He raised £100k to finish building his new restaurant in a record 11 hours with crowdfunding website Kickstarter. So, how did chef and restaurateur Gary Usher do it? Imbibe’s Millie Milliken finds out
The day I call Gary Usher to discuss his recent Kickstarter victory, the tradesmen working on his latest restaurant venture, Kala in Manchester, are due to be downing tools. But there’s one small problem: he hasn’t received the money yet. ‘It will be a couple of weeks until we do,’ Usher extrapolates. ‘Once we’ve got it though, the first people we pay will be the joiners, sparkies and plumbers.’
For some, the prospect of opening a new venue on the back foot with no bank support would be enough to make them throw in the apron. Usher, however, is no stranger to the crowdfunding process. The oft outspoken, blisteringly charismatic chef and restaurateur is the voracious force behind the Elite Bistros group, made up of six restaurants in the north of England. Five of them have opened with the help of the Kickstarter platform. But it’s the most recent, Kala, that broke the crowdfunding resource’s record. Pledgers who helped make it happen will receive a monetary voucher worth the same cost as their donation – spread across six venues, the group should be able to absorb the cost almost unnoticeably.
In the know
The feat is nothing short of miraculous, especially considering the current climate of the hospitality industry which is seeing bars and restaurants closing their doors for good at a concerning velocity.
‘I don’t know how we’ve managed to do it,’ Usher admits. ‘I guess people just really believe in us.’ Despite admitting to having a less than thorough understanding of politics, the idea that the country’s current divide over Brexit may have had a role in his success isn’t one he’s quick to dismiss. ‘Maybe we’ve managed to do it because everything is so s***. Brexit is really getting me down… I’m sure that everybody is feeling the divide and maybe having something that unites people rather than completely f****** dividing them is what helped us.’
With the numbers speaking for themselves though, it’s no wonder that Usher is receiving messages and emails on a daily basis from people asking him how they can replicate his success. The day before Imbibe talks to him, he posted his ‘Crowdfunding 101’ on social media [see box out below]. His points may be directly related to the restaurant industry, but for Usher that doesn’t mean they aren’t translatable to other business models. ‘It’s got absolutely nothing to do with the idea in terms of the business. All it’s got to do with is the people behind it and making sure you believe in it. You have to create something based on people and others believing in them. You’re buying into people.’
Telling a story
How do punters get to know the people behind the brand, though? ‘If you haven’t got a social media presence, it won’t work. When you’re dealing with non-investment crowdfunding, it’s so important because those people aren’t getting any share in your business… They need to know you.’ A ‘relentless tweeter’, Usher was talking to his pledgers constantly, every day.
Giving the group the original 100-hour time limit to raise the money was part of the story too. ‘I am the king of drama,’ he laughs. ‘My whole life is a drama, I absolutely love it. My role is to drive the business, be the voice, market what we do and tell as many people as possible. We are a bistro, which isn’t enough on its own, so we need to create stories…. Did we need to do the time limit? No, but it was drama, a gamble, a risk. It is pure excitement and people want to be involved in the story.’
So, what’s the next chapter? Usher keeps his cards – relatively – close to his chest. ‘I’ve got a viewing in Hackney next week,’ he does divulge though. He’s looking to make the most of the group’s ‘local bistro’ offering, which he thinks is something distinctly lacking in the capital. His thoughts on the current chain offerings that are surviving the current climate are succinct: ‘F****** hell, they are terrible.’ Will Usher use the crowdfunding platform to break another record? We’re not sure. What we are sure of, though, is that he is proof that people want more diverse hospitality offerings, and want to be involved in their success – we say give the people what they want.
‘Crowdfunding 101’ by Gary Usher