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Why the BISq Team Is Running a $15,000 Kickstarter Campaign

BISq, the upcoming Bergamot sibling that will open this fall in Inman Square, is now the subject of a Kickstarter campaign. Chef/owner Keith Pooler and partner Rob McKeon discuss why and what they're crowd-funding.

Keith Pooler
Keith Pooler
Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater

As you’re getting closer to opening, what’s left to do at this point?

Keith Pooler: Right now we’re in the process of getting approved for electrical and plumbing, and then the walls go up, and then it’ll start to feel like a restaurant in the works.

Where are you in terms of furniture and details like that?

KP: Picking it out as we speak. I think the only thing left is chairs.

Are you doing the whole antique thing like a lot of restaurants have been doing lately — trips to Brimfield?

KP: No, I haven’t been to Brimfield — I grew up on the North Shore, so Brimfield is, like, around the corner for me. I don’t necessarily find that much of a "wow" factor because I grew up with it.

It seemed like a no-brainer to provide an outlet for us to say thanks to them with some great rewards, but at the same time also giving them an opportunity to support us on the next venture.

So, why the decision to turn to crowd-funding?

Rob McKeon: It’s three-fold. Number one, we’ve seen a lot of other businesses out there doing it and doing it with success, both restaurants locally as well as the Greater Boston start-up scene as a whole. I think another factor is that we never wanted to have to compromise what the restaurant is, a great restaurant for Inman Square, because of money, so we thought crowd-funding would be one great way to help ease some of that pressure. The last piece is that we’re really lucky that with what Keith and Servio [Garcia, Bergamot co-owner and general manager] have done at Bergamot over the last four-and-a-half years, they’ve built a really great community of people who have already been asking how they can help us. It seemed like a no-brainer to provide an outlet for us to say thanks to them with some great rewards, but at the same time also giving them an opportunity to support us on the next venture.

Picking the rewards can be the hardest part of a crowd-funding campaign, figuring out how to give the donors something of value without chipping away too much at the money you’re earning or forcing you to spend too much time fulfilling rewards rather than working on the actual restaurant. How did you go about picking your rewards?

RM: We started out thinking about what we can do well. We see it as a trade. What’s something that either Keith or Kai [Gagnon, wine director for both restaurants and general manager of BISq] or Dan [Bazzinotti, BISq chef de cuisine] can do that very few other people can, making it really have that special "wow" factor, while at the same time also helping us accomplish what we need to accomplish?

KP: We also wanted to depict what BISq is with what we offer, whether it’s Kai out picking wines with you or doing a butchering class or a pig roast, things like that that depict BISq well and we would have fun doing, because it is on top of operating the restaurant, above and beyond day-to-day operations for us.

It’s the difference between a hand-cranked pasta machine and an electric one for us at this point in time.

You’ve set a goal of $15,000. What exactly will the money go towards?

RM: Our view, with the mission of not wanting to compromise, is that we’d love to blow that goal away and hit some of the levels that places like Commonwealth have hit. As for what it’s going towards, we’ve made a lot of the decisions, but there’s still some of the furnishings, table tops, chairs, things like that — helping finalize those little touches that restaurants need.

KP: It’s the difference between a hand-cranked pasta machine and an electric one for us at this point in time. We did all of the hard stuff already, but there are always hiccups, always setbacks, always things that you didn’t see. We’ve come across a couple already, and it’s set us back months now. As it gets closer — and people are talking about us now — we can’t afford to slow down. So it helps us keep the pedal on the gas, going forward and being able to fulfill the day that eventually will come out of our mouth that we’re going to open.

If you unfortunately didn’t meet the goal [Kickstarter is all-or-nothing, so the $15,000 level must be reached], would that alter your timeline, or is everything pretty set at this point with or without the extra money?

KP: It won’t slow us down at this point in time, but it’ll just make things easier for us. It’ll be like, ok, I can pay overtime to have a contractor come in at night. One of our biggest setbacks has been with plumbing; we’ve had to do it overnight because we couldn’t have neighboring establishments have to hear the jackhammering we had to do for all the plumbing. Who could see that? I couldn’t see that. I wish I could have. This is our first time doing construction from a shell. It’s been a big learning curve for us. It wasn’t just replicating Bergamot; it was designing from square one.

How did you find the space? Or did the space present itself before you had a second restaurant in mind?

