The Birchwood Kickstarter campaign—can they make it to $100,000 in the next couple days? It’s getting close, and to sweeten the pot, owner Tracy Singleton just added a ton of close-to-irresistible incentives, such as Thanksgiving for 8-12, (a turkey, all the sides and fixings, and pie) delivered to your house by chef Marshall Paulsen, for $150. As of this second, there’s also a gluten-free donut club (a dozen GF donuts eight times a year), four-course brunch with coffee pairings, a soup club (a quart of soup and a loaf of bread eight times) and, Singleton tells me, more will be coming because she really, really wants to get to the goal.
First, let’s recap how significant the Birchwood is around here. It was one of the first restaurants to really put into practice the idea that you really could make your food relentlessly local—and that it would be better, fresher, simpler, more whole because of it. When I started writing about food I can’t tell you how many chefs and how many restaurants insisted that local was a luxury no one in the North could ever afford—until places like the Birchwood proved that you could do it, all the time, at price-points only a little higher than fast-food. Having the Birchwood has been a boon to the Twin Cities, and not just because it was a great place to get a knee-weakening slice of key lime pie. It was a boon because they have supported so many local farmers, creating the reliable infrastructure that all of us—home cooks, restaurant cooks, everyone—have come to rely on. As Andrew Zimmern put it eloquently on his blog, Tracy Singleton and the Birchwood team have been heroes in this town, they inspire us, and feed us well.
But here’s a question that everyone’s been asking me off-line: Why do for-profit businesses even need Kickstarter cash?
Did you ever buy a house, and put every penny you could get your hands on into the down payment, and the inspections and everything else, and move in only to discover you barely had the money for garbage bags and an extension cord? That happened to me once, and it was ridiculous, I borrowed an old drill with a frayed cord from someone, and every time I went to change a switchplate I got shocked. It’s like this with restaurants, but worse.
“It’s just so much, so much money to do this,” Singleton explained to me when I talked to her on the phone. “It’s a million dollars to do the whole thing—and that’s not because we’re doing the Taj Mahal of restaurants, it’s just because everything is so expensive now. When we first opened we did the Birchwood for a $90,000 loan, which covered everything. Now, 10 years later, just the HVAC and refrigeration is $90,000. And in this financing climate, financing is really hard.”
In addition to the Kickstarter finishing funds, Singleton has gotten bank loans, City of Minneapolis development loans, private investors, and a bridge loan. The Kickstarter money is hopefully going to complete that puzzle. “We have a lot of funding, but there’s still this gap,” explained Singleton. “The way the bank looks at it, why would you invest a million dollars in that location? The money would be better spent in Wayzata, go there. But I don’t want to leave my location, I’m tied to this neighborhood. Whatever experience people have coming here, they like that. They like this neighborhood too. When you talk to bankers you’re never sure if they get all the community-feel-good stuff—but it seems like maybe they don’t. And so, if I want to have the Birchwood I want at today’s costs—in the neighborhood I want to be in—I have to find a way to get there.”
And that’s how the Birchwood ended up on Kickstarter.
I think a lot of these premiums are steals—eight quarts of soup plus eight loaves of bread is a heck of a deal for $100, and it would be perfect for anyone you know who’s having a baby in Seward anytime soon. Or for college kids! Or for yourself, so you can get a bargain on soup while also feeling assured that your beloved neighbor isn’t going to be moving in without a drill and garbage bags. (Or that could just be a me thing. Did you ever re-use garbage bags during demolition? Did you ever try to get around having a garbage can by adhering bags to the wall with packing tape? I have, and do not recommend any of these steps.) Singleton tells me she will be adding premiums at $35 and up as she frantically tries to make her goal—so check out the Birchwood Kickstarter, and let our neighbors know you want them to be able to finish their construction on time and without having to resort to whatever the heck the restaurant equivalent is of reusing the garbage bags and getting shocked by old drills.
Birchwood Café, 3311 E. 25th St., Mpls., 612-722-4474, birchwoodcafe.com Twitter: @BirchwoodCafe