You’ll Never Guess Which Celebrities Own Food Chains
The next time you bite into a Whopper … thank Magic Johnson? It’s surprisingly not uncommon for celebrities to own their own restaurant chain or fast food franchises. Read on to find out if any celebs own the burger joint you frequent.
1. Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi — House of Blues
The first House of Blues opened in 1992 with Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi financing the company along with Aerosmith, Paul Shaffer, River Phoenix, and others. Funnily enough, Aykroyd and Belushi starred in the movie The Blues Brothers — looks like they were staying on brand with their comedic musician characters.
After the first House of Blues opened in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the venue-restaurant opened locations in San Diego, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Orlando, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Houston, and more, all over the United States. Before Belushi’s death, the real-life Blues Brothers would be present for many House of Blues openings. In the photo above, Belushi’s brother Jim fills in as a Blues Brother with Aykroyd.
NEXT: He co-founded this Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant in 1994.
2. Robert De Niro — Nobu
Robert De Niro is not only an esteemed actor and director but also a sharp businessman. Japanese-Peruvian restaurant (what a fusion!) Nobu is now an empire that’s well respected in the food industry. It was first founded in 1994 with De Niro, chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa, and film producer and entrepreneur Meir Teper.
Now the trio owns a plethora of Nobu restaurants and hotels across the U.S. There are even locations in Europe — a hotel in London, United Kingdom, and two in Spain. You’re probably able to go to a Nobu in most major cities!
NEXT: This NBA player was smart to invest in the build-your-own-pizza craze.
3. LeBron James — Blaze Pizza
It’s a smart business move to invest in a trend that’s popular or will be popular. That’s what NBA player LeBron James found out when he invested in the build-your-own-pizza chain, Blaze Pizza. After putting in less than $1 million investment with his business partner and financial adviser, LeBron James was able to score himself a whopping $35 million in dough (at least in 2017), says ESPN.
That’s $35 million in cash, not pizza dough, FYI! How’d ESPN get this number? Well, Brentwood Associates estimated Blaze’s net worth at $250 million in 2017, and James owns 10% of the company. Ten percent of $250 million is $25 million, but some sources said James’ share was worth $35 million.
NEXT: This football player sold his franchises right before the NFL dissolved its agreement with this company.
4. Peyton Manning — Papa John’s
Football player Peyton Manning previously owned 31 Papa John’s franchises but sold them in February 2018, says a CNBC report. Interestingly, this was just days before Papa John’s and the NFL went their separate ways. Because of a longstanding agreement between Manning and the pizza company, he remained on as their spokesperson.
There’d previously been tension between Papa John’s and the NFL due to former Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter. Schnatter had blamed Papa John’s declining pizza sales on NFL players’ national anthem protests. It’s fair to say Schnatter almost became a founder that ruined his company.
NEXT: Next time you get ’za at the Sacramento International Airport, you have this Housewife to thank.
5. NeNe Leakes — Famous Famiglia
NeNe Leakes, Real Housewives of Atlanta (RHOA) star and entrepreneur, owns a Famous Famiglia franchise in the Sacramento International Airport. Random! But most of the items in this listicle are pretty random! There’s not a lot to expect from airport food, so the reviews on Yelp are pretty mixed. Take this review, for example:
“Took two bites and threw it away,” wrote Tony P. So maybe it’s not for everyone, but Leakes seemed proud of it when it first opened. “Comin through Sacramento CA airport anytime soon? Check out my new restaurant Famous Famiglia,” NeNe tweeted in 2011.
NEXT: Another former B-Baller invests in both Burger King and Starbucks.
6. Magic Johnson — Burger King, Starbucks
Through his Magic Johnson Enterprises, Magic Johnson has invested in a handful of companies, including burger chain Burger King and coffee chain Starbucks. Magic Johnson Enterprises has opened 29 Burger King restaurants, says a report from MSN. Interestingly, Johnson’s intentions seemed partially charitable. Johnson is such a nice guy, isn’t he?
With Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Johnson planned to open over 100 Starbucks locations in underserved neighborhoods. This initiative was part of Urban Coffee Opportunities. What a great guy! It’s amazing to see celebrities using their money and visibility for good.
NEXT: This restaurant is named after a huge country star’s song.
