Kevin Hart's Quick-Serve Startup Finds the Right Brand Recipe
"Plant-based for the people." That's how actor/comedian Kevin Hart describes Hart House, the restaurant chain he launched last year.
The QSR opened two Southern California locations in 2022. In the next year or so, along with local expansion, Hart House hopes to launch in Atlanta, New York, Washington D.C., and Kevin’s hometown of Philadelphia.
To generate buzz, creative efforts naturally incorporate Hart’s larger-than-life personality, but also rely on messaging separate from the star's persona. The "Only Plants" campaign surfaced last October. Developed with Denver agency Cactus, the work suggestively sexes up healthy cuisine, spoofing the OnlyFans phenomenon specifically and notions of food porn in general.
A website issues this saucy warning: "Explicit content ahead. Some viewers may experience uncontrollable salivation." The Deluxe Crispy Chick’n Sandwich is paired with the question: "What do you wanna taste first? Me or the champagne?"
Marcus Byrd, director of brand and marketing, spoke to Muse about the promotional plans designed to help the start-up grow. He talks ad campaigns, accessibility, charitable giving and the importance of Black-owned businesses.
MUSE: How are you looking to differentiate yourselves in the QSR space?
MARCUS BYRD: From a brand perspective we say that we are a vehicle for change. That speaks to Kevin's desire to leave a lasting impact with his legacy and to do something for the betterment of the world. Kevin grew up in a single-parent household eating a lot of quick service foods, like fast food. As someone who now practices healthy eating habits, the idea came to him to make quick service foods plant-based, healthier and accessible to everybody.
Can you expand on the accessibility factor?
From a planning perspective, accessibility is one way to explain the whole concept. There's accessibility in terms of the price factor. Our meals are $12.50 max. And when you go to some other plant-based purveyors in Los Angeles and throughout the country, a burger, fries and a drink might cost you close to $30. Another piece of accessibility is the kind of food that we serve: burgers, sandwiches, shakes. By having such a comfort food-focused menu, you break down barriers about plant-based food. And a third piece of that accessibility is the geographic locations, those that don’t have a lot of plant-based options—like our newest restaurant in Monrovia (in California's San Gabriel Valley).
As you have opened your second location, what are you most proud of so far from a marketing standpoint?
There are some vanity metrics. To say that we have two locations and over 120,000 followers on Instagram is awesome. It gives us tremendous reach for a two-location brand. We did an amazing activation with Kevin, where we had guests come up and buy food, and then we asked if they wanted to speak to the chef. The chef was actually Kevin waiting in the wings. I do want to emphasize that while Kevin is involved as an amplification factor—and he's the reason we exist—I want to make sure that people understand the brand beyond Kevin. So, in a lot of the work, the focus is on the actual food. Because the fact that you love Kevin will only take you to a restaurant so many times. You have to love the food, you have to love the service. You have to love what the brand stands for.
That brings us to 'Only Plants,' the parody campaign. What was the inspiration there?
Those are some of the most fun days that you have at your job. I was literally sitting with my team and riffing about how we can suggestively incorporate plants into the way people see our food. Plants are attractive, so we wanted to really showcase that.
The community and charitable aspect is a priority for you, correct?
For every market that we open in, we're going to have charity partners. We're working with Inner City Arts, which is a program throughout the Los Angeles metro that helps students get involved with all sorts of physical and performance arts. We have some campaigns coming out with them around Earth Day in April. And then as we've opened our location in Monrovia, we partnered with the Boys and Girls Club of the Foothills. Around the holidays, we did a great campaign—a holiday give back—where we matched all of the sales from each location on a particular day and gave that back to each organization.
Can we talk about the importance of supporting the Black community and Black-owned and founded brands?
At the end of the day, I think everybody just wants to have a level playing field. And when you look at the disparities ... the Black median household income is seven times less than our white counterparts. And so how do we fix that? A lot of that comes with political representation and with economic representation. And so what better way to to build some of those foundations than through Black ownership?