Margaret Li is finalizing details. This month she opens her Chinese-American restaurant Mei Mei, a spinoff of her family’s Mei Mei Street Kitchen food truck, near Audubon Circle. But she’s missing an important element — not a grill, not pans, but a wall adorned with names of donors who contributed to her Kickstarter campaign. Their pledges helped to make her restaurant a reality.
Online crowd-funding sites allow entrepreneurs to solicit monetary contributions from ordinary people eager to support a new business. Kickstarter is the most prominent, although sites such as Indiegogo also attract followers. The sites are a revelation for those who have traditionally relied on wealthy investors or loans to finance their dreams. Crowd-funding democratizes the launch process; anyone so moved can throw in money with a click. Right now the food world is inspired by the Cinderella story of Minnesota’s Travail restaurant, which budgeted $75,000 and raised more than $230,000 through Kickstarter.