Chef and Restaurant Entrepreneur
Cutting his teeth at the Michelin starred Chester Grosvenor, followed by time spent at Chapter One, Chez Bruce, York & Albany and Jamie’s Italian, Gary Usher opened Sticky Walnut in Hoole, Chester, in 2011 on a budget that meant he had to famously choose between a combi-oven or new tables and chairs.
After a few very successful years, Usher decided to open a second bistro. With no support from the banks, Usher launched a crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter and Twitter. Securing more than £100,000 thanks to 891 backers who made pledges of between £10 and £5000, Burnt Truffle (name decided and voted for by his Twitter following) opened its doors in Heswall on the Wirral in July 2015.
Following Burnt Truffle’s success, Gary and the team have subsequently launched four Kickstarter campaigns, the most recent of which helped to open Kala in Manchester city centre. The Kala Kickstarter was the most ambitious of the crowdfunding campaigns to date, where the team attempted to raise £100k in 100 hours to open. Breaking not only their own, but Kickstarter’s records, the team raised £100k in 11 hours, making it the fastest funded restaurant project in the world.
Gary has won numerous awards throughout his career, including several AA rosettes and was recognised as one of the of the most powerful people in hospitality by The Caterer. He regularly speaks at industry events including Northern Restaurant & Bar, Restaurant Magazine’s R200 and at KMPG’s annual Restaurant & Bar luncheon, alongside Michel Roux Jnr. He is also a member of the Observer Food Monthly judging panel.
“I got into crowdfunding in 2013 when the banks turned me down for a loan to open a second restaurant. This was despite the fact that my first, Sticky Walnut, was doing really well. A friend suggested crowdfunding as an alternative and I haven’t looked back since.”
Q. Explain to us what made you decide to use crowdfunding to open your restaurants, and how has this helped you to expand?
I got into crowdfunding in 2013 when the banks turned me down for a loan to open a second restaurant. This was despite the fact that my first, Sticky Walnut, was doing really well. A friend suggested crowdfunding as an alternative and I haven’t looked back since. Now, rather than relying on banks, we ask people who believe in us to invest by just paying for their meals up front in the form of meal vouchers.
Q. You have a Channel 4 documentary coming out about the opening of Pinion, why was it important to you launch a restaurant in Prescot?
Prescot has an incredible sense of community with some amazing people who are so proud of where they come from. It’s been through some hard times but with plans to regenerate the area, myself and the team wanted to bring a really great little bistro to Prescot and be part of something bigger than just a business.
Q. Who is your biggest inspiration from the industry?
Richard Sharples, Elite Bistros’ Executive Chef because he’s the best example of a man I know. He adores his wife, son and dog. He’s talented, level headed and a perfect role model for everyone at Elite Bistros. Calum Franklin for very similar reasons.
Q. What does hospitality mean to you?
Really great food in a relaxed and welcoming environment.
Q. How have people shaped your business? From your staff to your customers.
It’s simple, we wouldn’t be where we are now if it wasn’t for really lovely customers and a great team. I still can’t get my head around the support we receive on a daily basis from guests and even people who haven’t been to the restaurants but just like what we’re about. It’s really humbling.
There’s honestly nothing I love to see more than when guests are emailing or tweeting about how a member of the team looked after them so well. I feel so proud and it makes all worth it.