Even though most restaurants will try to accommodate diners’ allergies, people with severe and potentially life-threatening conditions generally accept that eating out includes a certain extent of “buyer beware.” However, Montreal’s Dominique Dion and his restaurant Zero8 claim to be different. Dion literally guarantees that the food and surroundings in his 50-seat eatery will be uncontaminated by any of the eight most common and potentially deadly food allergens – making it a local haven for highly-allergic Montreal residents looking to dine out. And Dion is hoping that with help from others, he can bring that vision to other cities as well.
“We take great pride in ensuring that nothing in our kitchen or restaurant gets contaminated with gluten, milk products, eggs, fish or shellfish, soy, sesame, nuts or peanuts,” Dion told the Montreal Gazette. He said Zero8 has recently axed mustard as well. Trying to run a restaurant with that many restrictions, especially in a competitive city like Montreal, can be tricky, and in 2013, Dion – who has allergy issues himself – was forced to close his allergen-free baby. But his distraught customers had another idea: launch a crowdfunding campaign to get Zero8 back on its feet. Indeed, by October 2015, the restaurant had reopened – albeit in a new, smaller location – but sticking with the same ethos. “They were coming up with their own breads and other recipes. They were very experimental, so I considered it kind of like (crowd funding) artists,” explained one backer. “At Zero8, they get it. They do their homework. They verify their suppliers, which is different from other places,” said another backer. “We want to support it so people like us can have a safe place to eat.”
Based on that success, Dion is hoping the same business model might help bring versions of Zero8 to other cities, starting with Quebec. Unlike your average restaurant, Zero8’s website maintains a permanent page for “gift certificates and crowdfunding” and explains the importance of customers’ support for the brand’s goals. “We are a crowdfunded company,” the site states. “That is, a significant part of our liquidities is provided by customers who believe that ZERO8 has a broad social mission: letting everyone enjoy a restaurant moment.” Starting at $31.50 and going up to as much as $1,000, patrons can purchase a “brick.” “They're not real bricks,” Zero8 states, “but in exchange for the transaction, you get your name or whatever inscription you want to be printed on our ‘wall,’” as well as a gift certificate.