Blue Coffee launches kickstarter campaign

Blue Coffee has been a downtown anchor since before it was even remotely cool to be downtown, but now their home in the Jack Tar is being renovated and upscal-ified by Austin Lawrence Partners. They’re going to have to move, and they’ve launched a Kickstarter to help.

The new location is at the corner of Church and Main, and crowdfunding proceeds would go to renovating the space. Unlike some other campaigns, Blue Coffee has been upfront about how they’ll use the money, and they’ve got a proven track record of success; I’d buy with confidence on this one.

Right now they still need about $22k of their $35k goal. You’ve got until November 24 to contribute, and I’d recommend getting the word out, because it looks like it’ll go down to the wire.

Indy Week has some additional details, if you’re interested.

Stay and Play Snack Cafe is shutting down

At this rate I’m going to need a depressing segment called “Cafe Closing Corner” or something, because yet another downtown cafe is shutting down:

Since Stay & Play is a young, family business with tight margins, the cost increase means the café will be priced out of its current location.

The original owners of the cafe were hoping to sell the business so they could focus on their growing family, but a rent increase seems to have priced the business out of its current location. You might remember that Stay and Play launched following a successful kickstarter back in 2012.

The business actually had (from my perspective) a really cool concept: it was part coffee shop, part playroom, and it was a pretty great place to take your small kids to get a moment’s respite from the chaos. It’ll be missed.

I really feel like downtown is lacking in spaces for young children. There are a few oases: The Parlour, BCBB, and Pompieri are all very kid friendly, but you can’t spend your entire day eating; there just aren’t many places for the kids to play. The Fun Zone, another kid oriented downtown business, also shut down recently (last year?).

2015 Art of Cool Kickstarter ends today, still needs funding

If you missed it in the most recent DNO&E, The Art of Cool Festival is holding another Kickstarter to fund the jazz festival’s second year in Durham.

The current Kickstarter project is seeking $35,000 – up $10,000 from the first year – and they’ve got about $3000 to go at the time of this writing. Even if you don’t dig jazz, it’s a pretty neat event, and hey, you can score a sweet poster or buttons or something if you back it.

Yes, this is another post about Intrepid Life

In this instalment, I do something vaguely resembling “journalism” by actually discussing the situation with somebody privy to some details.

I know, right?

Before I get to that, here’s where the campaign and cafe stand publicly now:

  • Intrepid Life’s indiegogo campaign succeeded. They (and “they” I assume means the owner, Matt Victoriano) raised $28,643 USD.
  • After meeting the goal early, the campaign only raised $417 in its final three days. I’m guessing the announcement they were moving damped some of the enthusiasm.
  • Intrepid Life is, presently, closed. They vacated their Parrish St. location as scheduled this past weekend.
  • There are a couple of updates on the indiegogo campaign detailing future plans. Victoriano now intends to hire three managers and an event coordinator; I don’t know whether this is backfilling staff lost due to the shutdown or whether these are new positions.
  • Also from the updates, Victoriano wants to get backer perks fulfilled in “a month or so”

What follows includes information from that anonymous source (and no, I definitely can’t tell you who they are, even if you ask really nicely):

  • Intrepid Life’s financial struggles weren’t sudden, and the business was simply not ramping up fast enough to pay its rent. Quite the contrary – they were actually going further in debt.
  • The lease apparently allowed the Cafe to start off with a lower rent during its launch phase and ramp up to the full amount over time. The cafe was never able to pay the full rent from its operating budget.
  • This came to a head in August, as Victoriano learned that he needed to make a payment or vacate in September. In response, he posted to Facebook that he was closing. He quickly changed his mind and started the Indiegogo campaign to keep Intrepid Life “in Durham”
  • At the time he started the Indiegogo campaign, Victoriano knew that continuing to remain in the Parrish St. location would require him to pay back rent.
  • Even though the Indiegogo campaign succeeded, Victoriano opted to not pay and closed the shop instead. He posted to Facebook stating “The problem with downtown Durham is that it has Chapel Hill prices now.”
  • Victoriano is now attempting to negotiate an agreement to partially pay the back rent utilizing some of the indiegogo funds, while retaining the remainder for other purposes.

