Why Renowned Chefs Used Kickstarter To Fund Their Restaurant And What They Learned

Cleveland restaurateurs Jonathon and Amelia Sawyer shifted their Kickstarter campaign into high gear by making supporters an offer they couldn't refuse.

After opening four restaurants in Cleveland in five years, James Beard-nominated chef Jonathon Sawyer and his wife Amelia were ready to open their own restaurant, free from outside influence and business partners.

Trentina, scheduled to open in late May, is named for a region of Italy where Amelia’s family once lived.

In order to finance their new venture, the Sawyers chose Kickstarter as an alternative to traditional funding. Here’s how they launched their uber successful campaign:

Do your research.

Once they made the decision to crowdfund Trentina, the Sawyers did their homework and found Kickstarter was a natural fit. Already active on social media, they believed Kickstarter would be a great way to connect with potential patrons where they are—whether they’re traveling through town or live locally.

The Sawyers regularly interact with their customers and fans on a number of social media platforms (their restaurants each have their own social media accounts), and the sites are updated regularly with specials, news, family photos, where they’re traveling, and updates about the new restaurant.

Amelia, director of marketing and branding for Team Sawyer Culinary Coterie (which oversees SeeSaw Pretzel Shoppe at Quicken Arena (home of the Cleveland Cavaliers), Noodlecat, Sawyer’s Street Frites at First Energy Stadium (home of the Cleveland Browns), the Greenhouse Tavern, and Tavern Vinegar Company), says their social media presence is “organic, simple, and authentic.”

Jonathon and Amelia looked at other restaurant Kickstarter projects to set a realistic fundraising goal, taking note of which projects were funded and which failed to meet their goals. Based on their findings, they set their goal at $21,999, and raised $39,583.

Tell a compelling story.

Jonathon Sawyer already has a loyal following, with 46,000 followers on social media, and a strong fan base from his appearances on television shows like Iron Chef America, Dinner Impossible, and Unique Eats. Their Kickstarter site featured family photos and videos of them explaining their vision for the restaurant and their desire to revolutionize northern Italian dining in the United States.

Provide great value.

By partnering with supporters, the Sawyers not only exceeded their fundraising goals, they received 206 brand evangelists—backers from around the country who donated between $1 and $5,000. “Everybody likes to eat. Even if they’re not in our backyard right now, they’re still linked,” Jonathon says.

The Sawyers offered unique experiences for supporters at various price points, which helped more people become part of the project. Examples of rewards for pledges include an autographed Polaroid of Jonathon and Amelia at Trentina’s opening night for $3, a “friends and family” invitation to the restaurant for $50, a cooking class with Jonathon for $100, and the opportunity to have a seasonal cocktail named after you for $300.

Other sponsor opportunities include having a table named after you, employee pricing at the restaurant for five years, and dinner for 20 cooked in your home by Jonathon. (Two out-of-state backers nabbed that reward.)

Providing value to supporters was important to the Sawyers. The value of the cooking class (not a demonstration) is worth more than $100, and is not something that’s routinely offered, Jonathon says. While the Sawyers had fun with their Kickstarter experiment, watching the number of backers grow and interacting with supporters, they’re not sure they’ll repeat it. As their restaurant empire grows, they’ll continue adapting. “From our experiences are opportunities to learn,” Jonathon says. “We’re good learners.”

[Image: Flickr user kowarski]

Add New Comment

1 Comments

  • Kickstarter is a great platform that propels newbies into the market. I believe that if a business or individual has a good product, regardless of their tenure, they will succeed.

    I used Kickstarter for my first cookbook 'A Dozen Ways To Celebrate' and exceeded my modest goal. And yes, I too offered a private dinner (that one, out-of-state backer took up). Looks like we were all on the same page & thinking alike - any crowd source funded project or consumer goods / experience is all about value for money.

    Although there are no book deals waiting for me, it was an interesting experience, one that I wont not mind repeating.

    However, I am curious, if you will elaborate on this:

    1. Why would a pro., an established presence with several locations already under their belt - choose this option when they can clearly do it without.
    2. What experiences can they share / are they willing to share about WHY they wont do it again..

    Thanks! Nandita / Curry Cravings (TM) @currycravings