7. Toby Keith — I Love This Bar & Grill
“You’re going to love this bar and grill,” promises the website for the chain restaurant. “From the oversized artwork to the redneck loveseats (which are actually pickup tailgates), everything about this place is bigger and badder, just like the Big Dog Daddy himself!” Toby Keith licensed his name to the restaurant in 2005, says a report in SPIN.
The chain is named after Keith’s 2003 song, “I Love This Bar.” It proved to be profitable for Keith — Forbes estimated he earned $12 million from the restaurants in 2013. However, the success didn’t last and there are now only three locations open.
NEXT: Guess which one of the *NSYNC boys once had a hot dog stand …
8. Joey Fatone — Fat One’s Hot Dogs & Italian Ice
Singer, actor, and former *NSYNC member Joey Fatone is known for having a sense of humor. Take the name of his former hot dog stand, playing off the unfortunate moniker he was known by for years (Fatone, Fat One — get it?). We know it’s not a chain buuuut we gotta mention Fat One’s opening to much fanfare in The Florida Mall.
Many *NSYNC fans couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the brick-and-mortar. This Fat One’s mall location has since closed, but they do operate out of a food truck around town, says Orlando Weekly. Next time you visit Orlando, keep an eye out for the Fat One.
NEXT: Like Magic Johnson, one of the richest singers and songwriters has a charitable streak.
9. Jon Bon Jovi — JBJ Soul Kitchen
“One soul at a time,” is Jon Bon Jovi’s strategy to empower and feed those in need, says a 2019 report in CNN. The singer and songwriter started his nonprofit Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation to do exactly that. Based in Philadelphia, Bon Jovi told CNN he was inspired to give back after observing homelessness.
JBJ Soul Kitchen is a farm-to-table restaurant that lives up to the mission of Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation. Anyone can come in and eat, regardless of their ability to pay. Those that are in need can volunteer their time for a meal. Paying patrons can buy a “pay it forward” card.
NEXT: This rapper is involved with an upscale soul spot at the Atlanta airport.
10. Ludacris — Chicken + Beer
So … it’s not really a chain (sue me), but Chris “Ludacris” Bridges partnered with Jackmont Hospitality, Inc. to bring restaurant Chicken + Beer to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Stop by Concourse D, Gate D5 to check it out! The upscale soul food restaurant is named after the rapper’s third album, Chicken-n-Beer. (Musicians naming restaurants after their musical projects isn’t new — see Toby Keith!)
The items on the menu look pretty delish. Loaded Rosemary Tater Tots, Black-Eyed Pea Hummus, and the Collard Green Bowl sound mouthwatering. It’s also got some of the traditional items found in soul food joints like mac ’n’ cheese, grits, slaw, and more, with a modern twist.
NEXT: One of his restaurants once earned a scathing review in The New York Times.
11. Guy Fieri — Chicken Guy!, Guy Fieri’s Kitchen + Bar, and more
The star of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives has provided consumers with his favorite foods to purchase through his variety of restaurants. Guy Fieri has various Guy Fieri’s Kitchen + Bar locations, Guy Fieri’s El Burro Borracho, Guy Fieri’s Chophouse, Guy’s Bar-B-Que Joint, Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse, Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse, Chicken Guy!, Guy’s Sammich Joint, and Guy’s Burger Joint.
So clearly the Mayor of Flavortown has a food empire with lots of restaurants. He’s probably best known for Johnny Garlic’s, a chain Fieri has since sold, says a report in Eater, but there are plenty more restaurants for Fieri fans to enjoy and visit over and over again.
NEXT: Kanye West bought Kim Kardashian 10 of these as a wedding present.
12. Kanye West and Kim Kardashian — Burger King
Rapper Kanye West bought Kim Kardashian 10 Burger Kings franchises in Europe as a wedding gift, says a 2014 report in NME (originally reported by Gawker). The franchises are located in the United Kingdom, Italy, and France. In addition to Kim Kardashian’s Burger King restaurants, Kanye West has several Fatburger franchises of his own.
Apparently, West thought that international Burger Kings were “a perfect fit” for Kardashian. “That’s where he sees her future career, away from reality TV,” an unnamed source was reported as saying. Running some Burger Kings, in Europe no less, is probably not a bad alternative career …
NEXT: Rapper Nas helped to expand this restaurant nationally.
