By Sarah Wentzel-Fisher · Photos by Stephanie Cameron
Today when someone refers to innovation, it often implies technological solutions to complex problems. But innovation can occur anywhere conventional methods don’t apply or won’t work, with very simple solutions. The story of Santa Fe’s The Beestro, The Hive Market, and the soon-to-open Root Cellar, a mead and wine tasting room and gastropub, is one of innovative financing that has everything to do with community building and creative access to capital, and very little to do with technological innovation.
In the last five years, Greg Menke has managed to open a catering business, a café, a small specialty market, and soon a wine cellar featuring his own mead, New Mexico wines, and a gastropub menu, all financed through local crowdsourcing—a metaphoric collecting of pollen to feed his businesses financially and his community actually. Honey bees are the inspiration for each of these establishments. Like a honeycomb, they provide structure, beauty, food storage, heating and cooling, and so much more. Menke has built a series of multifunctional food businesses made strong by many people contributing resources and working in collaboration.
Menke went to culinary school in Baltimore in 1992, where his thesis studies involved research into indigenous American and European culinary exchange, and brought him to Santa Fe, Hawaii, Europe, and many other places. While in Hawaii, Menke discovered a love for visiting farms for favorite ingredients. He would photograph the sites as a form of notetaking, and upon review would notice he had subconsciously captured beehives in his images. This led him to seek out a short beekeeping apprenticeship, and a lifelong love affair with pollinators.
Five years ago, Menke returned to Santa Fe abuzz with serious passion to open a restaurant, but without the serious capital needed to open a brick-and-mortar establishment. Following a friend’s advice to “Never leave your restaurant,” in October of 2012 Menke decided to start a catering business called the Beestro literally out of his refrigerator. The friend meant a restaurateur should build his client base before ever opening his doors, and Menke took this to heart by building a network of individuals and businesses committed to his cooking and reassured by his reliably delicious catered food. After a year of regular lunch and special event service to downtown businesses, Paul DeDomenico, a downtown property owner, offered Menke 101 Marcy Street.
Determining the space would work as a starting place for his vision, Menke sent an email to his more than six hundred friends, followers, and customers asking for contributions to help him open the restaurant in exchange for future food, at a return rate of about twenty percent comprised of discounts and other perks. Customers who routinely enjoyed Menke’s lunches saw this as a win-win opportunity and quickly chipped in to help him grow his business. He raised twenty-five thousand dollars in nine days and the Beestro went from fridge to storefront.
Menke says that particularly for high-risk enterprises like restaurants and other food businesses, conventional financing can be hard to procure, and can have prohibitive terms. He’s found that his customers see his businesses as a low-risk, high-return investment with personal accountability, and a bonus of building community. He’s careful how he spends the crowdsourced funds. His own money goes into the more permanent infrastructure like walls and drains, and the community dollars go toward easily salable items like chairs and tables, in case of the unlikely event he would need to liquidate his business and pay back his investors. This sort of thoughtful approach has his customers continuing to support his growth.
Building on his success, when a small market space next door became available and Paul DeDomenico offered the space and partnership, Menke again enlisted his dedicated customers for support. Now, in the process of opening his fourth enterprise, the Root Cellar, Menke is a skilled hand at managing unconventional financing. He is now embarking on his largest crowdsourcing effort to-date to raise ninety thousand dollars via Indiegogo—this will be his first time using an online platform to raise money—to complete a kitchen space that will provide food for the Beestro, the Hive Market, and the Root Cellar when it opens in mid- to late-October. He says, “Our Achilles heel is our kitchen, currently located behind the Haagen Dazs shop. We are losing our kitchen due to their plans to expand their offerings. We need to build out our own kitchen space and the basement beneath the Beestro is the perfect place, enabling us to service the Hive Market and Root Cellar.”
Menke humbly acknowledges that the successes of the Beestro and the Hive Market, and future of the Root Cellar, rely on the work of a committed colony. To name only a very few, he gives special thanks and acknowledgement to Indiegogo campaign manager Marcia Kaplan; Vicki Pozzebon, for help with branding; Drew Tulchin of UpSpring, a social enterprise development team; the Beestro general manager Aidan White; head mazer (mead maker) David Schimpff; Falcon Meadery founder Darragh Nagle (Menke is in the process of purchasing the meadery); patron and local investor Andy Wallerstein; and, perhaps most importantly, his partner in life and business, Devon Gilchrist.
In a deep and fundamental way, he believes in bees, and tries to model both his life and his businesses after their example by working to his strengths and enlisting the help of the many for the overall success of the hive. He says he hopes his customers and community will make an effort to live locally and sustainably. He wants them to see how bees are connected to farms and how food is connected to health and happiness, and that everyone chipping in a little pollen (or money)
can make a lot of honey and a number of successful businesses.
*Editors note: The Root Celler opened in late November 2016