scorecardNo, 'Stranger Things' star Noah Schnapp didn't open his own restaurant. It's the latest 'virtual brand' offering from IHOP.
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No, 'Stranger Things' star Noah Schnapp didn't open his own restaurant. It's the latest 'virtual brand' offering from IHOP.

Nancy Luna   

No, 'Stranger Things' star Noah Schnapp didn't open his own restaurant. It's the latest 'virtual brand' offering from IHOP.
Retail3 min read
  • Thousands of virtual brands continue to flood delivery apps like Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Grubhub.
  • Chains like IHOP prepare delivery-only brands from their kitchens to earn extra revenue.

IHOP is offering a menu of delivery-only chicken meals developed by "Stranger Things" star Noah Schnapp.

TenderFix by Noah Schnapp is IHOP's third delivery-only venture.

The meals are prepared from about 1,000 IHOP locations. The chain is leaning into virtual brands, even as its sister chain, Applebee's, has pulled back on its delivery-only menu, called Cosmic Wings.

Virtual brands sell their menu items strictly through online orders, offering delivery-only meals that are prepared in ghost kitchen facilities like CloudKitchens, Kitchen United, or Reef Technology. Other times, these ghost menus are prepared inside brick-and-mortar restaurants like IHOP.

TenderFix's menu of chicken and plant-based "chik'n" sandwiches, sliders, tenders, and waffle fries was developed by Schnapp and the virtual brand company Nextbite.

Jay Johns, president of IHOP, said takeout and delivery sales are strong at the restaurant chain, in part driven by its three virtual brands.

"IHOP continues to see success in the growth of its virtual brands, including Thrilled Cheese, Super Mega Dilla, and now TenderFix," he said in a statement sent to Insider. "A majority of IHOP restaurants house two galley-style kitchens, allowing space and helps provide incremental sales and traffic during slower dayparts. Partnering with Noah Schnapp and Nextbite were a seamless fit to meet the consumer target for our newest Virtual Brand."

The menu uses Incogmeato, a plant-based chicken product by Morningstar Farms. SoftBank-backed Nextbite licenses delivery-only brands to restaurants looking to increase sales. IHOP also sells two other Nextbite brands, Supermegadilla, and Thrilled Cheese.

Schnapp, who plays the role of Will Byers in the popular Netflix series, said TenderFix is a menu developed to meet his college cravings. He attends the University of Pennsylvania.

"I'm a huge chicken sandwich fan and whenever I order food to my dorm room or during late night study sessions, a chicken sandwich is my go-to item," he said in a statement.

Delivery-only menus like TenderFix have erupted on apps like DoorDash and Uber Eats over the past five years. Uber Eats recently told Insider that it has "tens of thousands of virtual restaurant storefronts" listed on its app.

Food tech startup Nextbite, backed by SoftBank, is one of many companies creating delivery-only brands. Others include KitchData, Virtual Dining Concepts, C3, The Local Culinary, and ClusterTruck. Virtual Dining Concepts has one of the most popular delivery-only brands on the market – MrBeast Burger.

Nextbite's other celebrity-backed virtual brands include Packed Bowls by Wiz Khalifa and 'Wichcraft sandwiches by Tom Colicchio.

Even though there's been an ongoing boom in delivery-only food brands, operating virtual menus has been challenging as consumers return to in-restaurant dining in droves.

Last year, the fast-growth startup Nextbite had two rounds of layoffs.

Ghost kitchen Reef Technology, which sells licensed brands from kitchen trailers, has closed several of its mobile operations in cities around the US. Travis Kalanick's CloudKitchens has experienced multiple turnovers of restaurants at his ghost kitchens.

Even IHOP's sister chain, Applebee's, is pulling back on its virtual brand, Cosmic Wings. The chain first launched the Cheetos-flavored chicken wings in 2021. At one point, Cosmic Wings was prepared in more than 1,575 Applebee's kitchens in the US.

But this month, chain resident Tony Moralejo told trade magazine Restaurant Business that it is pumping the brakes on the brand, which is contributing to "operational complexities" as dine-in visits have returned to normal.

He said, "the brand and our franchisees are better off if we focus on our core menus, our core equities."