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Sushi Sushi’s CEO believes NFTs will be a “permanent fixture” within their business

First in QSR Media, Scott Meneilly elaborates on the business’ new way of thinking about the potential of blockchain technology across their operations.

Sushi Sushi made headlines across the country for touting itself as the first major retailer to accept cryptocurrency as a payment option for their Surfers Paradise store.

The winning bidder will get 100% of the net profits from the Cavill Avenue business, along with an exclusive NFT (non-fungible token), a unique cryptographic token that exists on a blockchain which cannot be replicated.

For CEO Scott Meneilly, welcoming these aspects of blockchain technology is not one and done, seeing enormous potential in this particular digital space.

“Our point of view is that NFTs will become a permanent fixture within our business. And it will continue to evolve throughout,” he told QSR Media in an exclusive interview.

Meneilly described the past two years as “challenging” for the sushi brand, but saw “encouraging signs” about how strong consumer sentiment was about going out and creating new experiences.

That, along with the appointments of David and Yuge Bromley as the brand’s directors of creative innovation, led to a “new way of thinking” that eventually brought them into considering blockchain-related initiatives.

The sushi chain credits the Bromleys for their latest experiential retail spaces, new sustainable packaging and bespoke artwork—which Meneilly specifically cited as their assets for NFTs. He hopes to merge the two worlds of traditional, mainstream retail and the digital space around NFTs in a way that “would make sense” to consumers.

“We started to create stores with interchangeable pedals. And those interchangeable pedals mean that you can actually literally transform your store overnight. So it starts to become more interactive, for our consumers and we can then give them a talking point.”

“We can merge those worlds and then have it turn into something that makes a lot of sense. Within the QSR space, collectibles are a very big thing,” he added. “If it's done correctly, we will have genuine engagement with people and then it can lead to sustainable benefits for individuals and, or the community.”

NFTs as store investment tool
Meneilly imagines NFTs as a means to lead consumers to loyalty programs, discounts and even charitable activities.

NFTs, he added, can also be a means for a crop of new investors to serve as stakeholders in one store of a group of stores, without the need to operate the business itself. There will also be opportunities for team members to be “granted” NFTs that will give them a percentage of profits.

“What people are doing in the traditional sense right now is they are buying a brick-and-mortar business going in, they are operating that business, and they're trying to make money on the back of that,” he explained. 

“You might choose to say, ‘I've got some money that I want to invest. I don't really want to invest $300,000 into a store and change my career path. But I'd love to be able to invest $25,000.’ There is a way that we can start to leverage shareholding ownership and start to tweak that franchise or investment model by being creative and using NFTs, blockchain and smart contracts.”

Meneilly shares his comments amid a growing interest by the global restaurant industry in the virtual reality as a marketplace, spearheaded by Facebook parent company Meta, which is investing heavily in its futuristic “metaverse” project.

Just this month, McDonald’s filed a number of trademarks, including “Operating a virtual restaurant featuring actual and virtual goods,” and “operating a virtual restaurant online featuring home delivery.” In October 2021, its China business launched its first NFT to commemorate its 31st anniversary in the market and the official opening of its new headquarters in Shanghai.

Panera, meanwhile, filed a trademark for “Paneraverse,” a request from the company to trademark its downloadable, virtual food and beverage items “for use in virtual worlds,” along with NFTs and the choice to buy actual goods in the virtual world to be delivered.

“This is a serious play,” Menielly said. “The best way to do that is to get involved. It's not about throwing out what we've done historically. It's not about saying we no longer care about cash, It's just about involvement and having our eyes wide open as to how the world is going to evolve.”

But is the Australian restaurant industry ready to enter the so-called Metaverse?

“Are we ready for it? My answer to that is absolutely, we are ready to move into this phase. Are we ready to transform our business completely into that phase? No, it's incredibly unknown at the moment, and it needs to be explored with great caution.”

Menielly expects to use the first quarter of the year to spend time on their strategic thinking through this. 

“Hopefully, by the end of March, we will be able to announce more publicly in terms of what our next phase is going to be and how that can be much more acceptable and accessible to the general public as opposed to a crypto millionaire.”

The business has been exploring various formats, including a hub and spoke offering, 10 square meter “micro” stores, outlets featuring sushi trains and stores within stores.

On potential acquisitions by parent company Odyssey Private Equity, Meneilly says the business may look at assets that serve a different area in Japanese cuisine.

Sushi Sushi is also looking to its NPD to address a year of increased food and staffing costs whilst stepping up on ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) strategies.

“We need to sort of buckle [up] for the next 18 months, knowing that it's going to be a very challenging environment. We have to try and plan for the unexpected, which is very hard.”

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