Kickstarter Kicks Restaurants Up A Notch

You've been there: neurons pulsating with a great, new idea while your heart races as your mind flashes your future from start-up to Fortune 500 company in five seconds flat. But in that brief instance of entrepreneurial euphoria, your brain seized to factor one very important issue—funding. For budding business owners strapped for cash, is the fairy godmother they never knew they had.

Started in late April 2009, Kickstarter has helped thousands of projects get off the ground by exposing entrepreneurs to more than 500,000 supporters worldwide. And while food wasn't introduced as a fundraising category until five months later, cofounder Yancey Strickler, who conceived the project with friends Perry Chen and Charles Adler at Diner in Brooklyn, says it was always part of the concept. "[Our office] is in an old tenement building with a fully functioning kitchen where people make food from scratch every day," says Strickler. "It was just a natural inclusion."

Since its seamless introduction, food has become one of the fastest growing sectors of the company (film still remains Kickstarter's biggest earner, with a record $10 million pledged to date). One of the highest profile Kickstarter-aided projects is NYC's What Happens When, an acclaimed, oft-changing temporary restaurant by John Fraser of Dovetail. Strickler believes the success is due, in part, to the evolution from proposed project to inherent marketing tool. "Yes, it is food but it's also public, so you're letting people know about the project before you even start, and that becomes a great marketing platform," he argues. Of the approximately 250 proposals they receive each day, more than half are approved and about 45 percent of approved projects come into fruition.

The buzz proved lucrative for Kristen Faerber and Charlotte Tolley, whose brick-and-mortar shop Just Ripe is slated to open in late April in Knoxville, Tennessee. The partners, who sold local produce and prepared foods at farmers' markets around Knoxville for years, gained a following and generated start-up capital thanks to Kickstarter. "It helped us get the word out to people we hadn't been able to reach through our own networks," says Faerber. Just Ripe raised $15,000-plus (they surpassed their goal by just under $1,000) within three weeks of posting their project online.

The nature of Kickstarter projects, most of which promote a greater social cause, inevitably helps translate community support to dollars. "Food is such a creative art that, whereas you may get money elsewhere to start a restaurant, Kickstarter provides an idiosyncratic way you can share what you do with people," says Strickler. "People get excited about working with excited people."