Not too long ago, Caribe, a little Caribbean restaurant whose original location was in St. Paul near University Avenue and Raymond, had to shut its doors, claiming a loss of business from light rail construction. Even after a relief loan from the city to help keep them afloat, owners Tony and Heidi Panelli just couldn't keep the business going.
But that's not going to stop them from trying again. The couple recently put together a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds to reopen their doors, this time in northeast Minneapolis. Last night the couple, in conjunction with Chowgirls Catering, threw a party to help give momentum to their fundraising efforts.
We sat down with Heidi to discuss some of the issues behind the restaurant closing, their hopes for the future, and the challenges the couple faces in reopening a new place of business.
As of today, Caribe is hovering around $20,000 in funds raised through Kickstarter; roughly $30,000 short of their $50,000 campaign goal with only five days left to go. For those unfamiliar with the Kickstarter online fundraising platform, the fundraisers have to set a fundraising goal that must be met by a predetermined deadline. If the funds are not raised in full by the end date, no funds are distributed and the money is refunded back to all the donors.
Whereas the couple acknowledges that $50,000 is a lot of money, they say it's the bare minimum they need to proceed with a new location.
"We crunched the numbers as much as we could, like how cheap could we do this," Heidi says. "If we went much lower we'd risk failing too early or not even being able to complete what needs to be done to open. Minimum renovations, you know, how much can we get by? We don't need to build a bar right away, we can just do signage and a liquor license and get people hired, and the materials for the space."
The couple is optimistic, Heidi says, but they're still looking into alternative methods of funding. "Tony has been meeting with various banks and organizations," she says, but "we haven't had luck going straight to banks, even, with a Minneapolis 2 percent loan for businesses. But we keeping getting stuck with 'the business is out of business,' even though we can prove our losses in conjunction with the light rail."
"We stuck it out as long as we could," says Heidi.
The party was meant to help bolster their fundraising efforts. The restaurateurs served up sample portions of dishes previously featured at Caribe in addition to a few new ones that could potentially be seen on a new, future menu should funding come through. Guests rallied in support of the Panellis while relaxing with island-themed cocktails made using Joia Soda.
The party wasn't something they had initially thought of or planned for, Heidi says, but Heidi Andermack, one of the owners of Chowgirls, "was so excited to have us come to Northeast. She lives in Northeast, and obviously they're located here, and she's just been a cheerleader for us and said 'How about using our space to throw a party?'."
The couple is uncertain if they'll reach their fundraising goal, they are clearly grateful for the support they've gathered so far. If you're interested in helping the Panellis open a new Northeast location, you can visit their campaign by clicking here: Rebuild Caribe on Kickstarter. If you do decide to donate, you might just earn yourself a hug from Tony--one of the rewards they're offering for support.