10 Minutes with: Gary Usher on his fourth crowdfund for Wreckfish Bistro

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 31st May 2017

Chef Gary Usher, owner of Sticky Walnut, Burnt Truffle and Hispi has made a name for himself for successfully crowdfunding the money to open his restaurants.

He recently announced plans to crowdfund his fourth restaurant, Wreckfish Bistro but what are the difficulties in crowdfunding?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that young chefs dream about opening their own restaurant some day. But there is so much more to opening a restaurant than getting the menu right. At the centre of it all is the financial backing which is needed to get the right location, the perfect kitchen, the supportive staff, and the essential suppliers. And when the banks won’t budge, there are other ways to secure funding.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Gary Usher about his (many) experiences with crowdfunding and his successes are truly inspiring. Gary has taken over the Sticky Walnut from a run-down restaurant and since then, he successfully crowdfunded two more restaurants, Burnt Truffle and HISPI, within the following five years.

Gary Usher
Gary Usher

He is now preparing to open his next place, Wreckfish, where he had already done an exclusive pop-up event for his loyal pledgers.

“To be honest, it’s really, really exciting this one”, Gary said. “Because people could see this project even before it was a project. They’ve come and eaten in the restaurant even before it was a restaurant. If this crowdfunding works, then it’s going to be a pretty special one.”

To get to this point, Gary had to start somewhere. He opened the Sticky Walnut without much funding and without substantial changes to the old restaurant.

“As it was getting busier, it was getting too hot so it was quite clear that we needed air conditioning," he told The Staff Canteen. Even though Sticky Walnut was doing well, the bank refused to give Gary a loan for air conditioning.

“That’s when crowdfunding came in," Gary explained.

After that, Gary felt it was time to open a new place, so his existing staff had somewhere to progress to. Crowdfunding, however, was barely enough to cover the costs for Burnt Truffle.

“I pulled the figure out of nowhere," he admitted. “A hundred grand. I just thought if I found a small restaurant somewhere, a hundred grand should cover it. It didn’t cover it, but that’s what we crowdfunded.”

So how did he still manage to open the Burnt Truffle, when the kitchen on its own would have cost him everything he crowdfunded?

“We got a bit of finance here and finance there and we just opened," he said. “We went to a kitchen company, and they financed it.”

Gary Usher quoteBut that was not the end of the long list of worries that comes with opening a restaurant.

As a reward for crowdfunders Gary sold branded aprons, favours and, most importantly, meal vouchers. “If you open and all the sudden in the first few months everybody wants to come and redeem their crowdfunding voucher then that could be pretty damaging," he explains.

To avoid bankruptcy, Gary gave crowdfunders the option to spend those vouchers in the Sticky Walnut. But for someone that does not have a restaurant yet, managing voucher bookings could make those stressful first few months easier.

However, this was nothing compared to the misfortune during his following crowdfunding project for HISPI.

“We did it. We managed the crowdfunding and we got the fifty grand. The bank gave a hundred and fifty, and after it was all successful, the site fell through," he recalls.

To manage a few of the crowdfunders’ wrath, Gary agreed to pay back the few who wanted their money back. The same money he needed to open HISPI.

“I said ‘of course’. Anyone who wanted their money back I was more than happy to reimburse.”

Luckily, only 1% of the pledgers, those who wanted HISPI to open in its intended site, backed out. He attributed the minimal dent in finance to his honesty and openness on social media.

In the end, it turned out to be not that bad at all.

“We ended up having new crowdfunders, people coming in and saying, ‘look if these guys want their money back then I want to pledge more, I want to replace anything that they get back’. Quite a few people said that," he shared.

So now, after three successful restaurants, Gary is ready for his next venture, the most ambitious one of all.

“It’s two hundred grand which is amazing," he explains. “The last one we did was fifty grand so it’s four times as much.”

The kickstarter campaign for his new restaurant, Wreckfish Bistro was originally planned for the beginning of April but has now been pushed back until May.

Gary Usher's crowdfunding tip

Gary’s success is admirable, and he owes a lot of that success to his personality. Here’s his final tip:

“The biggest tip I can give for crowdfunding is just to be yourself," he suggested. “People need to buy into a person. So you need to be yourself. You need to be passionate and you need to show it is what you really want to do and you want to do it because you love it.”

By Thao Ly Nguyen

(Gary reached the £200, 000 target a day before the end date. The total currently stands at £204, 225 from 1,464 backers - the highest amount raised in the UK for a restaurant and will continue to run until June 1, 2017)

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 31st May 2017

10 Minutes with: Gary Usher on his fourth crowdfund for Wreckfish Bistro