Jimmy “MrBeast” Donaldson ranks among the most popular individual creators on all of YouTube, with over 172 million subscribers. You could fill 100 newsletters breaking down all the various reasons for MrBeast’s remarkable success on the platform, and mavens continually break down and analyze everything about his content—from concepts to thumbnails to SEO and more—to try and get at his particular secret for driving interest and clicks, but regardless, the significance of his presence to the platform is undeniable.
Rise of the Beast
A relentless publicist, self-marketer, and showman, Donaldson’s videos often find him creating larger-than-life spectacles or dramatic stunts. Still, he’s never been content to limit the scope of his ambitions to YouTube alone, or even just to the internet. In 2020, MrBeast started expanding his brand beyond YouTube, and the conventional realm of the “digital creator,” and collaborated on a few new kinds of companies and projects.
So far, this has included a number of philanthropic projects; a digital game, “Finger on the App,” produced in collaboration with the Brooklyn art collective MSCHF; and a custom line of chocolate bars known as “Feastables.” (The Feastables brand recently announced plans to add gummy candies to its snack line-up, as part of a collaboration with another creator, Karl Jacobs.)
But Donaldson’s most visible attempt to move the MrBeast brand beyond video content and into real-world products and services has been MrBeast Burger, a virtual restaurant produced in collaboration with a company called Virtual Dining Concepts. MrBeast Burger operates using the same “cloud kitchen” or “ghost kitchen” model utilized by a number of eateries in the delivery app era that don’t have permanent brick-and-mortar storefronts of their own.
Multiple food companies and brands can operate out of the same kitchen, preparing food exclusively to go out on delivery services. In August of 2020, Donaldson announced “MrBeast Burger,” ghost kitchens preparing customized fast food-style burgers-and-fries combination to his specifications, available on delivery apps nationwide.
The first 300 ghost kitchens launched in November of that year, and in order to promote the new concept, Donaldson actually rented out a physical storefront in Wilson, North Carolina, to create the first (and so far, only) actual in-person MrBeast Burger. (He was certainly successful at capturing the public’s attention. According to Tubefilter, the opening attracted thousands of customers, with a drive-thru line that was over 20 miles long.)
Despite this initial wave of success, MrBeast Burger has struggled as a company, particularly with the issues of consistency and food quality. While some reviewers praised the virtual eatery’s smashburgers, chicken tenders, and loaded fries, it was also pretty easy to find negative reviews on sites like Yelp and social media, with customers complaining about overcooked or undercooked orders, receiving the wrong food, and more.
The MrBeast Burger location closest to this Passionfruit correspondent currently has two stars on Yelp, with top reviews referring to the food as “slop” and “the worst hamburger place I’ve ever been to.” In 2021, leaked emails sent to ghost kitchen startup Reef Technology also gave insight into customer complaints around some of the top delivery restaurants; MrBeast Burger came up frequently in complaints about “poorly prepared food,” with one customer alleging that their food contained “a piece of glass.”
Donaldson has briefly responded to complaints on social media in the past, explaining that he doesn’t work directly with the restaurants or ghost kitchens preparing the food. In June, he told a fan on Twitter (sorry, X) that, for this reason, he enjoys working on his Feastables concept more, and plans to shift his energy in that direction.
This week, the story took a dramatic new turn, with Donaldson actually filing a lawsuit against Virtual Dining Concepts (VDC), and attempting to shut down the MrBeast Burger concept entirely. The suit—filed in the US District Court in New York on Monday—alleges that VDC was more focused on expanding the business concept to other celebrities, rather than focusing on the quality of MrBeast Burger specifically. He further claims that the company ignores his efforts to work on quality control, and that the failure of the concept to satisfy customers has hurt his brand and reputation.
VDC has responded, accusing Donaldson of employing “bullying tactics” and attempting to get out of their contractual agreement early “without cause.” Perhaps most questionably, they suggest that his personal notoriety was expanded by working with VDC on the MrBeast Burger concept. This may be a stretch since he was already a pretty popular YouTube star in 2020.
When Fans are Customers and Vice-Versa
Regardless of the outcome, the case raises questions about the nature of online relationships and what, if any, responsibility online creators have to their audiences. MrBeast’s subscribers and fans certainly think of themselves as members of his community, or even his friends, in an extended and at least semi-metaphorical way.
Making followers feel included, welcomed into a social community of like-minded people, is a core part of the job of a digital creator. It’s why they always speak intimately, right into the camera, come up with fun nicknames for their fans, go on tour and host meet-and-greets, stay active on every social media platform, and so forth. Turning people who like your content into superfans who feel like they know you—and evangelize what you’re doing to all of their flesh-world friends and associates—is the only way to go from a few thousand followers to tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, then millions.
When MrBeast asks his fans to check out Feastables display cases at their local Walmart locations—and to even fix them up and make them look more appealing for customers—it strikes people who are outside of his community as strange. Why would people who don’t know him go out of their way to help him out, for free? Isn’t he rich? But for MrBeast fans and followers, it was the most natural thing in the world. They’re already emotionally invested in him and his success. When he embarks on a new venture and it goes really well, they’ve played a small part in that and get to join in on the celebration of his success.
But from Donaldson’s POV, these are not his friends in a conventional sense. In fact, there’s another word for them that fits better in this context: customers. But this one shift in terminology really does make a big difference. It’s one thing to ask your personal friends for help with your new business venture, but a very different thing to treat your customers like friends, and then ask them for help. Donaldson has to know, every time he launches a new product or company, that the first wave of people who will be trying it out for themselves, and purchasing whatever he’s selling, will be his biggest fans. It’s wrong to launch unless he truly believes he’s offering them a good deal for their money, and a quality product.
A Name You Can Trust
It does seem, in retrospect, essential for him to exclusively sell things that he can actually stand behind and ensure a certain level of standard quality. That’s never going to be possible with a nationwide ghost kitchen idea, unless he and his team build out the ghost kitchens themselves, a far more involved and elaborate undertaking.
Just putting the “MrBeast” name on something and then leaving it up to an outside company to actually produce the item and deliver it to customers is certainly the easiest and most profitable version of this concept, but it’s not reliable long-term. Donaldson has clearly realized this over the last three years. The question that remains is how much, if any, damage has been done to the MrBeast brand.
No one said becoming the number one creator on all of YouTube would be easy, and this is just one of the many challenges facing Donaldson as he attempts to maintain control over something as wildly popular and talked about as the brand “MrBeast.” There’s a whole separate controversy making headlines just this week, about impersonators using his likeness and branding to scam his fans, and what responsibility he has, along with social media and video platforms, to monitor and police that behavior. The learning opportunities and obstacles never end, but it’s at least nice to see that Donaldson is reacting and taking it upon himself to shut down failed concepts when they don’t work. That’s progress.