PushStart Kitchen proprietors Cristina and Zach Meloy are joining the brick-and-mortar movement, turning their community-supported supper club, PushStart Kitchen, into a bona fide restaurant this summer. Driven to satiate the enthusiastic Atlantans who have attended their dinners for nearly two years - first within a converted art studio at The Goat Farm Arts Center and, later, along a communal table in their own loft - this husband-and-wife duo has turned to its loyal fans for the funding boost to get their eatery off the ground. Backers for the current Kickstart campaign, which continues until May 22, can choose to pledge amounts from $1 to $10,000, and earn rewards ranging from Costa Rican milk truffles to private cooking lessons. We had a chat with Zach to discover what diners can expect from their new venture, Lost & Found.
For nearly two years, you've held private supper club dinners - first for a lucky 10 patrons, once a week, and more recently for 18, three or four times per week. What do you think has made PushStart so successful?
I think it's the fact that we're doing it in our home and welcoming people in. Our whole goal for [PushStart] was building a community around this project, so that when we had the restaurant, we would have that really strong foundation. It's a dinner party, so the best part of it is the experience - having people connect over good food. Having dinners four times a week kind of turned into a full-time job, so recently, we decided to pull back and are just doing dinners on the weekend - Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Did you always know you would eventually open a restaurant?
When we started this project, we were at a point in our lives when we had lost our restaurant in Costa Rica. We were working jobs that we weren't really into. We opened PushStart as a way to sort of push-start our lives again. We thought we'd either get our names out into the Atlanta dining scene, or we'd at least save up enough money for some extra plane tickets back to Costa Rica. But here we are with a restaurant around the corner. We've been able to connect with Atlanta, and we think Atlanta is an amazing city. It feels like it's really teetering on the brink of something awesome.
To fund your restaurant, you and Cristina launched a Kickstarter campaign, which runs for 30 days. But you've already surpassed your goal of $50,000! How do you feel about meeting this benchmark so quickly?
We are thrilled, shocked, and overwhelmed by the support. We had initially wrestled with the amount we were going to ask for, and thought of setting our goals in half, but we wanted as much of the restaurant as possible to be crowd-source funded. Setting it at $50,000 was kind of a Litmus test: If we can make this goal, we have a good starting point and Atlanta wants this project to work, but to hit that goal so quickly was mind-boggling, honestly. It's easy when opening a business to say, "We're going to do this our own way," but when it comes down to this restaurant, it's all about our guests.
And the Kickstarter campaign has nearly two weeks to go... !
Yep, I believe there are 13 days on the ticker. The more we can overfund, the less crazy personal debt we'll put ourselves in with the opening. Now that we're above goal, we're thinking of other ways to keep people involved in the campaign. We just added more donor rewards; we want to keep it interesting. It's been a thrilling experience, to say the least. We're emotionally tied to this project. We really hope that people like us and what we're doing. This kind of support is so invigorating, and gives us a renewed desire to get out there. We want it to grow as much as possible, and the more people that get involved, the more it can grow.
Is that why you let Atlantans vote on the name via ScoutMob?
We wanted to give everyone a say-so. It's also why we created the rewards we did for the Kickstarter campaign - to create lots of ways to interact.
You started with eight names, then narrowed it down to two: Lost & Found and Better Half. Why did you choose these two for the poll?
Before, when we owned a restaurant in Costa Rica, the name was Media Naranja, which means "half of an orange" literally translated. But figuratively, it means your better half, or what makes you whole. Cristina and I opened that restaurant together talking about how it was going to make us whole. It gave us some direction and purpose, but losing the restaurant was a really devastating period for us. We thought of reincarnating what we had in Costa Rica with the new name, Better Half. We liked the idea of continuing what we started. Lost & Found was based on the same story - losing the restaurant we worked so hard for in Costa Rica, and then wandering around aimlessly for a couple of years trying to figure out what we were doing, finally finding our new roots in this foodie community of Atlanta. What was lost, after a lot of hard work, was found again.
It was a close race, but Lost & Found won the vote by 4 percent. Are you stoked?
We knew we would be truly happy with either name, and we were honored to see what everybody else would pick for us. On Friday, when the votes were finally being tabulated, it was really exciting.
So, where will the restaurant be located?
We are in the process of of putting it all together at the Kool Corners building on 14th and State in Home Park. The building was built in 1937. It's super old and had been opened as a corner market when the Atlantic Field company was in business. There was a really amazing old Cuban sandwich restaurant there that closed around 2006.
What kind of ambience will we find?
We're moving into a pretty old building, and we're trying to preserve the original character. There's old brick in there, and exposed, original wood beams. I'm going to be painting a big mural in the space, but we'll also have some Kickstarter contributors' artwork. That's one of my favorite rewards for those who donate - you can paint artwork that will hang in the restaurant throughout its lifetime. Much like the kind of feeling we've developed by doing PushStart out of our home, the restaurant is going to have a high level of interactivity between the cooks and the guests. We'll probably eliminate the communal table and have just a kitchen bar. Instead of a wall of alcohol, you'll see an immediate kitchen, with 10 seats at the bar - in the style of a sushi restaurant - and 40 in total. It will be a small restaurant, but have a family feel. By keeping it as simple as we can, we're going to be able to maintain all the things that we've found are great with PushStart... being able to interact with everybody while serving creative food. It's a formula that works.
How about the food?
It will be a really small menu; five first courses and five second courses, and desserts. The menu will rotate based on the seasonality of ingredients and the chef's whimsy. With PushStart, we haven't been able to accommodate as many people with special diet requests and restrictions. But we're really excited about opening a restaurant where you can bring your vegetarian friend along, and know it's not just a meat place; everyone is going to have a good meal. We're going to keep it as simple as we can. We don't want it to feel like it's gone from PushStart to something else.
So when can we visit?
We're beginning buildout next month, and keeping it simple. We're aiming for an end of summer opening, provided all the birds land on the same branch at the same time.
Click here to donate to Cristina and Zach Meloy's Kickstarter campaign and finance PushStart Kitchen's forthcoming brick-and-mortar restaurant. Donations start at $1.
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