How to crowdfund your way to success

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When it comes to achieving crowdfunding success, there’s no better person to look to than award-winning chef Gary Usher, who, off the back of a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign, is soon to be opening his fourth restaurant.

2013, saw Gary Usher’s Sticky Walnut face a sink or swim moment that was to later define its future. Since it’s beginning, Usher had been chucking every penny he could find into making the business a success, heading back to Chester to open the restaurant, an area in which he had previously worked,  in the knowledge that he simply couldn’t afford to fail.

Things got off to a good start, with the restaurant garnering good local reviews, generating healthy business and proving popular at the weekends, however, the immediacy of this success came at a price. Consequently, the busier he got, the hotter the two rooms of the restaurant became, with the restaurant subsequently requiring air conditioning.To install air con upstairs and downstairs would cost a total of 10,000, which, notably, Usher was unable to afford. In order to rectify this Usher went to the bank and told them how Sticky Walnut had quadrupled the turnover of the previous restaurant in the building, but how this small loan was essential, so they could stay busy without the risk of customers fainting. Unfortunately, the bank said no. It was at this point that Usher had to ask himself how much he wanted the business to work.

In the end, Usher managed to scrape the money together managing to afford a new air conditioning system, but wondered if he there might be an easier way. Since the very beginning, Usher had been in charge of the day-to-day running of the restaurant. He wanted to promote people, but had no means of doing so and simply couldn’t afford it. Following a hugely positive review from Marina O’Loughlin in the Guardian, Usher set his sights on opening another restaurant, that way he might improve his revenue, and have a way to promote his staff. Yet the Banks still refused to help the cause.

Soon after, a friend suggested crowdfunding. Usher’s elder brother Shaun had just done something similar with a book project: Letters of Note. Gary was unsure at first but took a leap of faith, that was to give rise to Burnt Truffle.

Usher took to Kickstarter to advertise his plans to bring a new restaurant, akin to Sticky Walnut, to the Wirral. He sweet talked backers by offering them free Sunday lunches once the restaurant opened. Those pledging more than £5,000 were treated to free private parties or company Christmas dinners. Much to his surprise he raised £103,000 from 891 punters in just over a week, and Burnt Truffle opened in 2015. Since then, Usher has gone on to enjoy further success with Manchester based Hipsi, which also benefited from £50,000 Kickstarter finance and his fourth project, Wreckfish, in Liverpool, which has just raised £200,000 from 1,522 backers and is set to open in the autumn. 

When it comes to ensuring the success of his restaurants Usher has a simplistic approach, always aiming to “Just put good things on the plate, ideally three elements for a main and two for a dessert, things that people really like.” And it’s this principle that has served him well.  He swears by a few essentials – “always fresh cooked bread”, something enjoyed at home as a kid; “a braise, preferably, in the evening, with truffle chips, a certain pâté recipe in the starters” – but the rest is pretty much up to his loyal team of chefs.

In this case, crowdfunding enabled Usher to establish a connection with those who had pledged to help make it all happen. This is evident, as at every one of his restaurants there is a mirror with all the donors’ names etched into it. This stresses the importance and significance of establishing long-term customer relationships, as with your customers fully invested in the dining experience, less is sure to go wrong.