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Inspired by new Alabama crowdfunding law, Albany Bistro launches campaign for Decatur restaurant

posted Oct 9, 2014, 11:35 PM by J Shaw   [ updated Oct 9, 2014, 11:36 PM ]
DECATUR, Alabama - When food lover Jakob Reed opened Albany Bistro on Grant Street near downtown Decatur in 2009, everyone said the first five years would make or break the neighborhood restaurant.

If Albany Bistro survived that unpredictable and often challenging period, Reed was told it would be "smooth sailing" after that.

That didn't exactly turn out to be true for Reed and managing partner Rick Brown, who recently celebrated five years of business in the River City.

As the number of family-owned and big-box restaurants has grown, Albany Bistro has struggled to stay afloat in a competitive dining environment, which Brown said has added roughly 1,400 seats since 2012 in a city that has not experienced a major influx in new homes or traffic.

Instead of making the pie bigger, Reed said the steady stream of new eateries has made the slices smaller, particularly for independently-owned businesses that don't have the marketing budgets that chains have.

"People have said the first five years are the hardest, but it seems like this year has been a little more difficult than some years past because we've had so many restaurants open up," Reed told "You really have to stay on that competitive edge."

That's where crowdfunding comes in.

In April, Gov. Robert Bentley signed crowdfunding legislation sponsored by Republican Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur to allow entrepreneurs to use social media and advertising to find small investors within the state. Since the law was passed, Orr and the Alabama Securities Commission have held crowdfunding seminars for small business owners in north Alabama.

Crowdfunding, a concept still relatively new to many local companies and individuals, gives businesses like Albany Bistro the opportunity to find investors -- usually online -- who believe in their product. To stay adaptive to Decatur's current business climate, Reed and Brown began exploring crowdfunding to bring their "Local Food Movement" dream to the next level.

This week, Albany Bistro launched its first crowdfunding campaign on Credibles, a "Slow Money" website that allows small food businesses to crowdfund and offers re-payment of funding as in-kind "edible" credits. Essentially, if you contribute to the campaign, you get store credits you can use at the restaurant.

Albany Bistro's campaign is ambitious -- $100,000 -- but still doable, Brown argues. They hope to raise 60 percent of their fundraising goal by Dec. 1 so they can use part of the funds to transform the dining room to hold more farm-to-table events, cooking and canning classes and seasonal chef's tables.

"If you believe in the 'Local Food Movement,' you should invest in this - it's that simple," Brown said.

Brown and Reed estimate the revamp alone will cost about $12,000.

"If you believe in the 'Local Food Movement,' you should invest in this - it's that simple," Brown said. "There's a lot of education to be had to help people understand the movement, but investment is a very important thing."

Reed, who never attended culinary school but learned to cook as a child from his mother and grandmother, opened Albany Bistro in the former Back Door Gourmet building. The deli-style restaurant was a favorite local spot for Reed when it was open.

When Reed moved back to Decatur in 2008 after living in Nashville, Back Door Gourmet closed. Eight months later, the building at the corner of Grant Street and Somerville Road Southeast became Albany Bistro, a classic Southern-style restaurant with a "more modern twist and a little bit of understated elegance," Reed said.

On the cutting edge

Throughout Albany Bistro's five-year history, Reed said they've never strayed from doing things a little differently. Crowdfunding is just another step in that direction.

"We've always tried to be on the cutting edge in the restaurant industry and I think we've managed to do that quite well for the Decatur market," he said. "It's hard for the smaller guys to compete with the larger guys, but when I heard that Sen. Orr and Rep. (Terri) Collins had pushed this bill through, a light went off in my head."

Albany Bistro, which emphasizes using locally-grown products, works with area farmers, the Committee on Church Cooperation, Carnegie Visual Arts Center and other organizations to serve and educate the community about farm-to-table cuisine.

Brown and Reed are also behind the popular EAT Decatur movement, a self-described "collective of local, independently owned restaurants and food related businesses providing you an innovative concept to discover new dining."

"We have an umbrella of a network that believes in what we do, so a $100,000 might sound like a lot of money, but in the end, the reach that we have in educating people as to where their food comes from is huge," Brown said. "We're very happy to educate the public about how the circle of food works nowadays. It's totally different than what it was 50 years ago."

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