The rise of fast-casual dining and NIL activations 

With restaurants accounting for 5% of national NIL brand spend, multiple fast-casual restaurants are partnering with student-athletes to spread the word about store openings and new meal options. 

Let’s explore five fast-casual restaurants activating with student-athletes to gain brand exposure and increase traffic for key events. 


Three college students founded sweetgreen in 2006 after being disappointed by the healthy food options on campus. It’s only fitting that the salad chain, now in nearly 20 states, is including student-athletes in its marketing plans. 

Last October, sweetgreen entered into NIL deals withTexas Christian University athletes to promote the new store opening near campus. Athletes posted about the grand opening on Instagram, sharing how people could attend a pre-opening tasting event in honor of the store’s debut. 

With new stores opening earlier this year near the campuses of the University of Michigan and University of Minnesota, sweetgreen sent deals to student-athletes to promote the store openings. 

With healthier food options flocking to college towns, student-athletes promoting sweetgreen is a smart partnership. 


With over 240 locations, Smashburger has quickly become a popular restaurant amongst burger fans. Smashburger partnered with several athletes to promote the new Double Classic Smash and Double Bacon Smash menu offerings. 

Slim Chickens 

Founded in Fayetteville, Arkansas in 2003, Slim Chickens stuck to its roots and signed NIL deals with five University of Arkansas student-athletes. Dubbed the Student-Athlete Council, the athletes will be acting as Slim Chickens spokespersons in the community through community projects, campus events and charitable events at the stores. 

Arkansas football player Bumper Pool, the Student Athlete Council Chairman, said the partnership was a “no-brainer” in a news release announcing the partnership. 

“This is a new and different way to be involved in the Fayetteville community, and I can’t wait to make Slimthusiasts out of more students at Arkansas,” he added. 


NIL isn’t just for big brands and business.  

Muchachos, a local restaurant and food truck in Lincoln, Nebraska, is proof that NIL is for every athlete and every business. Owner Nick Maestas saw the NIL rule change as an avenue to support student-athletes in his community and get some exposure. 

“Opendorse helping small businesses like Muchachos partner with local student-athletes is changing the game. Not only do we get some of the best athletes to rep our brand, we get to fill their pockets with cash and their bellies with smoked meats! We see this as a partnership that’s mutually beneficial to both parties: We want them to make bank and we want to sell a stadium full of Hatch Mac Burritos. At the end of the day, it’s about getting student-athletes well-deserved compensation for their NIL.” –Nick Maestas 

First signing deals with Volleyball setter Nicklin Hames and then huskers long snapper cade Mueller, Maestas then partnered with the entire Huskers offensive line. 

There were over 600,000 combined Twitter impressions and 64,517 engagements from Huskers student-athletes, over 23x larger than their combined audience.  

Muchachos sales saw a 104% increase week-over-week after the Nebraska press conference announcing the partnership. 


Chipotle was quick to jump into the NIL scene in 2021 when the burrito behemoth signed deals with University of Connecticut women’s basketball player Azzi Fudd and University of Georgia softball player Jaiden Fields. The first two student-athletes the fast-casual Mexican restaurant partnered with promoted the “Real Food for Real Athletes” platform. 

Last September, Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson starred in a Chipotle commercial. Henderson and the Buckeye’s starting offensive line received NIL deals as part of the partnership.  



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