Scott Kester and David Lefkowitz are about to offer you that very opportunity. They’ve rented 58 Lispenard (the old Pearl Paint frame store) as the site of The Elevens, a crowdsourced bar and restaurant. “We wondered what would happen if we raised the capital by microfinancing, asking for a little bit of money from a whole lot of people,” says Kester. Adds Lefkowitz: “We can raise a million dollars by asking for only $500 from 2,000 people? That’s not an unreasonable amount of money—I can’t tell you how many $200 nights I’ve had with nothing to show for it except a hangover.”
There’s good reason not to think they’re selling you the Brooklyn Bridge. They’re both designers with experience in restaurants: Kester designed Sushi Samba, Lotus, and San Francisco’s Coi, among many others; Lefkowitz designed Peep in Soho and Gig in Rio de Janeiro. It was while working together at another design firm that they got the idea for The Elevens. Explains Lefkowitz: “The firm owned a restaurant on the building’s ground floor, and Scott and I often hung out at the bar after work. The warmth and interest in what we were up to, the service and special attention, the discounted or comped food and drinks—we felt wonderful there, like the place was ours.” Sometimes you want to go wherever everyone knows your name—and that you’re important.
So how will The Elevens work?
••• For a one-time $500 contribution, you become what the Elevens calls a Seatholder. Seatholderships are available to anyone, but only until funding is complete.
••• You can sell or trade your Seatholdership on an online exchange (pending approval and legal age of buyer).
••• While the restaurant will also be open to non-seatholders, your investment gets you benefits like those at a private club: a 25% discount on everything you pay for (if you bring three non-Seatholders to dinner, everyone gets 25% off as long as you’re the one paying the bill); priority reservations; and access to exclusive events and tastings (including an annual off-site event for Seatholders). “There will even be aspects of the business that we put up for voting,” says Kester. For those of you who are still concerned that $500 is a lot of money, The Elevens’s website has a page about “doing the math.”
The amount you save over the years could be huge. But how do you know the restaurant won’t tank after three months? There’s no guarantee, of course, although Kester and Lefkowitz have brought on some impressive back-up. The food will be overseen by Daniel Patterson of the extremely well-regarded Coi. (Check out the sample menu.) “Daniel and his crew will train and work with our chef, develop the recipes, and visit for events,” says Kester. “We’re both excited about fermentation and slow-cooking, and pairing cocktails with the food.” Legendary bartender Dale DeGroff is the beverage consultant. Music will be supervised by Scott Mou—the music producer and performer who helps make the Other Music record store so special.
“Our goal is to be transparent in everything we do, so Seatholders can see exactly where their money is going,” says Kester. As part of that transparency, they offered to share their moodboard, a collection of images from various sources that have inspired the project. Somewhat paradoxically, The Elevens was inspired by the 19th-century temperance movement—or, more precisely, according to some notes on the website, the culture that arose because of it (“home distillation, the rise in popularity of alcohol in America, prohibition, and the social groups who toiled in secret to indulge, convivially, in drinking”). The plan is for the restaurant to be “New Victorian, but not fancy, civilized yet playful”; the name comes from the old tradition of breaking for a little something spirited around 11 a.m. “What if Iggy Pop designed the Oak Room?” asks Lefkowitz, envisioning a black-on-black Beaux Arts interior. “We seem to have the most fun in dark, black spaces….”
“Even at full retail, for non-Seatholder customers, we’d like to be less expensive than every other place on the block,” says Kester. “This isn’t about raking in a personal fortune, but rather, community-building and providing value and benefit for the greater good.” If all goes well, they plan on opening outposts in other cities, with San Francisco next.
And now, those moodboard images you were promised….