13. Nas — Sweet Chick
Rapper Nas joined with John Seymour, owner of chicken-and-waffles full-service chain restaurant Sweet Chick, to open more restaurants. Nas helped expand Sweet Chick nationally, says a 2019 report by MSN. “When conceptualizing Sweet Chick, we understood the history of chicken and waffles,” Billboard reported John Seymour saying in a statement.
“[We] wanted to have an amazing product while paying homage to its roots within the music community of NYC.” It just so happened that Nas was one of Seymour’s favorite rappers. Music has a huge influence on Sweet Chick, making Nas a natural fit for the Sweet Chick team. Look for a Sweet Chick near you!
NEXT: This band is known for expanding their brand outside of music in interesting ways.
14. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley — Rock & Brews
KISS members Gene Simmons (bass) and Paul Stanley (rhythm guitarist and co-lead vocalist) co-founded restaurant chain Rock & Brews. When the concert promoter Dave Furano and his brother (and restaurateur) Michael Zislis got together backstage with Simmons and Stanley postconcert, they decided it was time to form Rock & Brews.
“A spontaneous brainstorming session ensued, engaging the minds, talents, and creative energies of the … friends,” says the bio on Rock & Brews’ website. “Bound together by their love of rock music, great beer, and outstanding food, Rock & Brews was born.”
NEXT: Guess which one of the Williams sisters is involved with Jamba Juice?
15. Venus Williams — Jamba Juice
It’s only natural a tennis star like Venus Williams would be involved with a health chain — rather, a quasi-health chain, like Jamba Juice. Williams’ Jamba Juice franchises are located in the Washington, D.C. area. “It is extremely exciting to open my fourth Jamba Juice location and continue expanding the brand’s presence in the DC metro area,” said Venus Williams in a 2014 statement.
“I am pleased to know this location will have a positive impact on the local community through not only our products, but also through various programs and fundraisers,” the statement continued.
NEXT: He raps about this chain’s lemon pepper wings in his songs, says Boston.com.
16. Rick Ross — Wingstop
The rapper Rick Ross owns nine Wingstop locations across the U.S. The brand is known for its classic and boneless chicken wings and sides like Louisiana Voodoo Fries and Buffalo Ranch Fries. Rick Ross is such a fan that he’s even rapped about the lemon pepper wings.
In his song, “Burn,” for example, Ross raps: “Major real estate, them Wingstops must be doin’ nice / Trappin’ lemon pepper, got me movin’ two a night.” Ross’ lyrical chicken fascination offers the possibility for loads of double-entendres. See writer Brent Bradley’s rundown of Rick Ross’ chicken lyrics in publication DJBooth for a deeper analysis.
NEXT: Of course Mr. 305 would partner with a business in the same area code.
17. Pitbull — Miami Grill
It’s fair to say that Pitbull is all for all things Florida. So, why not partner with Florida chain Miami Grill? The Latin hip-hop artist became a joint equity holder in Miami Grill in 2012, says Miami Grill’s website. Mr. 305 also opened a steakhouse called iLov305 (of course), which pays homage to his Miami area code and nickname.
Miami Grill has been known by various names. It started as one restaurant called Mr. Submarine in Key West, Florida, in 1988, says the bio on its website. It grew as Miami Subs in the ’90s. Now Miami Grill, expect dishes like cheesesteaks, Greek gyros, and burgers.
NEXT: This NFL player is a co-owner in a New Orleans-inspired chain.
18. Drew Brees — Dunkin’ Donuts, Jimmy John’s, and more
NFL football player Drew Brees has his mitts on several different kinds of chains. MSN notes he owns Dunkin’ Donuts and Jimmy John’s locations, has invested in Small Sliders, and co-owns chain Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar. Formerly on the San Diego Chargers (the Chargers are also formerly of San Diego >:| booo), Brees became acquainted with Walk-On’s when he changed teams.
Drew Brees had just moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, in 2006 after being traded to the New Orleans Saints, says the bio on Walk-On’s website. “He often reflects on his first visit saying that he instantly knew if he were to ever open a restaurant or sports bar, it would be just like Walk-On’s,” reads the website.
NEXT: This singer-songwriter turned his popular song into a brand.
