Like so many folks, Ian Dinsmore and his business partner Richard Hurring have a favorite local watering hole, The Point in Burien.
"We were talking to our bartender, who knows us pretty well, Zach down there," recalled Dinsmore. "We were just kind of bouncing ideas off him because we knew [the stay home order] was coming, and the gift card idea came up."
That conversation occurred just days before Governor Jay Inslee issued his stay-home order, effectively closing all bars and restaurants with the exception of takeout and delivery. It provided a little spark of an idea. That little spark ultimately became the Pay Forward Project.
"It was essentially how can we help local bars and restaurants in our local Pacific Northwest region get a little traction when it comes to gift card sales? We wanted to aggregate them in one place, so people could look them up by neighborhood, they could look them up by various types of cuisine," said Dinsmore. "We take no [financial] cut of any kind. This was just a way to get the message out that these gift cards are available, and to be able to buy them for a future state when we can all emerge from our homes and have fun with our friends again at all the places we really love."
At PayForwardProject.com you can search a list of restaurants and bars in the Seattle-area offering gift cards for purchase online. That list includes places like Stoup Brewing, Junebaby, Lark and Nue, among countless others.
"Gift cards act as sort of a loan for the future for these restaurants and these bars," explained Dinsmore. "It's money directly into their pocket now. Again, we don't take any cut from it. We're purely linking off to these websites to go buy directly from them."
That money is critical to offset the costs of re-opening and re-hiring staff.
"It's just the community. We miss our community and we miss our local spots," said Dinsmore. "These people matter to us a great deal, probably more than we cared to admit when this all came down. And we want to see them again, we don't want to lose them, we don't want to emerge from this with a lot of shuttered businesses. We want to do our part to help, and we really hope this will be a way to do that."
Dinsmore and Hurring are committed to running the Pay Forward Project for at least a year, constantly updating the site through their own research and submissions from restaurant and bar owners. Their hope is folks will visit the website and consider buying a gift card from their favorite spot or discover a new place to check out.
"It's a really simple ask. We just want eyeballs on these restaurants. If you can support them financially then that's really the ultimate goal of this and why we wanted to build it in the first place."