KP: We were in the process of looking at spaces, and we like where we are now in the Somerville/Cambridge area, so it seemed like a good fit. The space kind of dictated what we wanted to do, and I happen to have Dan in my back pocket, who is really good with charcuterie, and Kai’s awesome with wine, so it seemed like a no-brainer for us. One of the biggest things with looking at space is that you have to be able to look at it and see potential. We definitely see potential, and we think that it’s going to be a real crowd-pleaser and that it’s going to draw a different crowd than Bergamot — a younger crowd of people who go out more than once a week.

The best way to describe it is it feels very East Village of New York.

What does the space look like?

RM: The best way to describe it is it feels very East Village of New York. You walk in, and it’s fairly long. A little skinny. The kitchen is going to be open, kind of in the center, and there’s going to be a back area. There’s not a lot of funkiness to it; it’s pretty much just long and narrow.

KP: Thinking about the Village, one of the things that we wanted to try to acquire with this is that you go into those restaurants, and there’s not a lot of room, and it’s really happening. You want to be there, even though you’re not in plush comfort of a couch and things like that. The way we designed it is that we have lots of different options. We have a communal table, we have a banquette very similar to the one we have at Bergamot, so if someone wants that more refined approach, there’s an outlet for it. You have the big communal table, you have the open kitchen with the bar in front where there’ll probably be the hot seats that people are going to want to try to reserve. In back we’ll have the TV, we’ll have more of a lounge-type atmosphere, we’ll have another bar, a place where you can hang with your friends. We’ll have areas where you can actually stand and have a glass of wine or beer. All that in 1500 square feet.

What were your feelings on restaurants using Kickstarter before you thought to do it yourselves?

KP: Those lucky bastards.

There seems to be a bit of a divide; some people criticize restaurants for using it — "If you can’t afford it, don’t bother doing it" — while others acknowledge it as a good way for involving "fans" and getting a little extra funding.

KP: I’m confident to say that people’s good fortune is people’s good fortune, and I really think that’s great for them. It becomes a thing of pointing fingers, and I’m not in this industry to compete against my neighbor; I’m here because my neighbor inspired me to be here, and I like my neighbor and everything else. Over the years, Servio and I have both helped other people open their restaurants, and I think that’s what the community does a lot more over this side of the river than over in Boston because the demands are not as big and the rents aren’t as high. All those things play into a little bit more of a family over here.

What are you most excited about in general regarding getting the restaurant open (aside from just getting the restaurant open)?

KP: Just being able to do something different. It’s a different creative outlet for me and a different vision. We just revamped our kitchen at Bergamot with whole new equipment and found out all the possibilities of everything we were missing or weren’t doing with the equipment we had. Over at BISq, there’s even more new equipment and things to play with, which is kind of exciting, and I’m excited to let Dan get his hands dirty and shine like I know he will.

How are you planning on physically splitting your time between the locations?

KP: That’s a question I haven’t fully answered yet, but [Bergamot] will be my home base, and the way we’re treating it is we’re promoting Dan over at BISq because it’s his time to shine. He’s been with me for a long time, and I have no doubt of his success coming in the future. But I’ll be there to help, to make sure everything’s running the way it should, make sure he’s conveying what he wants properly, that kind of stuff.

I have so many different ideas and so many different visions of restaurants, and I’m never really satisfied to stick to one thing; that’s why the menu always changes at Bergamot.

Probably hard to say at this point in the process, but thinking about what it has been like so far to open the second restaurant, can you see yourself opening more in the future?

KP: It’s painstaking with this one right now, but in the same sense that’s the exciting aspect for me. I have so many different ideas and so many different visions of restaurants, and I’m never really satisfied to stick to one thing; that’s why the menu always changes at Bergamot. I want to cook barbecue, I want to cook all these different types of food, so I never say never; it just depends on what opportunity arises.

I was talking to Tony Maws down the street about the first year of The Kirkland Tap & Trotter, and he said that people told him the second restaurant is the hardest; that’s when you have to get all those systems in place for doing everything in two different ways. But after that, it gets easier for subsequent places, they told him.

KP: Yeah, it’s going to be a learning curve, but we’re taking the team from here and expanding, so we’ve nurtured them and brought them up, and they definitely know what they’re doing, and I have confidence in that. I don’t think I’m going to have to micro-manage; I think I’m going to have to macro-manage, which is an exciting aspect. We may stumble a little along the way, but that’s going to allow us to grow.

Anything else you want to tell potential donors and and future diners?

KP: The bratwurst is really good.

RM: Yeah, it is. [Both laugh.] I think we’re excited about all the rewards. We came up with ones that we feel represent BISq, and that’ll be fun for those people who choose to support us. There are some really cool ones out there. Please check out the page, and if anything jumps out at you, we’d love your support.

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