By now, you’ve probably heard plenty about Kickstarter, the site that crowd-sources funding for everything from video games to new movies. But you may not have heard how it helped one sustainably-minded chef and a Harvard grad to open one of LA’s ten best new restaurants of 2012 (as named by Los Angeles Magazine). Now, with an extensive community outreach program, Alma is giving back, and improving downtown LA’s low-income communities, one bite at a time.
Q. What made you turn to Kickstarter?
A. General Manager/Co-owner Ashleigh Parsons: We went into this project without any investors, so we were limited with a budget. Chef [Ari Taymor] worked with our friend Brian McGinn to put together a video for a grassroots start to the project. It was well received, considering Chef is new to LA and didn’t have a big name, and we were able to raise quite a bit of money.
Q. What inspired you to make your campaign community-focused?
A. Parsons: Chef and I met each other four years ago in San Francisco at a yoga studio. Chef was dabbling in the culinary world and I got a job working in some low-income after-school programs. [The kids’] lunch would consist of a bottle of Coke and hot chip Cheetos. It really sparked an interest in providing healthy food options to low-income populations.
Q. Did you offer any prizes or incentives to potential donors?
A. Parsons: We did, but I think for people, it was more about supporting this authentic project, rather than the prizes, because we haven’t seen one person come in and ask for their free dinner.
Q. How did you advertise the campaign?
A. Chef/Co-Owner Ari Taymor : Our friend helped us make a video, and each of us posted on our respective Facebooks. We were lucky enough to have friends pass it on to friends and it kind of just grew from word of mouth. We ended up raising about $7,000.
Q. What was the first thing you bought with the funds?
A. Chef Taymor: We bought new stoves, new plates, and a new refrigerator. Just really basic things we needed to get the doors open.
Q. How big of a role does community outreach play at Alma?
A. Chef Taymor: The community outreach is just as important to us as opening for service every night. We feel like it’s our responsibility to have an education and a nutrition component. While making a living is the goal, our desire is to impact as many people as possible to the degree that we can, starting from our community and hopefully growing from there.
Parsons: My background is in non-formal learning that happens in non-formal settings, specifically out-of-school-time learning. When I agreed to come on as General Manager at Alma, I made it very clear that if we were going to do this, we were going to simultaneously contribute a community outreach program working with low-income families in the local community.
Q. What projects are you doing currently?
A. Parsons: I reached out to LA’s BEST and they were very receptive to our grassroots idea. They set me up with a partnership at Esperanza Elementary School, a 100% Latino and low-income school. We designed a curriculum that highlights seasonality and accessible, affordable recipes. Each month, we highlight an ingredient, usually a fruit or a vegetable, that is in season at the time. We built a garden and some of the farmers from the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market came and helped us plant.
At New Village Charter School, we are going to introduce a new program on February 28th. These are ninth- through twelfth-grade girls at an alternative high school, and 40% of the girls are pregnant at any given time. It’s a really important population to be introducing health and nutrition, given that a lot of them are young mothers.
952 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Images courtesy of Brian McGinn and Alma