This week, NFTs of Olive Garden franchises emerged on the web. The collection, which contains 880 photos of Olive Garden franchises, was not made by the “Italian” chain restaurant itself. Instead, it was created by “a community of Olive Garden fans invested in both trustless future economies and delicious, reasonably-priced Italian fare,” according to the NFT project’s website.
By turning photos of Olive Garden locations into blockchain-based collectibles, the NFT project’s unidentified creator makes money off Olive Garden’s likeness. So far, all 880 have sold — along with 410 breadsticks.
Is this allowed? Not really. Because the Non Fungible Olive Garden project uses the Olive Garden name and logos, its legality is dubious at best. “I’d imagine Olive Garden could cobble together an IP infringement suit based on what’s happening here,” IP attorney Moish E. Peltz of Falcon Rappaport & Berkman told Input. NFT legal issues, like the lawsuit between Miramax and Quentin Tarantino, happen. But depending on Olive Garden’s goals, Peltz is not confident that legal action would accomplish much good.
It’s a ridiculous and nauseating cash grab, but at least it’s funny. “Breadsticks” are free and unlimited, available for just the gas cost charged by the Ethereum miners who provide computing power (around $16). Participant Shivkanth Bagavathy took the joke further by announcing a plan to give away free Andes Mints, another Olive Garden staple. On nonfungibleolivegardens.com, the creators proclaimed:
For too long, ownership of Olive Garden franchises has been dominated by the capricious whims of the fiat system. That’s why we’re enabling anyone to trustlessly mint a nonfungible token representing 1 of 880 real Olive Garden franchises in the United States. Our goal is to bootstrap a community of Olive Garden enthusiasts, which is why the franchise mint price is tethered to the reasonable cost of a Tour Of Italy entree ($19.99, as of Dec 20, 2021).
In the FAQ section, the people behind the project clarify that the purchase of an NFT doesn’t mean you own an actual Olive Garden. “While every Non-fungible Olive Garden is tethered to a real Olive Garden, ownership is currently limited to the Non-fungible Olive Garden Metaverse, granting owners no rights or privileges in meatspace Olive Gardens,” the site reads. “This may change in the future (see roadmap).”
You might then be wondering, “So am I buying a picture of an Olive Garden?”
No. Token artwork is for representation only and confers no ownership over the photograph. You're not purchasing art, you're purchasing ownership of a Non-Fungible Olive Garden franchise.”
Pay to play — Despite the website’s tongue-in-cheek tone, the project is at least a little bit legitimate: Olive Garden NFTs are listed on OpenSea and people are paying money to buy them. The original price, called “mint price,” was under $20. Currently, all the locations are sold out and resale prices are around $200 (not cheap, but it’s a hundred times less than the price of Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs).
WYHYF — The Discord activity started on Sunday, amassing over 400 members and throwing around “wyhyf” back and forth. Initially stumped by the jumble of letters, I soon realized it stands for “when you’re here, you’re family.”
Attention for Non-Fungible Olive Gardens picked up on Tuesday morning when the Twitter account “Crypto Bros Taking Ls” shared a screenshot of the project’s webpage, writing “It’s all so tiring.” In the Non Fungible Olive Garden Discord chat, the disparaging commentary was a good omen. The chat soon filled with optimistic remarks like “We goin viral boys” and “People fear italian dishes that they do not understand.”
Seriously... they’re kidding — Drew Coffman minted a random Olive Garden location and got Killeen, Texas — a place he’s never been before. He acknowledges that the project is silly, but to him, it’s a form of art. “I love the fact that someone took what is essentially Google Street View photos and metadata and turned it into an art project,” he told me. “Never before have me and my friends so minutely analyzed photos of a chain restaurant. ‘Oh, that one has great parking.’ ‘A night photo? So rare!’ and so on.”
Buying an NFT confers no real-world rights, but it can be a ticket to a gated community — NFTs have been called tokens to a “digital country club.” Coffman believes in the power of NFTs or tokens to bring people together, but he’s not expecting any bona fide friendships to come from his non-fungible Olive Garden. That said, he thinks “their Discord is really fun.”
Owners comment on each other’s franchises: like an Irving, Texas location shot with a Dutch angle or a Memphis location with the old-school logo. Some members are role-playing as true franchise owners and reveling in pride over their new token. “The chance to serve the metaverse with endless breadsticks, pasta, and salad is a beautiful mission,” one owner told me.
The handful of other non-fungible Olive Garden owners agreed that this particular NFT is more about having fun than making money. It’s like a trinket to add to the collection.
Bloomberg’s Matt Levine noted the social and legal difficulties of linking real-world objects — like actual Olive Gardens — to digital assets and the silly solution that this Non Fungible Olive Garden project has found: pretending to own the franchises. “Why would I want that? I don’t know,” he writes.
Want to actually run Olive Garden? Wink wink. The Non Fungible Olive Garden website contains a seven-stage plan that ultimately results in using project funds to “complete leveraged buyout of Darden Restaurants, Olive Garden's parent company. Upon successful completion,” it reads, “all NFOG franchise owners will now own real Olive Garden franchises.”
But nobody really seems to really believe it. “Is this brilliant satire?” a Discord member asked, to which another member immediately replied “no ser, this is an Olive Garden.”