Restaurateurs find a connection with Internet fundraising plans

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jason French of Ned Ludd.Jason French wants to give you a whole hog.

Contribute $900 to his Kickstarter campaign, and you and your family will be the proud owners of a pig from Laney Family Farms/Eat Oregon First, butchered to your specifications. The meat comes with recipes for each part, for your nose-to-tail dining pleasure.

French is owner of Northeast Portland’s Ned Ludd Restaurant, which is on its final two days of trying to raise $60,000 to help fund the construction of Elder Hall, a light-filled, vaulted space that adjoins the restaurant.

“We have a strong reverence for elders and wisdom,” says French, who opened Ned Ludd five years ago. “We wanted to create a community-oriented gathering hall in the Shaker tradition.”

The modular space would host private parties as well as community meetings, dinners, lectures, tastings, movie nights, classes on butchery and wood-fire cookery. It would host a children’s cooking camp, and be the home of the Portland Meat Collective.

Basically, it would spotlight and showcase everything French has wanted his restaurant to stand for since opening on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Failing Street five years ago.

“We’re not building a video game or a consumerable good for the nation,” French says. “We’re building something special for our community, for Oregon.”

The 30-day campaign for Elder Hall ends on Thursday. If the campaign is successful, it will be the largest Kickstarter restaurant project to come out of Portland, since the phenomenon began nationally in 2010 and caught on here a year later.

Three Portland restaurants have Kickstarter projects well underway, and seven were funded in the past three years.

Those aren’t counting the food carts and food products also looking for love on Kickstarter.

Restaurants have seen such escalating costs and wildly passionate followings that they’ll soon have their own category on Kickstarter, the company’s chief executive officer, Yancy Strickler, told in March.

In that story, Strickler revealed that more than 500 restaurants have been funded through Kickstarter since the first such project, a mac n’ cheese eatery in Oakland, in 2010.

There’s no category on Kickstarter specifically for restaurants, because Strickler said he didn’t initially envision them as “projects” that would turn to Kickstarter. However, now, “I think they’ve been some of our absolute best projects,” Strickler told He said he’ll add a restaurant sub-category to the food category in the not-too-distant future.

Portland restaurateurs will likely take notice. Even before crowdfunding websites were around, restaurant owners have known that broad-based support from the outset goes a long way. That’s why many hot spots nowadays started as food trucks just a few years ago.

And why, 20 years ago, Portland chef icon Cory Schreiber famously brought on 10 prominent citizens to invest in the opening of Wildwood. Partners invested in a certain amount in exchange for ownership shares, and were paid a return on their investment at a rate of 18 to 20 percent until the original investment was returned, unless Schreiber bought them out at an amount according to the partnership rules. After 2003, he no longer controlled the partnership.

“I think Kickstarter is an amazing marketing vehicle, a good way to get people behind you before your business opens,” says Elizabeth Beekley, a bake shop owner who has signed a lease on a spot downtown where she hopes to soon open Palace Cakes.

As of last week, Beekley had met her Kickstarter goal for partial financing of the project, raising $10,137 with 116 backers.

The cost of running a small business has risen dramatically, Beekley says. Eight years ago, she says she opened her bake shop, Two Tarts, in Northwest Portland for $50,000.

Now, she’s estimating that Palace Cakes will cost about $20,000 more for a smaller space, mainly because of all the new regulations the city requires. She’ll seek other financing for the bulk of the project, but wanted to attract a following for a small portion of the project.

Sometimes, restaurant owners see Kickstarter as their only option. “We both have some student loans that small business loan that (lenders) don’t like,” says Emily Andrews, co-owner of Girasole Wood Fired Café in North Portland. She and business partner Brittany Cavallero opened their restaurant three years ago and became known for their family friendly features, each being moms of three.

Now they’re transforming the space into a more cozy community space that includes a bar and new seating, all built with scrap materials they’ve salvaged themselves.

They’re hoping to raise $29,000 through Kickstarter by June 8, but as of this week had raised just $1,500.

“We don’t want to owe people money,” Andrews adds. “Going into debt doesn’t sound like fun.”

Nationally, some restaurants have been able to net staggering amounts through Kickstarter.

A hip tasting-menu-only restaurant called Travail in Robbinsdale, Minn., netted $255,669 for their reopening last October. And in January, a farm-to-table eatery in Braddock, Pa., Superior Motors (named for the building it occupies, one of the nation’s first indoor car dealerships) turned out a Kickstarter record for a restaurants by pulling in a whopping $310,225 with 2,026 backers.

That venture by James Beard Award-finalist Kevin Sousa was probably an anomaly, though. The 2013 movie “Out of the Furnace,” starring Christian Bale, filmed at the old steel mill next to Superior Motors, using the city as its backdrop.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jason French of Ned Ludd on the second story of where his new event space is being built.

Like Wall Street?

For those that don’t have Hollywood star power in their pocket, restauranteurs know they need to rally hard to get people to support their campaign. Professional marketers have made a business of producing Kickstarter videos and getting the word out to the masses.

But many Portland restaurant owners prefer to embrace their DIY spirit and do it all themselves, win or lose.

“We’re constantly getting bombarded from people that do Kickstarter marketing,” says Andrews, of Girasole. “We tell them we’re going to figure it out on our own; we’re pretty resourceful gals.”

Beekley, of Palace Cakes, has also kept control of all of her marketing. “We are doing it to build the critical mass,” she says. “We don’t want to build it in a way that’s not actually real.”

At Elder Hall, French sees Kickstarter like a political campaign, having grown up with a mother in charge of the Democratic Party in Maine. “This week’s the door-to-door,” he says.

He and his team are sending personal emails, visiting friends, going beyond social media and making strategic asks with the Who’s Who of the Portland food world.

Throughout the 30 days, French has added new incentives that supporters have offered up, to entice people to take another look. Hence the whole hog.

He’s also offering a salmon fishing trip, a CSA membership, T-shirts, brunch and dinner reservations for small parties, invitations to chefs’ demos, supper parties and more.

Beekley at Palace cakes offered various sizes and types of cakes for her funders; the owners of Girasole are offering everything from pizza and gift bags to private catering.

Now that crowdfunding is a few years old, French sees people falling into three camps. Some are fatigued by the idea; some have no idea how it works; and there are those who fully get it, the community-minded people and philanthropists.

In fact, French says Kickstarter isn’t unlike giving microloans to third-world countries, where there is a tremendous return on investment.

“It’s similar to Wall Street,” he says. “It’s almost a more sure bet than Wall Street.”

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