I asked my source whether they thought Intrepid Life’s crowdfunding success could have enabled the cafe to continue operating in its present location. Here was their response:

In theory the funds would have cleared their back rent debt and left them a bit remaining. I read in the N&O that they were running at a $12.5K / month loss during the summer which was a complete shock. So… I can’t square that circle on how the business could continue to operate at that loss without additional external capital in the $50-80K range. Can you? In the N&O article Matt also alluded to credit card and supplier debt, so…

So, now I’ll tell you my own speculation: I feel like Victoriano knew from the start of the campaign that he probably wouldn’t stay downtown even with a successful campaign. It appears that nothing materially changed about the rent situation since the beginning of the campaign, so he would have had a good understanding of what was needed to remain at the location from the start. Perhaps other debts came due around the same time, but if the money was required to pay off other, non-rent debts he should have known that going in, too.

As I mentioned last time, the campaign text walks a fine line of implying that the cafe could stay open on Parrish St. without ever stating that outright, and likewise the campaign never mentioned the possibility of moving at all. Victoriano could have disclosed the possibility that he would close the cafe even with a successful campaign, but he opted not to.

Since a majority of that crowdfunded money isn’t going to the back rent, where is it going? If that N&O article is correct, it only covers two months of operating losses for a business that had been open for 8 months, so there could be a great deal of outstanding debt.

I’m inclined to conclude that Intrepid Life does not presently have a functional business plan. Victoriano may well intend to reopen elsewhere and continue operating the business as before, but based on what I’ve learned it seems unlikely to me that he has a way to do that. If the cafe is to succeed, it really seems like they’re going to need more funds from somewhere, or perhaps a very different approach to running the business.

*** EDIT ***

The News and Observer has an article on the situation with additional information which supports what I was told. From that article, this was Victoriano’s response when asked why he opted not to pay the rent:

“It would be unethical to pay debt with the money that people paid with the full expectation that I would not be able to remain open,” Victoriano said.

The article also names Golden Belt as one of two locations that Victoriano is considering for re-opening the shop.

Intrepid Life launches indiegogo campaign, is also apparently for sale

The first time I heard anything about Intrepid Life Coffee and Spirits was when I saw on reddit that it’s closing.

The business, which is owned and operated by a former Marine and strives to employ vets, has apparently been struggling for a while. In response to back rent, a couple of weeks ago the owner indicated on Facebook that he was closing shop.

The following week, though, an indiegogo campaign showed up asking for $25k to keep the business going. Shortly after the launch of the campaign, Intrepid Life started receiving some press, and most notably they were honored by President Obama. They’re now at $21,090 out of the $25000 goal following an apparent Obama bump.

On the face of it Intrepid Life looks like a business that’s worthy of support, but /u/sellbotics did a bit of digging and noticed that the business has been listed as for sale for some months now. The reason listed for selling: “Owner is burnt out.”

Is this a struggling business looking for a cash infusion to keep the doors open? Or is the owner looking to move on?

Regardless, crowdfunding is never a sure thing, either for the funder or the funded. As always, caveat emptor.

The Fresh Market is coming to Durham

Regional chain “The Fresh Market” (based out of Greensboro, NC) is planning to open its first Durham location off University Drive, back behind the Super Target.

If you’ve never been to a The Fresh Market, the stores are typically clean and stock higher end products. They strive for a niche somewhere between the limited selection of Whole Foods and the “full service” selection of stores like Harris Teeter. I think of them as a very slightly lower end (and lower priced) version of Whole Foods, where you can buy toilet paper that isn’t made out of 10x recycled cardboard, but you still may not be able to find all the conventional goods you’d get from a regular store.

The location is kind of a head scratcher; the shopping center is called “Parkwood Plaza” and it’s fallen on some hard times ever since Food Lion (and later K-Mart) ditched the place. It looks pretty danged shabby at the moment, which doesn’t really match The Fresh Market’s upscale vibe. They’re also right across the road from Super Target, and University Drive doesn’t exactly have the best visibility these days. So, best of luck to them.

The H-S article says they’ll be open in “the winter.”

Whiskey to close August 2

Well, I didn’t see that one coming. According to their twitter account, Whiskey’s shutting down operations. According to their Facebook page (apparently), they’re closing for good on Aug 2.

Whiskey seemed to always be doing well when I was in the area, but seeing as how I have a three year old child I didn’t actually have much of a chance to frequent the joint. Best of luck to the Whiskey folks in their future endeavors.

Here’s a song for the occasion: