By now you’ve heard of community-supported agriculture, better known as a CSA. Individuals can buy a share of a farm’s crop for the year and get fresh produce and other food regularly from the farm. There are even some wine CSA’s beginning to emerge.

Now restaurants are taking hold of this community-supported model, and raising investment money from individuals in the communities they serve. Restaurants in the state of Vermont are taking the lead with this alternative way to fund an eating establishment that focuses on community first.

Take Claire’s in Hardwick, Vt., as an example. Claire’s not only gets it food locally; it gets its funding locally. Touch the Soil magazine (PDF) has the story of Claire’s creative funding.

A total of $115,000 was raised in start up money for the restaurant. The four owners of the restaurant each put in $10,000. Another $40,000 was borrowed from eight community members. The Preservation Trust of Vermont provided $15,000. The remaining $50,000 was raised by selling $1,000 community supported restaurant coupons to 50 community members.

The coupon portion is based on the community-supported agriculture model, but instead of getting boxes of tomatoes and zucchini, those who bought the coupons were entitled to $25 worth of food for 10 monthly visits per year for four years —which totals $1,000.

The Bee's Knees restaurant in Morrisville Vermont is owned and operated by Sharon Deitz. According to Gourmet.com, Deitz thought she was going to have to sell the restaurant she had owned for five years until she began to sell community-supported restaurant certificates. She’s raised a total of $70,000.

For a $1,000 certificate, community members get 12 certificates that are redeemable for $90 in food and beverages over three months. For a $500 investment, the 12 certificates are worth $45 in food and beverages. There was also an unsecured loan option where investors could make a modest profit.

Investors who participate in community-supported restaurants are putting a lot of faith in the restaurant owners. If the restaurant closes, their coupons/certificates are worthless. But while the restaurant doors are open, the investors are a part of a community that cares about food and where it comes from. They also get to be active supporters of a local business and give it the chance to succeed.

I just love this community-supported model. Serious Eats did a piece last summer on other community supported ventures like three small specialty food stores creating a community-supported preserves & bakery group and community-supported fisheries in Maine and Massachusetts.

Here are some other restaurants that I found that are participating in the community-supported restaurant model. Do you know of any others?

  • Tabellas (Amherst, Mass.) – a farm-to-table restaurant   
  • Local Sprouts Café (Portland, Ore.) – Organic and local foods and beverages (opening in 2010)
  • ZenKitchen (Ottawa, Canada) – Local, organic and gourmet food 

Images: Clairesv.comBee's Knees Facebook page

MNN homepage photo: TheresaTibbetts/iStockPhoto 

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