of staff.
At the end of this year, participating restaurants will have the opportunity to evaluate the NFTs they issued and either renew or change the concessions offered, as well as the option to issue a new batch of tokens.
Toronto says revenue from the sale of each collectible is split 80% to the restaurant and 20% to Front of House (including FOH NFTs traded on the secondary market). His primary goal with FOH is to increase cash flow to restaurants, he says. The company plans to expand to Los Angeles and Canada after that, and would like to create NFTs that offer package deals — for example, one NFT that offers reservation franchises across about five or six separately owned restaurants in one neighborhood.
Danielle Freeland, who lives in Tribeca, told me she initially bought her husband’s Emmett’s Supper Club as a Father’s Day gift, but decided to keep it for herself. (The NFT holder must be present on any reservation made with the token.) “I would like to see 4 Charles and Carbone create NFTs,” Vreeland says. “It would be more than that.”