D.C.'s first restaurant equity crowdfunding site, EquityEats—where investors can earn profits, not just Kickstarter-like perks—launches today. Four businesses are seeking funding through the platform to start: a bakery, a seafood counter, a lobster and burger joint, and a seasonally focused American restaurant.
EquityEats is the brainchild of tech entrepreneur Johann Moonesinghe and co-founders Jason Pinto, Andrew Harris, and Steve Lucas. The team initially set out to allow anyone invest, but restrictions related to securities law and private investments proved too cumbersome. So at least for now, the platform will accept money exclusively from "accredited investors"—people with a net worth of $1 million (which can include assets owned jointly with a spouse, but not the value of their primary home), or an income of at least $200,000 for the last two years ($300,000 with a spouse).
The Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which passed in April 2012, includes a “crowdfunding exemption” that will open things up for anyone to be an equity investor under certain limits. But the Securities and Exchange Commission is still writing rules to implement it. When the rules are complete, EquityEats hopes to expand to unaccredited investors. Regardless, the platform aims to make it easier for restaurateurs to find investors without the typical deep-pocketed connections. And for people looking to put their money into restaurants, EquityEats makes it easier for them to find and track investments.
The four restaurants featured for the launch aim to raise anywhere from $445,000 to $970,000 with a minimum buy-in of $2,500 to $5,000, depending on the establishment. The restaurants have 45 days to reach their goal, although Moonesinghe says there will be some flexibility with the deadlines as they experiment with what amount of time works best.
Y&H will have a lot more to say about EquityEats in this week's print edition. In the meantime, here are four restaurants that could be coming soon:
Husband-wife team Tom Wellings (Fiola Mare, Restaurant Eve, Maestro) and Camila Arangno (Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Adour, Maestro) are combining their talents to open a neighborhood bakery with world-class aspirations that will focus on European pastries. “D.C. has a lot of great coffee places but not a lot of places that have great pastries and great coffee together,” Wellings says.
Breakfast will include croissants, kouign-amann, and brioche plus coffee from Ceremony roasters, while more tarts and macarons will appear in the afternoon. The bakery will also serve sandwiches and soft-serve gelato in seasonally changing flavors that will include things like salted caramel, olive oil, and lemon verbena. Around 4 or 5 p.m., country loaves of bread will come fresh out of the oven—just in time for people to pick-up for dinner on the way home from work. Wellings and Arangno are looking for a space in the Shaw/Logan Circle area.
Sussex Drive will feature seasonal American cuisine prepared with local ingredients and a wood-fired grill. "The food is going to be rustic but it's going to be done with finesse," says chef Adam McFarland. A sample menu includes dishes like beef tartare with egg yolk, bone marrow, and crispy smelt as well as roasted pork loin and belly with parsnips and ale-poached quince.
McFarland and his business partner Amy Troutmiller initially met working at Urbana, where he was a sous chef and she was the assistant general manager. Since that time, McFarland has cooked in top New York restaurants like Gramercy Tavern and Maysville. Meanwhile, Troutmiller was senior manager of beverage development worldwide for Ritz Carlton/Marriott International and, most recently, sales manager for wholesale wine company Diamond District Wines. The restaurant gets its name from the street where Troutmiller grew up.
Sussex Drive is looking for spaces in Mt. Vernon Square, Shaw, and Adams Morgan for about a 60-seat dining room.
Named after a type of fisherman's knot, Albright Special will be a seafood counter and possibly market, depending on the space. The concept from Greg Kakaletris, who's worked at 2 Birds 1 Stone and Estadio, and former Doi Moi chef de cuisine and Estadio pastry chef Brittany Frick will focus primarily on cold and room temperature dishes that are fast, fresh, and unfussy. The menu will include house-cured gravlax, smoked mussels, charred baby octopus salad, oysters, clams, steamed crab legs, crudos, chowder, and more.
Kakaletris says the place is modeled after a 100-plus-year-old restaurant in San Francisco called Swan Oyster Depot. "We like the idea of the quaintness of it and the interaction of it," he says. "All the guys that are back behind the counter are taking your order and making your food and serving it to you and pouring you a beer or a wine." Albright Special is looking for space in Mt. Vernon Square, Logan Circle, or Shaw.
This restaurant is a little different than the others in that it is owned by EquityEats so they can see how the platform works first-hand from an operator perspective. EquityEats VP of Restaurant Operations Patrick Vacca, a veteran of Stephen Starr's restaurant group and Philadelphia's Tria, will oversee Lighthouse and help out the other restaurants seeking funding.
The menu will be limited to two main items: whole Maine lobsters, which will be displayed in a big tank, and burgers. Both offerings will come with a side of fries and a salad. A veggie burger and lobster salad will also be available. Vacca says the streamlined menu will allow the restaurant to serve the lobster at a good value that is hard to find elsewhere. Lighthouse is inspired by a restaurant in London, which is also coming to New York, called simply Burger and Lobster.
Estadio and Doi Moi Beverage Director Max Kuller will oversee the drink list with all-American craft beers, wines, and liquors. While there's no lease yet, Lighthouse is negotiating a location near 10th Street and Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
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