OVER THE RHINE, OH (FOX19) - On a busy Friday afternoon, as his staff prepared for the flood of weekend customers who'd be arriving that night, Jean-François Flechet stood in the dining room of his bistro in Over-The-Rhine and couldn't help but be optimistic about the year ahead.
Optimism must run through Flechet's veins. He started his operation with not much more than a waffle iron and free samples at Findlay Market. Now, he has a full line bakery at Findlay Market, the bistro in OTR, a "concept store" in Columbus, and is planning to expand into Northern Kentucky and the Cincinnati neighborhood of Short Vine, near the University of Cincinnati and surrounding hospitals.
"Years ago, Short Vine was a happening area and I think it's about to start a transition a little bit like what happened with Over-The-Rhine," Flechet said. "A few years ago it was very depressed. And now the place is packed every evening during the week and on the weekend."
But to open his new restaurant on Short Vine he'll be using an unusual funding source --- his own customers. Flechet is partnering with a firm in Cincinnati that specializes in using the web to harness the power of community lending. That could mean a small business owner's friends, family, and those who are already loyal purchasers of his products and services.
Flechet sees it as an emotional investment in the community of Short Vine. If customers pony-up money to lend to his new restaurant, they'll be more likely to not only make sure his new location succeeds but also work to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood. Think of it as seed money that could sprout more businesses nearby if people see Flechet succeeding there.
This is literally "crowd funding." And it's so new that FOX19 agreed not to reveal exactly how this is going to work until after the "experiment," you could call it, is over. If the funding falls into place, Flechet plans to open his Short Vine location in August, adding 40 jobs to the local economy.
Meanwhile, he's secured a traditional bank loan to open a location in May at the new Friendly Market in Florence.
Not bad for a man who was just trying to give away samples of waffles not so long ago.