Wednesday, January 05, 2011

What Happens When...a restaurant crowdfunds

I don't usually write up things that are in the NYT unless I am responding to an article or critiquing it. I figure that if something is in the Times, it will get enough traction that it doesn't need any more help from me. Today, however, I read about something that mixes two of my obsessions - food and crowdsourcing, and I think it is relevant to filmmakers too. In an article by Frank Bruni (whose food writing has improved now that he's no longer THE food critic) about pop-up restaurants, he reports on the efforts of John Fraser, the chef of Dovetail, to open a temporary restaurant in SoHo called What Happens When.

The article is worth a read if you like restaurants. He's taken over a space for just nine months and knows that even if he can extend his lease monthly, it will eventually end (the building is being demolished). He can experiment. Have fun, see what happens when....How Fraser is doing this, however, is quite brilliant and barely mentioned in the article (because it wasn't the writer's point) - he's crowdfunding part of his budget and even crowd-sourcing the ever-changing theme of the restaurant. Every month, they will change everything about the restaurant to fit a theme. The layout, the design of the menus, the food...everything. Anyone who donates to the campaign, no matter the dollar amount, can suggest a theme for the restaurant. They'll pick one each month and give you credit. Everyone who donates gets their name on the wall at the restaurant too. Those who donate more get premium gifts, with $2500 getting you a lot of cool things plus dinner for two.

This is the first time I've heard of a chef using Kickstarter. I've seen it used very successfully by filmmakers, artists, musicians and even product designers, but to my knowledge this is the first chef doing it. Everyone who uses Kickstarter gives something back in return, which Fraser is doing as well, but I looove that he's taken the concept further by also letting the crowd give input on the theme. Note that he's not just randomly letting the crowd decide, he (and his team) make the final decision, and they interpret how to roll out the theme. That's smart. Creativity works better that way, but it does allow the audience/crowd/consumer to get some say in the process. Those who have a theme chosen will undoubtedly tell others about it, and this will bring more business as well. Smart. Other artists should think about how to use this idea in their campaigns - you can still be the artist, but getting some more participation might help when it comes time to exhibit that art (film, music, whatever).

I also really like that he has partnered with a composer, photographer and two designers to make this happen. He gets additional creative input, but I bet more than a few customers will show up just because they like that composer's work, or are his friends. Sure, every restaurant works with designers, but what's different here is that they are a central part of the team. They are part of the advertising, and part of the fundraising and (presumably from how things are written) they are creatively and economically involved in many aspects of the idea. Wouldn't it be great if this is how we thought of our crew on a film - as partners, not just someone hired for the month (or day, and yes, I know this partnership notion is sometimes true for films too). Wouldn't it be great if every restaurant had a composer making music that fit the food, instead of just blaring whatever the hostess picked that night?

Anyway, I like the way Fraser is approaching this new venture. I also like the space he chose - the former home of Le Jardin Bistro on Cleveland Place in SoHo - which was one of my favorite spots in the neighborhood (does anyone know where that woman went??). I can't wait to see how he transforms the garden each month. I'll definitely be supporting this on Kickstarter, and I think filmmakers can learn something from his approach. Check out his video below:


mikki mouth said...

the picture is getting more clear media, new people, new ways of doing things...keep it coming.
we the people have always been the key to change. gotta love it!

Anonymous said...

This is an amazing concept for a restaurant. I can't wait to see what each month is. This is definitely going to be the place to go.