19. Jimmy Buffett — Margaritaville
“Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville / Searchin’ for my long lost shaker of salt / Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame / But I know it’s nobody’s fault / Don’t know the reason / Stayed here all season,” goes the Jimmy Buffett song, “Margaritaville.” Clearly it’s not only a song, it’s a lifestyle.
Not only is he one of the richest singers and songwriters, Jimmy Buffett is the proprietor of the Margaritaville brands. Consisting of 30 locations all over the world, businesses that are part of Margaritaville are LandShark Bar & Grill, Cheeseburger in Paradise, Air Margaritaville, and 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar & Grill.
NEXT: Dunkin’ Donuts is a popular one for celebrities to own.
20. Shaquille O’Neal — Auntie Anne’s, Krispy Kreme, and more
The four-time NBA champ has Auntie Anne’s locations (MSN says 17), an Atlanta-based Krispy Kreme, a Las Vegas-based Big Chicken restaurant, and got on the board of directors of nationwide pizza chain Papa John’s. CNN Money says that athletes might sometimes struggle postretirement. Definitely not Mr. O’Neal! He’s THRIVING.
Writer Sergei Klebnikov cites a surprising stat in the 2019 CNN article: 60% of players go broke once leaving the NBA. Clearly not Shaq! He had a lucrative basketball career (making $300 million) and continued the money-making streak after retiring in 2011.
NEXT: There’s a TV show about this chain now available on A&E On Demand.
21. Mark Wahlberg — Wahlburgers
Wahlburgers is a family affair. Chef Paul Wahlberg set out to create a menu of the things that he and his eight siblings ate as children taken to what the bio on their website describes as “another Wahlberg-ian level.” (Not sure what that means?) You guessed it — Mark Wahlberg is one of these eight siblings.
On the menu are items like Wahl Sauce, various hamburgers, Mom’s Sloppy Joe, a portobello sandwich, onion rings, tater tots, macaroni salad, chili, housemade frappes, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, and more. There’s a reality TV show about the chain called Wahlburgers on A&E.
NEXT: This vegan restaurant definitely suits this Southern California singer’s hippie vibes.
22. Jason Mraz — Café Gratitude
With two Los Angeles locations, a Venice location, and its San Diego location, Café Gratitude serves up 100% organic, plant-based (aka vegan and vegetarian), healthy, and seasonal food. San Diego local Jason Mraz has invested in the brand for a while, saying that clean eating helped win him a Grammy.
Turns out the singer-songwriter is very into food. He even lives on a farm in San Diego with his wife, chef Christina Carano. “I was starting to pay attention to what I put in my body, and Café Gratitude facilitated that,” Mraz told Forbes in 2016.
NEXT: This chain made an appearance in one episode of Seinfeld. Kramer ends up getting super into the chain’s menu.
23. Kenny Rogers — Kenny Rogers Roasters
This restaurant was a collaboration between country singer Kenny Rogers and Kentucky’s former governor, John Y. Brown, says the Kenny Rogers Roasters website. The chicken-centric restaurant first opened its doors in Coral Springs, Florida, in 1991. The chain was famously featured in a Seinfeld episode — Kramer becomes upset with the restaurant’s bright neon sign outside his apartment.
Kramer gets over this inconvenience when he becomes addicted to the restaurant’s rotisserie chicken. Kenny Rogers Roasters got good reviews but went bankrupt in 1998 and sold to hot dog chain Nathan’s, says the website How Stuff Works. Oh, Seinfeld’s so silly.
NEXT: The chain this celebrity co-owns is inspired by the Wild West.
24. Ted Turner — Ted’s Montana Grill
Part of Turner Enterprises, Inc., Ted’s Montana Grill was launched in Columbus, Ohio, in 2002. The description of the chain on Ted Turner’s website states the chain “is inspired by the Old West during simple times when saloons served up real food and drinks, and genuine hospitality was a virtue.”
Some people really appreciate something that throws back to “simpler times.” There are 43 Montana Grills in 17 states, notes Ted Turner’s website. It’s also apparently eco-friendly (seeing that it specializes in bison dishes, that’s a little hard to believe, but OK).
NEXT: This restaurant had investments from major all-star sports professionals, perhaps earning its iconic name.
