Starry Kitchen co-owner Nguyen Tran wants you to save his balls. We're of course referring to his crispy fried tofu balls, a staple on the restaurant's menu, along with the reserve-only Singaporean chile crab.
Tran, who can often be found walking around Chinatown in a banana suit, owns the pan-Asian Starry Kitchen with his chef-wife Thi. In a review of a Starry Kitchen pop-up, Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold said the restaurant was capable of breaking hearts when it ran out of its signature Singaporean chile crab.
With that money, he's hoping to leave the Grand Star Jazz Club in Chinatown, where the restaurant currently pops up every Wednesday to Saturday evening, and find a place of their own. Tran said he'd been talking to traditional investors for years, but that it never really worked out the way he'd planned. He got the idea for a Kickstarter campaign from a fan of the restaurant.
"This is our go big or go home moment," said Tran. "I've heard about it [Kickstarter] for years now, and we're drawing the line and just saying, 'we're going to go big or not do it at all.'"
Tran and his wife started an occasional pop-up in their North Hollywood apartment before moving to the California Plaza food court on Bunker Hill. He's done marijuana-laced dinners with the pop-up group 4/20 dinners, was offering order-online lunches from a cooler by the Angels Flight in downtown, and popped up at Tiara Cafe before landing at the Grand Star Jazz Club.
"Kickstarter is scared for me because if we get this, it will be unprecedented," said Tran. A quick search on Kickstarter shows a restaurant called Travail in Robbinsdale, Minn., raised $255,669 after asking for $75,000.
If he reaches his goal, he is looking to open a permanent Starry Kitchen in another spot in Chinatown.
"I'm not leaving the area that I spent building," said Tran. "It was me and Roy [Choi] that built it, so why would I leave that?"
And if he doesn't reach his $500,000 goal, it could be the end of Starry Kitchen.
"There is no other plan," said Tran. "If this doesn't work, we're shutting it all down. Not because we're mad or sad. We're happy with what we've accomplished, but we need to just go forward and be happy."