LINCOLN SQUARE — After shooting hours and hours of footage at the Chicago Brauhaus five years ago, filmmaker Matt Richmond tabled his prospective documentary for lack of a compelling narrative arc.
"I never found the kernel of the story to build the movie around," Richmond told DNAinfo during a phone interview Tuesday from his California home.
He's got one now.
When news broke in March that Brauhaus owners Harry and Guenter Kempf were in the process of selling the building that's housed their iconic German restaurant for more than 30 years, Richmond realized he not only had a peg for his film, but potentially a limited amount of time to conduct new interviews and grab new footage.
"It was enough of an alarm to me to focus my thoughts," said Richmond. "The real urgency is getting into the restaurant."
He launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $15,000 (click here), which will cover the costs for a three- to five-day shoot that Richmond will have to squeeze in around his job as a producer on the TV series "Big Brother."
So far backers have contributed nearly $6,000, with just a week to go for Richmond to meet his goal.
The story, as Richmond sees it, is as specific as the tale of one ethnic restaurant and the man who founded it, and as universal as the history of immigrants and the influence various waves of newcomers have made on the communities in which they settle.
Among the questions he intends to pose: Is it better that the Brauhaus dies with the German immigrants who conceived it, or should it be allowed to evolve into something like a German Olive Garden?
Richmond has the cooperation of the Kempfs, who loomed large in the filmmaker's life when the Peoria native first arrived in Chicago to attend Columbia College nearly 20 years ago.
Working as a bartender at the Brauhaus from roughly 2000 to 2003, Richmond came to view the Kempfs as father figures.
"The Brauhaus started for me as a job. I was a knucklehead in my 20s who thought he knew everything," Richmond said.
"They taught me a lot about attention to detail, hospitality, how to treat people," he said. "Even after a shift, I'd stay and eat dinner and drink with the regulars."
Among the lessons Richmond learned from the Kempfs: Don't take a customer's glass away just because it's empty.
"I see that so much everywhere. It sends a message, 'We're ready for the next customer, it's not your place anymore,'" said Richmond.
The Kempfs' style is to offer another drink or even just a glass of water, to signal that people are welcome to stay as long as they want.
"It isn't all about money," Richmond said.
In addition to the Kempfs, Richmond expects his documentary will also focus on the Brauhaus' cast of colorful characters, including Max the Accordionist and bandleader Gody, who Richmond dubbed a "kind of German Elvis."
"There's so much to tell here," Richmond said. "I really hope we get to tell it."