Ben Leventhal’s latest food-focused startup just raised $24 million to put restaurants’ customer data on the blockchain

Resy and Eater cofounder Ben Leventhal created blockchain-based Blackbird Labs in April as both a loyalty program for diners and as a way for restaurants to collect customer data.

On Wednesday, the company announced a $24 million funding round led by a16z, with participation from AMEX Ventures and fintech investor Bolt by QED, as well as Union Square Ventures, Shine, Variant, and several restaurant groups. Leventhal told Fortune the funds give the company significant runway, and that the funding will go toward scaling up operations as well as marketing.

Running a restaurant has always been a tough business, but the pandemic obviously made it worse. According to the National Restaurant Association, 85% of restaurant operators say their business is less profitable now than it was in 2019, despite a resurgence of people going out to eat.

Blackbird, which is built on Coinbase’s Layer-2 Base blockchain, helps restaurants harness customer data to increase profitability, Leventhal, Blackbird’s CEO, told Fortune.

“For Blackbird, it really does come back to starting with that connectivity, and giving restaurants the leverage to know who their best customers are, their potentially best customers are, and to get in front of those people and to connect with them and to communicate with them in a very direct and efficient way,” he explained.

Customers entering a participating restaurant can tap their phone on an NFC (near field communication) reader to create a Blackbird membership in the form of an NFT. Through a partnership with Web3 company Privy, users can quickly get a self-custody crypto wallet by just typing in their phone number. As customers continue to visit participating restaurants they’ll earn credits in the the company’s own cryptocurrency, FLY, which soon will be redeemable for perks like discounts, specialty dishes, or access to private events.

In just months, the company has added about 100 restaurants as customers and has fully integrated its technology into 22 of them. Leventhal said he’s hopeful to onboard thousands more over the next year. 

“It’s seamless,” he added, “and hopefully it feels like magic.”

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