NFTs have been steadily making their way into the restaurant world (along with seemingly every other sphere, from art to politics). And so a restaurant whose founders claim is the first of its kind, essentially offering admittance only to the holders of a limited number of non-fungible tokens, seemed inevitable.
Flyfish Club, set to open in a yet-to-be-announced Manhattan location in the first half of next year, will be a luxury “seafood-inspired” dining club from the VCR Group, a hospitality and restaurant group that includes Gary Vaynerchuk, the serial entrepreneur and co-founder of online reservation system Resy. To gain access to the club, members must have a Flyfish NFT, which is a unique digital asset stored on the blockchain and purchased using cryptocurrency. The company released 1,501 tokens this month, bringing in around $15 million, according to David Rodolitz, the founder and CEO of VCR.
As of Friday afternoon, you could buy a regular-membership token on the secondary market for the equivalent of around $13,600. A token giving the holder access to an even more exclusive tier, which includes access to a private room serving omakase — chef-created, multicourse sushi meals — could be had for the equivalent of around $29,500. And that’s just to get you in the door — patrons will still have to pay for their meals, albeit in U.S. dollars.
In an interview, Rodolitz acknowledged that membership in the club isn’t just about food, or even a high-end dining experience. “Social currency is a big part of this,” he said. “People are communicating digitally about what they like and who they are.” Rodolitz likened NFTs to traditional status symbols, like designer handbags or sneakers, that people use to connote their tastes and means.
“Now we’re looking at LinkedIn, but in five years we’re going to be looking at someone’s digital wallet to see who they are,” he said.
Some investors and traders are clearly snapping up the Flyfish NFTs without plans to set foot in the space. But a successful club ultimately depends on people actually using it, and Rodolitz says he held back 1,500 additional tokens that could be distributed later, possibly as gifts for various collaborations. For those who do use the club, the Flyfish team is also positioning the NFT-based membership as a better investment than traditional club memberships. Owners of the tokens can sell them or even lease them to other people, he noted, unlike those at a country club or social club, such as Soho House. But profits, obviously, rely on continued demand.
The concept is relatively untested, and not just among restaurants. NFT communities, or groups of people who own similar NFTs, have typically congregated online (a group called the Bored Ape Yacht Club is a prominent example), or their focus is often on the “metaverse,” the virtual world where people can own virtual real estate, art and even food. Making an NFT centered around a real-life experience — in this case, the ability to eat in a particular restaurant — and a physical location is unusual.
Merav Ozair, a blockchain expert and fintech professor at Rutgers Business School, says this kind of use of NFTs might be new, but that she expects many more brands will follow suit. “People think of NFTs as the cute stuff, the Beeple and the fancy art,” she says, referring to the artist whose NFT sold for more than $69 million at a Christie’s auction. She thinks NFTs have the potential for broader use, like the way Flyfish will allow people to own, lease and sell their memberships.
“The power of NFTs is authentication — they facilitate the transition of ownership,” Ozair said. “When you think about it, everything in your life is about is transferring ownership.”
Rodolitz says he understands that to make the novel project work, the club itself has to deliver on members’ expectations. The location has yet to be determined, and its website says only that it will be “in one of the most beautiful buildings that exists.” Rodolitz says the build out of the 10,000 square foot space will cost millions. And then there’s the food. The omakase will be overseen by Masashi Ito, a veteran of the Michelin-starred Sushi Zo in New York and one of the chefs and partners behind Ito, another restaurant from the VCR group, he said.
Omakase, often served in high-end Japanese restaurants and for prices up to hundreds of dollars a head, has become a mainstay of status dining, a trend that Eater N.Y. described as the “ultimate dining flex” at a handful of the city’s “oligarch-friendly spots.”
And like so much in the world of cryptocurrency and NFTs, the Flyfish team is promising big things off the plate, too. In addition to admittance to the restaurant, members will have access to “various culinary, cultural and social experiences.” So far, those include a private boat party in Miami and a pop-up in the Hamptons, as well as omakase and wine tastings, ahead of the opening of the Flyfish space next year.
Other restaurants — even those without the white tablecloths — are dabbling in NFTs. Dave and Buster’s and Burger King both launched loyalty programs in which users could collect branded NFTs for digital and IRL rewards.
And food TV personalities and restaurateurs Tom Colicchio and Spike Mendelsohn last month announced a plan to sell pizza-themed NFTs giving the owners access to in-person and virtual events with other famous chefs, though details of the project remain unclear.
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