Mark Cesal wants to make you a pancake. He'll even put one in a plastic sandwich bag for you and mail it anywhere in the world, if you ante up $5 (U.S.).
Sure, it will be cold, most likely limp and maybe even a bit stale by the time it arrives from his home in Fort Myers, Fla. But that has not deterred strangers from as far as Toronto and Tulsa, Okla., from signing up for his Pancake in the Mail project on the fundraising website Kickstarter. By Monday morning, he had racked $137 (U.S.) in pledges from 39 contributors, far surpassing his $25 (U.S.) goal.
"I make very good pancakes," promises Cesal, who has cooked in restaurants in the past and now works as a graphic designer. But beyond showing off his griddle skills, he explains, his real motivation is to share one of his favourite breakfast foods. "It made me kind of smile to think, 'What would happen if you opened your mailbox and there's a letter in there, but you open it, and it's a pancake?'"
Cesal's pancake initiative is part of a sudden explosion of amateur food campaigns on Kickstarter that piggyback on a now-famous potato-salad project. That project, which began as a deadpan plea by an Ohio man for funds because "basically I'm just making potato salad," became a viral phenomenon on the Internet last week when it attracted tens of thousands of dollars in pledges. (By Monday morning, 6,023 people were committed to pledging $49,738.)
Copycats have since appealed for financial help to make a variety of plebeian fare, including coleslaw, tuna salad, devilled eggs and a pot of coffee. Yet while many of these campaigns are clearly tongue in cheek, food enthusiasts like Cesal have found inspiration in the potato-salad project, discovering a low-risk opportunity to conduct social experiments that give others a taste of their creations.
Until last week, food campaigns on Kickstarter were largely limited to budding entrepreneurs seeking financing for restaurants, cookbooks and other startup businesses. While Kickstarter spokesman Justin Kazmark says the inexplicable popularity of the potato-salad project can only be summed up as "the Internet being the Internet," a spike of hundreds of new small-batch food projects in recent days shows it has ignited people's imaginations.
Simon Wadsworth of Greater Manchester, England, sees it as his chance to share a cherished family treat with far-flung strangers. As with most projects listed on Kickstarter, his campaign, called Mum's Secret Fudge, offers incentives that escalate according to the amount his backers pledge. A contribution of £2, or about $3.65, is rewarded with an e-mailed photo of Wadsworth making his mother's fudge. The deal is sweetened with the promise of two pieces of the fudge for those who pledge £3. And for £5, he is willing to throw in a copy of the recipe itself.
"Every person who eats it always puts a big smile on my face," says Wadsworth, who operates a successful art business and has no intention of pursuing fudge-making as a full-time endeavour. "There is obviously a joke and a fun side to the Kickstarter campaign, but there is also a genuine love of the fudge and I really, really, genuinely want to share it with people."
Plus, he says, his mother, who learned to make fudge from his grandmother, gets a laugh each time he informs her of a new contributor.
In Chicago, Blake Potash has more ambitious goals. After reading about the potato-salad campaign, he set up his own Kickstarter to test the public's interest in a friend's peanut-butter, chocolate-chip and chocolate-caramel cookies. For now, he has set the bar low, with a goal of raising a total of $20 (U.S.). Anyone who contributes $7 (U.S.) or more will be sent a batch within the United States. But if there is enough demand, Potash imagines turning the project into a business, perhaps even distributing to grocery stores and bake shops.
Cesal, meanwhile, is eager to start mailing out pancakes once the fundraising closes on July 21.
"Whether or not they eat it is not the point," he says. "It's just more like bringing everyone together for what I am doing."
And if his project reaches potato-salad-like proportions? He is undaunted. "If I got to the point where I needed to make thousands of pancakes, I'd be excited to figure out how I'm going to pull it off."