With winter on the horizon, COVID-19 cases surging across the country, and restaurants facing another round of dining-room closures, a new platform is looking to provide the industry with a financial lifeline from a familiar source: restaurants’ own loyal customers.

Brij, which recently launched with the tagline “Where Business and Community Come Together,” offers a free service for small businesses that combines e-commerce, social media, community engagement, and crowdfunding. It lets businesses receive financial contributions from their communities in return for exclusive promotions, similar to how crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter operate.

But where crowdfunding sites traditionally are used to get businesses off the ground, Brij provides a long-term support that also lets operators continually engage with the loyal customers in their communities.  

“Brij aims to be this literal bridge between where you are and where you want to go,” says Sam Poley, a former restaurateur and a member of the Brij team. “Using your community is the engine to get there.”

Brij has two distinct services. Through its Community Contributions, fans are able to easily invest in the financial health of their favorite businesses. It comes at no cost to the business, and Brij does not take a cut of the contributions. Meanwhile, through Brij Promotions, business operators can provide special deals for contributions, whether that’s a complimentary menu item or naming a dish after the contributor. Brij works with its users to develop promotions that are profitable and engage with local guests on an ongoing basis.

The timing for Brij’s launch couldn’t be better. With a wave of new indoor-dining closures stemming from the latest coronavirus surge, restaurants are anticipating a brutal winter, possibly worse than the initial COVID-19 surge in the spring.

“We’re about to hit Small Business Saturday after Thanksgiving. It’s the time of the season where gift-giving is occurring,” says Brij cofounder William Putsis. “So it’s really timely to [plug into] a new platform that’s going to help during a time when so many of the small businesses are considering mothballing for the winter, when cities are shutting down indoor dining and the like.”

Putsis is one of a group of cofounders—including a company president, a law student, a marketing professor, and two PhDs—who wanted to help in this time of crisis and especially wanted to develop a creative solution that could support local businesses and their communities.

While small, local businesses are core users for the Brij platform, Putsis points out that it is just as useful for franchisees of major chains as it is for the local mom and pop. After all, franchisees are typically members of the local community.

“Most people think about the jewelry shop, the clothing store that they could patron locally, but not necessarily the Jersey Mike’s,” he says. “This would be a way for those Jersey Mike’s [operators] of the world to be able to tap into that. Now customers may be able to think of them a little bit differently.”

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