For a group of chefs who are sort-of without a restaurant at the moment, the crew at Travail Kitchen and Amusements sure manages to keep busy.
First things first: On Saturday, co-owners Bob Gerken, Mike Brown and James Winberg (pictured, above, left to right, in a Star Tribune file photo) “are going to throw this little street dance thing” said Brown.
It's taking place in the parking lot at Pig Ate My Pizza, the don’t-miss Robbinsdale pizzeria that the trio launched in May in the former Travail space; a newer, larger Travail is under construction a few doors down the block, a subject we’ll get to in a moment.
“We’re hoping to get a few hundred people,” said Brown. The plan is to lure them by “making everything super-cheap, and family-friendly,” he said.
It’s going to be a two-buck kind of party: The necessary wrist band (to satisfy the alcohol police) will cost $2, and most of the food (“Travail dogs,” sweet corn, a barbecued pulled pork sandwich and yuzu, watermelon and vanilla Dippin’ Dots-style ice cream) will also clock in at $2, with beer in the $4 to $6 range. Entertainment will be karaoke, backed up with a live three-piece band equipped with a 200-strong song set, with the festivities scheduled to run from 2 to 8 p.m.
The Travailians aren’t just throwing a street dance for the heck of it, although that actually sounds like something they’d do. Instead, they’re using the event as an informal kickoff (if this were a political primary, it would probably be called it a “listening tour”) for a $120,000 crowdfunding campaign that they plan to formally launch on Sept. 3.
No, they won’t be taking money on Saturday, but they will be collecting names of interested parties, and the first 200 names walk away with a free T-shirt (pictured, below).
The crowdfunding campaign is aimed at filling a funding gap between the financing that has been secured for Travail 2.0 and the cost for building out the space of their dreams.
“It’s going to determine whether or not Travail is going to be what we want it to be,” said Brown. “We just want it to be the best that it can possibly be.”
The ownership team has decided to steer clear of entering into partnerships, silent or otherwise. “We feel that there are probably investors out there, but that’s not what we do,” said Brown. “We can’t have outside influences.”
Instead, crowdfunding. They’re offering some fairly unorthodox incentives for those who might want to toss some cash into the pile. For those considering contributing a modest amount, the crew is producing what is destined to become a talker. Brown labels it the “sexy Travail calendar,” a takeoff on the muscle-bound St. Paul Firefighters calendar, only with chefs, including a few cameos culled from local A-list kitchens (their identities shall, for the moment, remain nameless).
For those pondering a heftier participation – we’re talking in the thousands here -- benefits could include private parties or the ability to secure unlimited reservations for a year at a wildly popular restaurant that doesn’t accept reservations.
Not to bury the lede – come on, there’s a lot of ground to cover here – but another dough-raising effort involves the launch of a pop-up restaurant, one with a little staying power. Over the summer, the Travailians been offering one-time events on idle nights in kitchens across the Twin Cities, but this enterprise is more ambitious.
The hope is to open on Sept. 11 and keep cooking through mid-October, if not into early November; the schedule will depend upon the progress at the Travail construction site, since the project’s tight budget relies upon a number of time-consuming do-it-yourself elements.
The location? Minneapolis’ restaurant-starved north side, inside a recently rehabbed chain outlet near Broadway Av. and Dupont. Av. N. The 45-seat operation will focus on Asian street food, “which really is the best food, ever,” said Brown.
No name yet. “I feel weird giving something an Asian name, because I’m not Asian,” said Brown with a laugh. “Anyway, it’s only going to be around for two months, so what the hell does it matter what we call it?”
They’d better decide quickly, if the doors are going to open in three weeks. Rather than accepting reservations, the trio plans to sell tickets to seatings, via an online ticket service.
“But we also want to connect with the neighborhood, so if someone wants to come in for takeout, we’ll do takeout,” said Brown. “I just hope to god that it all works out, because we have a lot of great people shining light on it.”