When the team behind Chicago’s the Aviary — sister bar to Alinea, one of the country’s most acclaimed restaurants — announced they were going to publish a cookbook, no one expected them to Kickstart it. A little over two weeks later, the Kickstarter has well surpassed its original goal of raising $50,000: 3,640 people donated $423,627 to make the self-published Aviary cookbook a reality.
The announcement of the Aviary cocktail book’s Kickstarter in mid-May initially raised eyebrows — why would a successful restaurant group ask for donations from the public? — until Kokonas explained his understanding of the cookbook publishing industry. According to Kokonas, for the type of book the Aviary team wanted to create, they would end up making very little profit while doing most of the work. But if the team self-published, using their international fan base to drum up buzz and help fund the costs of producing the book, they could pocket all of the profit.
This model works for the consumer, too. A donation of $60 (which will also be the book’s retail price) guaranteed each backer a cookbook. The initial goal of $50,000 was meant to fund the costs of testing and producing the recipes, along with photography, graphic design, editing, writing, and printing. Now that the team has raised well beyond their initial goal, it looks like they’re on their way to starting a new business: print publishing.
Kickstarter has helped many restaurateurs get their projects off the ground. Initially, the site attracted chefs who wanted to open new restaurants. In Minneapolis, Travail Kitchen & Amusements opened in 2013 after meeting its goal of $75,000 in six hours. Oakland’s Homeroom is the country’s first-ever Kickstarted restaurant; it opened in 2010.
Kokonas and his business partner chef Grant Achatz (who own and operate the Aviary, Alinea, Next, and Roister) are known for seeking novel solutions to common problems. Kokonas has been working to disrupt the online restaurant reservations model since 2014, when he launched Tock.
• The Aviary Cocktail Book [Kickstarter]
• Aviary, Chicago's Coolest Cocktail Bar, Is Kickstarting a Cookbook [E]