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How Three Restaurateurs Discovered a New Membership Use Case
When dreaming up gertrude's, Nate Adler, Rachel Jackson, and Eli Sussman came to Blackbird to power a program that would "help fund the last chunk of the capital raise”
Running a restaurant is hard. So is starting one. From picking the right location to renovating the space to dialing in a banging menu, independent operators have their plates full.
But before they even start those crucial steps, there's the question of financing, as in how to get it. Unless you're Danny Meyer, putting together enough scratch to fund your dream spot can be a bit of a bear. This is true for first-time restaurateurs, but it's also a problem facing folks with a few beloved joints under their belt. In New York City, even a relatively small spot can require anywhere from an estimated $750,000 to $1,000,000 in startup costs before you've ushered your first guests through the front door.
Such was the case for husband-wife team Nate Adler and Rachel Jackson and their celebrated chef-partner Eli Sussman when they first dreamed up gertrude's, a Jew-ish Bistro due to open in the former James spot later this spring. For fourteen years, James was a cornerstone of Brooklyn's Prospect Heights, and the team wanted to continue that tradition, albeit with their own personal twist. Nate and Eli soon locked in on a shared vision, one in which Jewish staples like latkes, spaetzle, and gefilte fish-style croquettes could live alongside oysters, a classic bar burger, and a topflight cocktail program, all in an intimate neighborhood restaurant that, Eli says, "will feel like an extension of your kitchen."
Considering the team's track record — Nate and Rachel with Huertas and GERTIE; Eli with Samesa, as well as his hospitality side-hustle meme account @thesussmans — the team could have certainly gone the traditional route in terms of securing backing. But given their commitment to the community, that is to say that community would be baked into the ethos of the restaurant, they wanted to take a more grass roots approach. And thus the gertrude’s Founding Membership program was born.
A New Use-Case
Though these memberships (more on each tier below) are powered by Blackbird, we can’t take credit for the vision behind gertrude’s program. One of the phrases heard a lot here at HQ is “restaurants first,” and that’s no marketing mumbo jumbo. We truly believe it. Each Blackbird-powered loyalty and membership program is led by the restaurant for which it’s been created. That means everything from the rewards to the loyalty levels to the specific branding of the NFC cards and their accompanying NFTs are bespoke and organic to each spot.
But Nate approached us with a use-case we hadn’t exactly thought of just yet: crowdfunding.
“When I first started talking to [Blackbird founder and CEO] Ben [Leventhal] about Blackbird, he spoke about how it could play with both the ‘diners’ and the ‘clubs’ in the restaurant space, and with regards to the latter — the idea of memberships,” Nate says. “I asked if we could think about doing founding memberships to actually help crowdfund the restaurant, and he said he didn't see why not. So, gertrude's founding memberships were born; and it took a long time to figure out what that meant.”
Figure it out Nate and his team did. Founding Memberships at gertrude’s come in three tiers: Gold, Diamond, and Pearl, and they offer a cool range of perks for the restaurant’s future best guests, from an SMS concierge service to personalized bomber jackets to dinner parties cooked by Eli the meme lord himself.
Tier 1: Gold
Includes: access to Direct Messaging for priority reservations and all your other gertrude's needs; quarterly oyster happy hours; access to event pre-sales; a complimentary (sometime secret) menu item for the first 10 visits.
Tier 2: Diamond
Includes all benefits from tier 1, plus: Preview Dinner at GERTIE (full comp); a custom off-menu cocktail with your name on it; Secret Menu item complimentary on each visit to gertrude’s; Founder’s Bomber Jacket.
Tier 3: Pearl
Will get all the benefits from tier 2, except the preview dinner will be cooked in the comfort of your own home (instead of at GERTIE); will also get priority wine access and keep pre-ordered wines in our cellar.
Regulars at GERTIE — in fact, the entire guest book — will have already received an invitation to join gertrude’s membership program, which Nate hopes will help “fund the last chunk of the capital raise.” Eli agrees, saying it’s a “swing that would be really cool if people are captivated by it.” Eli was the brains behind the idea of cooking preview dinners in people’s homes. Having moonlighted as a caterer in LA during a previous life spent working in the music business, as well as having cooked his fair share of charity dinners (and seen what kind of money could be raised by them), Eli felt compelled by the idea — but he gravitated to it beyond its business utility.
“I love cooking for people in their home,” he says. “You get this direct connection because you’re in their house or their apartment. Normally, in a restaurant, a chef gets no more than two minutes to stop by someone’s table and chat.”
Nate shares Eli’s vision (as does Blackbird): that restaurants should be directly connected to their best guests. In a world in which operating costs continue to soar — Nate says at GERTIE he spends 5 percent of total revenue on third party delivery fees — it’s crucial to the bottom line that restaurateurs cultivate a relationship with their most loyal customers.
“It is so hard to reach our best guests and being able to market what we are doing,” he says. “Hopefully, with a little luck and help from Blackbird, we can get there.”
If you’re interested in becoming a Founding Member at gertrude’s, click here to discover more and purchase your NFT. Magic awaits…
Blackbird Labs, Inc.