About a decade ago, Community Supported Restaurants looked like the next big thing. Travel + Leisure rounded up a few CSRs around the country in a 2012 "trend watch" feature, and, in 2015, Eater asked, "Is the Membership-Based CSA Model the Future of Restaurant Financing?"
If the last few years have been any indication, the answer to that question is... not really, no.
Community Supported Restaurants use roughly the same model as Community Supported Agriculture or CSAs, relying on membership fees from diners rather than capital from banks. But while CSAs experienced a pandemic boom (a story I covered for Minnesota Monthly last year), you don't see many CSRs popping up anymore. Some of the restaurants highlighted by Eater and Travel + Leisure are still up and running; others, like Cow & Quince in New Glarus, Wisconsin, have permanently closed.
Personally, I like the model—keeping banks out of the picture and getting the community involved is a real win-win—so I was happy to learn on Tuesday that Union Hmong Kitchen is debuting a community supported restaurant program.
Well. Not happy happy. I don't think it'll surprise you to learn that they're introducing this program because times are tough. “These last few years have been hard, and we’ve been through it together,” chef-owner Yia Vang said in a statement. “We’re asking for you to join us in being part of our community as we keep going through it together.”
After operating on a pop-up basis for years, Union Hmong Kitchen finally landed a permanent location in October, just in time for Omicron to start ripping through the Twin Cities. Their new Community Supported Restaurant program is a way to help the restaurant weather the tough winter months and navigate those COVID-19 curveballs.
Union Hmong Kitchen is offering three contribution tiers (not unlike we do here at Racket—support Racket!). If you chip in $250, you get a $300 gift card and a pantry essentials sampler. If you give $500, you get $600 in gift cards, pantry essentials, and a sticky rice at-home kit. Have $1,000 to spare? You'll get $1,200 in gift cards, everything else from the previous two tiers, and a fire grill kit. (Two additional tiers for small businesses and corporations are available at $1,000 and $2,500.)
And unlike many other community supported restaurant models, theirs is more of a short-term fundraising goal than a long-term solution. UHK's CSR program launched in early February and will be available through March 31.
“I used to think that UHK was just about making Hmong food for people, but I was wrong, it’s deeper than that,” said Vang. “I look at the ancient history of our people to the current history of our people and one theme that constantly repeats itself in the last 7,000 years is perseverance. But that only happens when there’s a community that comes together.”
You can become a part of their CSR here.