On New Year’s Eve, a burgeoning crypto project received what could be a death knell: a copyright takedown notice from a corporate giant. The company demanded that the crypto project immediately stop using the words “Olive Garden” and associated phrases like “unlimited free hot and delicious breadsticks from Non-Fungible Olive Gardens.” 

So, what on earth is a “Non-Fungible Olive Garden” and why is Darden Restaurants, the multi-billion dollar holding company that owns the fast-casual Italian dining chain, going after them? Well, the crypto project Non-Fungible Olive Gardens, known as NFOG for short, has minted a collection of NFTs depicting real-world Olive Gardens, plus a complementary set of tokens called Breadsticks. The stated aim of the project (which is possibly satirical) is to form a community to “revolutionize” the restaurant chain, culminating in a leveraged buyout of the Olive Garden brand from Darden. 

Of course, the project acknowledges that owning one of its 880 Franchise tokens doesn’t confer ownership of physical franchises—or any rights to physical Olive Garden restaurants. The only thing NFOG token holders are doing is owning pieces of the “OG Metaverse”—a virtual world where Olive Garden-themed tokens can change hands free of physical obligations. 

“So honestly, it sort of started out as a community joke from people who are fans of the project,” Azeem Khan, an NFOG holder and early contributor to the project told me over Twitter DMs.

Hilarious and absurd as the NFOG situation may be, it could actually represent the future of NFTs. Various crypto bigwigs have opined over the years that the power of non-fungible tokens lies in the communities that coalesce around them, and the ability of those groups to create value and coordinate actions without the permission of the principal—whether that’s a singer, actor, or even a restaurant chain. This idea is perhaps best articulated by former Andreessen Horowitz investor Jesse Walden as “the new fan club.”

The New Fan Club 

The “new fan club” idea is an animating principle behind much of the thinking around a crypto-fied creator economy. The argument goes like this: creators and artists in the Web2 world essentially have to pay a tax to platforms for hosting and distributing their content. If those creators didn’t need to pay that “tax”, they would capture a lot more of the value they generated.

Now, add another ingredient: Suppose the creator’s fans could actually inject capital into a new album, artwork or clothing line, free of intermediaries. The creator now has a new way to raise capital. And then suppose those fans could be rewarded with crypto-tokens that can be bought or sold at any time. If the project goes well, demand for those tokens might rise, leading to a higher price. Suddenly, the fans have a strong incentive to own those tokens and to help the project succeed.

One final twist: The creator might have nothing to do with a token issued by the fans. Since crypto tokens are permissionless and decentralized, any group of fans could, in theory, get together to create a token that represents their interest in a project or a creator. This is what is happening now with Non-Fungible Olive Gardens. 

How NFOG happened

Khan, the early contributor, told me that the idea of tokenized non-fungible photos of Olive Gardens started out as an in-joke on the Friends with Benefits Discord server. Friends With Benefits is itself a social token project that requires holding 75 FWB tokens (currently worth about $4,000) and an approved membership application in order to gain full access. It’s sort of like Soho House—without the house–and it’s also populated by the same sort of creative types, but with a Web3 and DAOs, spin. It’s just the sort of crowd that would find NFT Olive Gardens hilarious. (Full disclosure: I hold FWB.) 

“A bunch of people who love Olive Garden decided to just start it,” Khan told me. “And it was a big joke but we started to see that it was becoming something the community was rallying around more.” 

The NFOG project now has 514 token holders, according to data compiled on Dune Analytics. Some 4.5 ETH was raised from the initial mint of the NFTs, worth about $14,400 or so at current prices. Each of the 880 Olive Garden NFTs was minted for $19.99 each (the price of a ‘Tour of Italy’ entree, as noted on the official website). 

The NFOG project follows in the grand tradition of crypto jokes that end up with real-world impact. Dogecoin, of course, started out as a joke—its creator wanted to illustrate the absurdity of crypto coins by whipping one up himself. Some eight years later, the world’s richest man regularly tweets about Dogecoin and it has a market value of $20 billion. Starting out as a joke is hardly the most ignominious beginning for a crypto project. 

Where NFOG is headed

The other thing about crypto projects, besides the ability to transcend comedy status into a serious piece of a billion dollar asset class, is the fact that they’re open-source. Anyone can fork a project’s source-code and build something new, and similarly, various projects can also interact with one another. That’s precisely what happened with NFOG: Khan and a cohort of designers and developers came up with $BSTICK, a fungible extension of NFOG. If you hold NFOG tokens, you can also get BSTICK for free. 

You can earn BSTICK tokens by doing things like leaving a review of an Olive Garden on Yelp, or sharing a photo of yourself eating at an Olive Garden on social media. You can also earn them by pumping liquidity—locking up funds in a smart contract—into BSTICK trading on a decentralized exchange. 

BSTICK tokens are trading at about one cent right now, but the future is looking bright for the appetizer-inspired project, according to Khan. “We're already talking to companies for merch and actually speaking to two separate olive oil companies about doing something together, hah!” he said. 

NFOG stands as an example of the possibilities for the “new fan club.” It started as a community of fans creating a token, and then fans created tokens that interact with the original token in just the way Walden hypothesized. And as predicted, the creators don’t even have to be involved in the genesis of the token projects. 

The idea is spreading. Now there’s a joke Non-Fungible Applebee’s Twitter account, and apparently a group of Blockbuster fans want to raise money to acquire the brand using a DAO and build a new business with it. Crypto is allowing fan-clubs to bolt on bank accounts and trading desks—and it’s all happening with or without the blessings of the original creators. 

“This is really just an unofficial next-gen version of loyalty rewards points with brands,” Khan told me. “Hoping that Darden ends up seeing that way. Plan on speaking to them.” 

The NFOG official Twitter account seems to agree that there’s a future despite Darden’s current ire. It tweeted “the reports of our death are greatly exaggerated,” in response to a fan’s epitaph “rest in pasta.” 

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