I'm not going to lie and tell you that I or anyone on our staff has ever eaten at Starry Kitchen, but after witnessing their passion and drive, I feel like an idiot. Not to mention that eating at an illegal apartment restaurant sounds extremely cool.
Starry Kitchen was born in 2009 as a chef-wife, manager-husband operation nestled in Thi and Nguyen Tran's apartment in North Hollywood. The outfit was a success from the start, with patrons including mostly the Trans' friends before her creations quickly drew a cult following in the area. LA Weekly offered an account of the precarious adventure in its infant stages.
Fast-forward a few months and Starry Kitchen had been reported to the health department. After health department fines they were still running things black-ops style, but with 130 patrons at their last seating, the couple needed more space. Ultimately the downtown location crashed in mid-2012 due to a few costly mistakes. "We were flying by the seat of our fucking pants," Tran said. "The people before us didn't know how to run a restaurant either. We learned from them."
After closing the DTLA spot, while trying to keep all of their employees employed, they opened up at Tiara Cafe, Far East Plaza, and finally the Grand Star Jazz Club. By now the Trans were somewhat stable and doing well, but after this many years of compromising and sacrificing, they were ready to lay it all on the table. "Is 'just enough' really worth it?! Mediocrity does not sit well with us," Tran tells me.
This brings us here: Starry Kitchen needs a place to call home—some place their loyal patrons can emotionally attach to and where they can count on some stability. But running a food establishment, let alone one that moves so damn much, can be murder on the pockets. As Tran told the LA Times, "We're in the hole, not for a lot of money, but we need to get out of it. And for us to move forward, we need to do it right." Tran meddled with a few investors, but that's a tough route, particularly for restaurants.
Kickstarter is Tran's current plan for funding. Over the course of our communication, Nguyen has shown himself to be ambitious, off the wall and frankly, fucking nuts. So nuts, in fact, that one of his prized Kickstarter rewards is a tattoo of the supporter riding a unicorn on his forearm. "I'm willing to get five limited-edition permanent Unicorn (aka the national animal of Scotland) TATTOOS on my left inner forearm that will include a caricature of YOUR FACE on a body riding that very same UNICORN," Tran says. The reward kicks in at a hefty $10,000, but I have to admit if I had the spare cash I'd be down.
The crazy campaign has other rewards including your name inscribed on the bathroom walls, "for a good time" of course, cooking classes, curse-word barrages and a night of "debaucherous" drinking in LA's culinary underbelly.
The campaign just launched and at the time of this posting has 136 backers for a total of $21,737. Kickstarter showed some concern for the goal as it's the largest they have seen for a restaurant at $500,000. Despite that worry, Tran is level-headed about his ideas saying, "If we somehow, some way, complete this incredibly ludicrous [but appropriate by our estimates] amount to open a full-fledged restaurant: I'M GOING TO GO MOTHERFUCKING CRAZY ON THIS CITY!" In a tasty way, he was assures us.
You can't help but admire the Trans for their conviction to make their dream come true, and dammit I want to ride that unicorn! You can check out their campaign #SaveOurBalls here.