Leveling up: BitBar, The Crypt look to grow out of pandemic

Dustin Luca, The Salem News, Beverly, Mass.
·4 min read

Apr. 7—SALEM — While other businesses have collapsed under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic, two niche restaurants are doing the opposite — thanks to a little crowdfunding support.

BitBar, a hybrid arcade and restaurant, plans to open this summer in the old Salem Beer Works space at 278 Derby St. And The Crypt, a horror-themed restaurant, hopes to be up and running in Salem next spring.

For BitBar, a successful GoFundMe campaign has helped raise startup costs — as of Tuesday afternoon, the restaurant was less than $5,000 away from its $40,000 goal.

BitBar's five-year lease at the Old Salem Jail is expiring, prompting it to look for a larger location. The move will more than triple BitBar's size, from 3,100 square feet to 9,600 square feet on Derby Street.

Rob Hall, a co-owner of BitBar, said despite the pandemic, there weren't many spaces available in Salem.

"Some people are like, 'we should wait, because there are going to be so many open storefronts' — and at least in Salem, that hasn't been the case," he said.

"There might have been one or two other places besides Beer Works, but some of those were taken in the time since," Hall said. "We ran the business successfully in the jail for five years, and the pandemic definitely presented a challenge. But we managed to tread water well enough to not go out of business."

As for The Crypt, Danvers native Cailee Holmes is leaning on crowdfunding efforts to get off the ground.

"COVID was the first time I had really gotten to sit and dedicate time to it," she said. "That (COVID-19) was part of it. We wanted to show the resilience of Salem, the resilience of the restaurant scene in the face of this horrible pandemic."

Holmes worked in management at another restaurant, but said health concerns forced her to give up the job.

"That made me have to step away and quarantine for months," she said. "I had never been out of work that long. I was bored, losing my mind, so I said, 'you know what? Let's start putting this menu together and see if we can make this work.'"

There's one thing Holmes is missing at this point: a location. In the meantime, she plans to build the Crypt brand through pop-up events this summer.

"Salem has always been a mecca for horror fans, and that particular part of it hasn't been capitalized on," Holmes said. "Halloween and horror go hand in hand. We wanted to have a place where people like us and locals can hang out all year and experience that without also having to deal with October."

Holmes said the crowdfunding helps to build a community around the concept.

"We wanted to keep it as local and fan-based as possible," Holmes said of The Crypt. "Banks are also not really eager to give out loans, especially to restaurants, right now...We wanted people to think that with this place, when they go in, they had just as much a hand building."

For BitBar, part of their success was driven by a reward to "Name That Game" — those who invest $1,400 get to request the restaurant carry a specific game for two years. So far, three people have done it.

"We actually added the $1,400 level as a fun thing, but we didn't anticipate getting many takers for that," Hall said. "One of our 'Name That Game' contributors has asked if we could do 'Dance Dance Revolution,' and we said yes, so they donated — and that was amazing."

So Far, BitBar has raised more than $36,000 since its fundraising campaign launched on March 24. But the dollars aren't as important as the community the business has created, Hall explained.

"The support we've received through GoFundMe is truly flooring," he said. "It isn't about the money — obviously, that's going to help with our startup costs, but it's seeing the support — the names — come in, the people we've known over the years who have grown with us over time."

To help BitBar, visit bit.ly/39NbQIK. For more on The Crypt, visit bit.ly/3wwKQGY.

To respond to this story or suggest another, contact Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.