25. Andre Agassi, Wayne Gretzky, and Joe Montana — All Star Café
In this photo, athletes Andre Agassi, Joe Montana, and Wayne Gretzky attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the Official All Star Café on August 24, 1995, at Bertelsmann Building, 1540 Broadway in New York City. This place joined the list of restaurants that flopped but there was an excitement about the restaurant at first.
These three athletes invested in the brand owned by Planet Hollywood. There were 10 locations of All Star Café, with the first one opening in Times Square, New York City, in 1995. All Star Café extended the brand further with a hotel opposite Madison Square Garden.
NEXT: This star’s chain’s rapid expansion led to its eventual demise.
26. Minnie Pearl — Minnie Pearl’s Chicken
Named after the actress and comedienne Minnie Pearl (real name Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon), Minnie Pearl’s Chicken expanded to 500 locations in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Like Burger Chef, it expanded too quickly, which partly led to its demise, says Business Insider. Also, Minnie’s didn’t have a set menu or recipes.
Consumers would have expected a chain restaurant to be the same whether it’s in San Francisco, California, or Athens, Georgia. There were regular customer complaints and an SEC investigation into the restaurant’s accounting practices, says Mental Floss.
NEXT: This baseball Hall of Famer owns quite a few fast food franchises around Atlanta, Georgia.
27. Hank Aaron — Popeyes, Krispy Kreme
Hank Aaron is a baseball Hall of Famer and proud owner of numerous Popeyes and Krispy Kreme restaurants. MSN says that Aaron owns over 20 Popeyes and several Krispy Kreme locations in and around Atlanta, Georgia. These locations are operated by his company 755 Restaurant Corp. With Billye Aaron, Hank founded the company in 1995.
According to the bio on 755 Restaurant Corp’s website, they first had two Church’s Chicken locations. It isn’t uncommon for athletes to delve into business postretirement. Take a look at the individuals on our list for instance: Wayne Gretzky, Shaq, Magic Johnson, Venus Williams, and many more!
NEXT: This athlete has counted Papa John’s, Outback Steakhouse, and Dunkin’ Donuts locations as his own.
28. Jamal Mashburn — Papa John’s, Outback Steakhouse, Dunkin’ Donuts
Count Papa John’s, Outback Steakhouses and Dunkin’ franchises as part of former NBA player Jamal Mashburn’s portfolio. He also owns some car dealerships, says MSN. Mashburn retired from his NBA career (which included a stint with the Miami Heat from 1996 to 1999) in 2004. From there, he went to work in business.
He was inspired to go into business when he was a kid commuting from Harlem in NYC to his downtown school. “When I got on that train, I’d see people, men and women, carrying briefcases,” Jamal Mashburn told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 2018. “I was always curious of what was in that briefcase. That’s when the dream started.” Now, Mashburn has a briefcase of his own.
NEXT: Burger King makes one last appearance on our list.
29. Michael Strahan — Burger King
Another former NFL player also owns a fast food chain! (See Drew Brees on slide number 18, dear reader.) Michael Strahan owns Burger Kings in the great state of Virginia, notes MSN. Boston.com says in a 2007 report that this was part of a deal by Burger King Corp. (the company responsible for any and all Burger Kings) to “grow its presence in urban areas.”
As a result, Burger King hoped that this would “raise its urban profile,” says the Boston.com report. When former New England Patriots running back Kevin Faulk saw that the Burger Kings were in predominantly black neighborhoods and that players like Michael Strahan were involved, he got in on the deal too.
NEXT: Mild controversy was started after it was discovered this golfer procured the rights to a certain burger chain …
30. Phil Mickelson — Five Guys
Professional golfer Phil Mickelson owns the rights to Five Guys franchises in Southern California, says MSN. Like In-N-Out, Five Guys is also a burger chain. When Mickelson got his Five Guys, there was some mild controversy over him not picking In-N-Out. (I guess you can’t please everyone … ) “I grew up on In-N-Out,” CNBC reported Mickelson saying in 2010.
“I thought that was the best burger until I had Five Guys. That is hands down the best burger I’ve ever had.” Wow, that’s an intense statement. To add salt to the wound (or fries?), Mickelson admitted he had had Five Guys for six days in a row once. Fans and sports writers pondered if this statement was influenced by the fact that he owns the rights to some Five Guys locations.
I think, why own the rights if you don’t even like the product?