A fried quail egg with a semi-smiley face on top of a burger has just sparked a brand new restaurant phenomenon: food cosplay.
Call it edible anime or call it an act of brilliance, but it turns out that if you dress up your food to look like your favorite anime characters, customers will come in droves. This is the case at Plan Check Kitchen + Bar—a burgeoning burger chain in LA known for putting ketchup leather on its burgers—which seems to have struck gold with the concept.
"It's off the charts, like pure and utter insanity," says Terry Heller, Plan Check's founder and owner. "When we first partnered with Sanrio and participated in their Hungry Hunt last year, something like 80 people lined up outside our restaurant just to eat Hello Kitty-themed food. I'd compare the power of this subculture to sneakerheads."
Heller would know, since he used to own a sneaker store inside Fred Segal before he opened up Plan Check. He came up with the idea last year and recounts the expressions on the faces of his befuddled staff. "They looked at me like I was crazy the first time I brought it up."
When I visited the Sawtelle Boulevard location in West LA—a neighborhood that was officially recognized as "Little Osaka" a few months back—during the second week of the restaurant's month-long food cosplay menu, it was nearly full of both adults and children. At least half of the diners were enjoying the three-course menu inspired by Gudetama ("lazy egg" in Japanese), the newest food-based character from Sanrio.
It was clear that enjoying the food meant spending just as much time taking photos—including obligatory selfies—with the fried pork belly sausage-wrapped whole egg, quail egg sliders, and chocolate egg custard as eating it. "We've had customers come dressed up like Gudetama to eat our Gudetama menu, and customers who even bring their own extra Gudetama accessories to add to our burgers for better photo opportunities—things like novelty egg shells," says Justin Nelson. one of Plan Check's general managers.
More importantly, no one seemed to mind waiting an extra 30 minutes for their Gudetama-stamped sliders to arrive, since the kitchen had to expedite an extra shipment of the tiny rice sheets printed with a smiley face from another one of their locations just to keep up with demand.
"None of us ever anticipated how well-received this would be. On weekends, if we didn't cap our orders due to us running out of the novelty T-shirt that came with each one, we would be able sell upwards of 1,600 covers at least. We're going to sell thousands and thousands of meals inspired by Gudetama by the time this collaboration is over," Heller says.
According to Heller, though, the most fascinating part of this subculture is how it is changing the perception of dining alone. "I saw a girl, maybe around 17 years old, in the corner of one of our restaurants, happily eating all by herself. Then I saw another one around the same age range doing the same, and then another one. As a restaurant owner, I think this is powerful and a crazy thing to see, because you don't ever see young people eating [prix-fixe menus] in restaurants by themselves."
"We're already working on our next collaboration with Hello Kitty and we're pretty stoked," Heller concludes.