‘WE’ll call it the Incredible Shrinking Restaurant/Bar.’ Our tease puts a big smile on Gary Usher’s face. Not that he’s really stopped smiling since hitting his £100,000 crowdfunding target for new King Street venture, KALA inside 11 hours – believed to be a Kickstarter world record.
Usher’s five previous ‘Elite Bistros’ had been crowdfunded, but he was reluctant to go down that route this time. Then the ardent Tweeter (70,000 so far, 22,000 followers) suddenly put out a personal video on Twitter explaining: “We f***ed up financing this restaurant and I’ve underestimated it completely.”
His fanbase rallied round, filling the coffers online with their pledges while celeb chef pals Tom Kerridge and Simon Rimmer promised to fund-raise on behalf of the 55-cover restaurant (with a further 15 seats at the bar) scheduled to open in May.
“We’re on course for that launch time but it will only reach 50 covers and the bar is down from 15 to 10. I messed up on the measurements, too.”
We love that openness from a food and drink entrepreneur who does thing his own way, defying the corporate odds.
In that video he was very emotional, lamenting: “There’s certain people asking me how I’ve f***ed it up so bad and it’s quite a simple answer, the restaurants don’t make a lot of money, they make enough to stay afloat.”
He’s still adamant after the latest push which puts Elite Bistros’ crowdfunding total up beyond £500,000: “We will never resort to big corporate investors. Never. I was delighted and overwhelmed by hitting the latest target so swiftly, but I’ve not been back on Kickstarter since to look what the latest tally is (it’s over £110,000 with a couple of days to go).
“Not that it doesn’t matter, but we reached our aim. We don’t want to take the piss by Tweeting ‘three hours to go’ and all that. We are now concentrating on getting KALA ready for business.”
But surely, with your track record, you’ve already setting up the next restaurant? “Only dreaming, but in talks. It’s been the same with all the projects.”
And all those projects have refused to conform to a single brand identity, though smart service, linen napkins and vibrant bistro food are taken as read.
He admits: “KALA has been a challenge. The upstairs dining space isn’t immediately as impressive as Wreckfish (in Liverpool). Somewhere so square doesn’t ooze with character, but I think we can make it into a nice restaurant.”
Downstairs will be the bar, a departure for Usher, obviously close to his heart. “You can sit there and order three courses or just snack in the afternoon. It’s a remove from Spanish style small plates. It’s all about classic English pub snacks. The eggs are already pickling, we’ll have sausage rolls and offal will feature. At a cook-off this week at Pinion (his last project in Prescot) Richard (Sharples, group head chef) cooked a kebab of six duck hearts wih a salsa verde. Lovely.
“We have no keg lines but as at Hispi (Didsbury) we’ll have cans and bottles from local craft brewers we feel it is important to support. There’ll be lots of interesting wines by the class, too. Our Coravin machine at Hispi has proved a great success. I eat out on my own a lot and I don’t want a bottle or to settle for standard Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay. I want something different.”
Upstairs the restaurant menu is in the capable hands of head chef Zhelyazko 'Jiji' Zhelyazkov, who brings Michelin starred credentials with him from past employers Moor Hall and Raby Hunt.
So Gary, have you come down to earth after Tuesday’s target smashing high? “It’s always unexpected. I’m in the middle of it all, so it’s hard to take it ll in won’t really take in our achievements properly until I step back and am no longer involved.”