Solstice Cafe, a popular restaurant that specializes in wood-fired gourmet pizzas, has outgrown its current Bingen, Wash., location and wants to relocate to the Hood River waterfront area.
But its business plan hinges on obtaining a portion of its funds with help from a relatively new and unique source — an Internet site called Kickstarter — which is a platform that provides fundraising opportunities for what the website calls “creative projects.” The catch is, the campaign must reach its set monetary goal by a certain time, or the deal is off.
WHAT SOLSTICE COULD DO WITH KICKSTARTER FUNDS
• Build with sustainable and energy-efficient materials
• Purchase new commercial kitchen equipment
• Build a pizza-take-out window
• Build an indoor/outdoor sunroom
• Install the wood fire oven from Bingen
• Install a buzzer paging system to let customers (who may be waiting in the waterfront park) know their take-out pizzas are ready
• Furniture and fixtures for dining room and full bar
• Licensing and permits
• Initial food and drink inventory
• Operating capital
“As of this morning (June 12) we are at almost 65 percent of our Kickstarter Campaign goal. The campaign ends on June 23, at 9 p.m. and is an ‘all or nothing deal.’ If we don’t reach our goal, we don’t receive any of the pledged funds,” said co-owner Suzanne Wright Baumhackl.
The ambitious Kickstarter campaign goal of $50,000 comes with numerous limitations and conditions on what funds can be used for, but Suzanne and her husband, Aaron, have a long list of what the funds could provide.
“We love the idea of being part of creating the new waterfront neighborhood of Hood River and ensuring it is kept local, unique and special. It's really exciting and the response from the community has resoundingly agreed with us,” said Suzanne.
Baumhackl says that the Kickstarter funds are the final piece needed for their full project budget of $300,000. According to Solstice’s promotional Kickstarter video, funding has come from grants and some private investors.
Suzanne and Aaron started the Solstice business in February 2007 with 12 employees. They now employ upwards of 40 full- and part-time staff depending on the season.
But the growth of their business over the last seven years has made it difficult to maintain an efficient operation.
“The decision to try and move to Hood River is a complex question that we have been thinking over for several years. Unfortunately, the Bingen cafe no longer provides the infrastructure that we need to operate an efficient and profitable business. On top of that, the building is for sale, and we are not in the position to purchase the building and then have to make the renovations to bring the space up to professional standards,” Baumhackl said.
In addition to the cafe, Solstice increased its customer reach with something that Suzanne calls “our greatest business innovation” — the Mobile Pizza Kitchen — essentially a wood-fired pizza oven on wheels.
“It's given us the ability to take our pizza to the people for events and festivals and broaden our customer base. One bite of Country Girl pizza or a wood-fired s’more has motivated many folks to drive to Bingen or book a private catered event with us.”
It has been two years since the launch of the mobile pizza kitchen, and Baumhackl says that this has propelled their catering to new heights. She hopes a new building space will allow Solstice to focus even more energy into that aspect.
“Now we do weddings, farmers markets, family and corporate parties for Nike and Dakine, and even beer, whiskey and wine festivals. We’ve been hired to travel to Portland, the coast and Seattle. Solstice Mobile Pizza and Catering has had stellar growth — which has been a good problem to have — and has created at least 10 additional jobs,” Baumhackl said.
The Baumhackls have given a lot of thought to a potential new storefront — one that is specifically designed to facilitate an efficient distribution model — similar to the craft brewery distribution model.
“We're calling our model the ‘Hub & Spoke.’ The hub is the cafe and the spokes are our mobile pizza kitchens. We also look forward to an extended ‘peak’ season in Hood River as well as a ‘late’ dining market.
“We have had our eyes on many possible locations near Oak Street but we didn’t want to have another downtown pizza option because we respect other small family businesses. When the waterfront building was brought to our attention, it really was the perfect fit,” Baumhackl said.
Solstice would like to be a tenant in the new waterfront building on Lot 3, which is owned by Key Development. Baumhackl is hoping to see a 20-percent business increase, as well as the creation of a more efficient operation, which could save money. New menu items are on the horizon, too.
“We’ll be able to design a kitchen from scratch and ensure a more consistent customer flow. We would like to add a grill and plan to have a new amazing burger. Our menu is also going to expand to offer more seasonal Gorge-centric entrees, a liquor bar offering inventive cocktails and more.”
According to Baumhackl, the community is the “core of Solstice’s existence” and a large part of their business plan has been to collaborate and approach growth from a perspective of mutual support, not direct competition.
“It’s all about synergy and carving out your niche, staying true and having integrity especially with our local community whether it be with farmers, wine-makers or nonprofit organizations.”
One example is the partnership Solstice has formed with the weekly “Ruins Tuesday” event at Springhouse Cellar in Hood River.
“Springhouse came about when they had just expanded their occupancy capacity and we had reached the point where our regularly scheduled performing arts events had maxed out at the cafe.
“With the ability to be mobile, we are able to bring our oven to the weekly Ruins Tuesday which features free live music, pizza, beer/wine, and kids activities. We love supporting and promoting all the purveyors we work with and love the creativity in devising new events to promote,” Baumhackl said.
That collaborative effort doesn’t stop at people just in the food and beverage industry, though.
Baumhackl calls the local crew that helped create Solstice’s Kickstarter promotional video “wonderfully creative,” and is grateful for the help from business partners, friends and family.
“Our video captured everything we wanted — including our two young sons and our friends.”
The project was created by videographer Giselle Kennedy and photographer Jen Jones, with music by Ben Bonham.
“People love the video — they are sharing it widely and are cheering us on all throughout Hood River and beyond,” Baumhackl said.
To date, the Kickstarter program for Solstice has included two pledges from donors in England and many from back East where Suzanne grew up, as well as California where Aaron is from. The list includes childhood friends who had not contacted Aaron in years.
The Baumhackls call the Kickstarter campaign a “powerful collaboration” and think people who pledge will feel a sense of ownership and be invested in their success for the long haul.
However, Kickstarter —which is a for-profit company — states on its website that only 44 percent of fundraising campaigns are successful. So what will happen if Solstice doesn’t reach its campaign goal?
“If the Kickstarter doesn’t fund, we don’t plan to give up quite yet. We will seek to make up the difference with private investors through loans and would include other creative incentives through the cafe. We wouldn’t close; we would stay in Bingen and try again as soon as possible.
“But, we are very confident that this amazing community can pull off the extraordinary and we can't wait to celebrate together at our opening party and everyday at the Hood River waterfront,” Baumhackl said.
Solstice Cafe would remain in the Bingen location until Oct. 31.