Put this one in the legend of Travail file: Needing completion money for their new Robbinsdale restaurant, the merry gang at Travail set up a Kickstarter, hoping for $75,000. They hit that in six hours. As of this writing they were up to more than $180,000. Which brings up many questions, like: Holy cow? For real? $180,000? And also: What are they going to do with an extra 100K? And how many opening parties are they going to have to have to satisfy that many donors? Also: Why bother with the planned North Minneapolis pop-up Umami, which was supposed to come up with finishing funds as well?
I talked to Mike Brown this week, who gave me all the answers. For one thing, Umami, which will have an Asian focus, from ‘dumplings to sushi to [Korean] banchan to congee’ is going to be open, for real, no backsies, no second thoughts, starting this Wednesday. Here’s where you get tickets—and seatings are ticket-only. Here’s the plan: For $40, you get a 10 course pan-Asian molecular gastronomy meal, courtesy of the extended Travail crew, who will be soon split into teams, one team for Travail proper, the restaurant, one for The Rookery, the cocktail bar and small plates spot, and one for Pig Ate My Pizza, the charcuterie and pizza joint which will continue in the former, first Travail home. Alcohol will be purchased and paid for on site; the spot has a full liquor license. Chef and co-owner Mike Brown tells me that Umami will also have half a dozen $5 take-out options for people in the neighborhood, including a quart of ramen, chicken-and-dumplings, soy chicken wings, pressed-pork steam buns, and a shrimp-and-dumplings entree because in addition to providing some pop-up money for the Travail crew, part of Umami’s point is to provide a foot-traffic, high-visibility destination on West Broadway in a neighborhood with a difficult reputation. “We’re here to do a pop-up, but we’re also here to change people’s perspective that this is an area where it’s too dangerous to walk down the street,” Brown says. “I wish you could have been at the hearing where they voted to give us a liquor license, people were standing up and clapping, people have given their whole careers to [revitalizing] this neighborhood, to be able to be a part of that, just amazing.” But, enough with the heart-warming fixing the community stuff—what about all that money? “The first day we were just watching it: What the f***. Holy sh**. What a blessing,” Brown says. “Sometimes we’ve felt like the difference between us and a lot of other restaurants: We never had a pile of money. So we’ve always tried to over-deliver to the people, and when we needed the money we thought: Let’s just see if the people would hook us up. We never wanted private investors because investors tell you how many seats to have, what to pay your cooks—that’s not right. So it was a big experiment, would the people hook us up? And it was like; ‘No, f*** you! You want $75,000, no way. You’re taking a hundred thousand. You’re taking a hundred-fifty. That’s what we think of you.’ We were crying. If somebody supports you like that, if a community supports you like that—who gets that in life? Nobody. We got that. I might start crying again right now.” But what about the money? What are they going to do with an extra $100,000? “First we’re going to build this restaurant,” Brown says. And if there’s money left, they have a molecular gastronomy wish list of toys: A real anti-griddle (which flash-freezes things with a super-cool surface), a rotary-vacuum evaporation system, a real food freeze-drying machine “so we can legitimately make space food,” Brown says, and some health insurance. But that’s not all. If they have enough money, and the neighborhood embraces Umami, the Travail gang would like to use the money to make Umami a permanent fixture on West Broadway. “A lot of people went to bat for us,” Brown says, in the city, to make Umami happen so fast, and via Kickstarter. “If we can do something for the city, that would be the other greatest thing that ever happened to us.” Umami, 904 W. Broadway, Mpls., 612-246-9939 Tickets!