Two entrepreneurs have opened a new crowd-sourced restaurant in downtown St. Paul.
James Norton, editor of the HeavyTable.com, discusses The Buttered Tin, a new bakery and restaurant with which the owners have set out to change the culture of the Lowertown neighborhood of St. Paul. Keeping track of eatery trends, Norton talks about the crowd-sourced funding of The Buttered Tin.
TOM CRANN: Who are the people behind The Buttered Tin?
NORTON: The co-owners are Jennifer Lueck, who in her previous career was a public relations representative for restaurants, and Alicia Hinze, a pastry chef who won Cupcake Wars on the Food Network while catering manager at Cupcake.
As you might expect, they've been drumming up quite a bit of interest. They're putting an ambitious new restaurant into a part of the neighborhood that isn't already swimming with eateries.
CRANN: Are we looking at yet another gourmet cupcakery?
NORTON: From the resume of Hinze, I'd expected yet another bright pastel, $5-a-bite cupcakery. But to the credit of the founders, it seems like The Buttered Tin is focused first and foremost on being a neighborhood diner, albeit with some ably frosted dessert options.
My guess is that being the neighborhood's diner and breakfast stop will be a more sustainable model than trying to trade on fancy pastries over the long-term. Witness the dramatic growth and collapse of Sweets Bakeshop, for example.
CRANN: What kind of food can guests look forward to?
NORTON: Really straightforward stuff, actually, which is refreshing in many ways. A spinach salad, for example, with a pleasant twist of roasted grapes; and a chicken club on homemade honey wheat bread. Especially good is the huevos rancheros benedict with poached eggs and avocado, which is a great balance of crunchy, creamy, salty, and soothing, served on a surprisingly delicate cornbread round.
CRANN: How did the crowd-funding website Kickstarter play a role in The Buttered Tin's debut?
NORTON: The restaurant launched a $10,000 Kickstarter to help with the innumerable expenses that pop up when you launch a new venture. Just last week they wrapped it up successfully, with $10,801 to their name. Backers received rewards including mugs, fresh-baked cookies or cupcakes, or, at the $1,000 level, 10 boxed lunches delivered to your home or office, 24 fresh-baked cupcakes, and an invite to exclusive donor open house.
CRANN: Is anybody launching a restaurant these days without crowd-sourcing the money?
NORTON: Plenty of larger restaurants don't bother with it, but for smaller independent places with a real neighborhood constituency to draw from it can be a critical leg up.
It's easy to think of Kickstarter as shaking a cup and it magically filling up with money, but it's actually a ton of work. It involves a great deal of project planning and activation of social networks, both of which coincidentally happen to be things that will help the project itself launch correctly and succeed. It's a win-win -- you get a financial boost and you market yourself in the process, and give hundreds of people a sense of stake in your enterprise.
Beyond the stress of trying to set up a Kickstarter campaign, it's really not a done deal. About a year ago, an excellent local Caribbean restaurant took a shot at raising $50,000 to relocate, and fell about $30,000 short. Whether they were shooting for an overly ambitious number or whether backers didn't want a hug from the chef in return for a $25 pledge, I'm not sure.
CRANN: What else is new in Lowertown?
The expanded Heartland has been rolling for a few years now, but its importance as a culinary destination is hard to overstate. From its expert cocktails to its carefully crafted charcuterie program to its seasonal, farm-to-table approach to food, it's a real showpiece for the whole state.