Financial strain isn’t new to the Red and Black Cafe, the vegan, worker-owned coffee shop and restaurant on Southeast 12th Avenue. Still, when it announced it needed $5,000 by Aug. 15 to remain in its building, the call for donations was more urgent than in the past. This morning, it hit its goal on crowdfunding site GoFundMe.
The Red and Black purchased its current space three and a half years ago, and co-owner John Langley says financial viability has been a constant struggle. “We have been chronically undercapitalized the entire time,” he says. “We’ve never had enough money, and we’re not that good at fundraising.”
When it bought the building at 400 SE 12th Ave.—a two-story, golden-yellow house that was built in 1874 as a hotel—the Red and Black borrowed heavily to make its $50,000 down payment. About $43,000 of that was in the form of short-term loans, which, while interest-free, the cafe had to pay back quickly. That’s led to an ongoing hand-to-mouth situation: a “poverty trap,” Langley says, where the shop is forced to buy retail because its bank account is too meager to pony up for wholesale supplies.
The cafe's owners had been soliciting donations since April, but stepped up their pitch after receiving a letter from one of their lenders warning them they had until Aug. 15 to make the next payment. Langley says the cafe aims to raise more than $5,000 and reinvest in the business to make it more financially sustainable—which will likely mean later hours, more events and a greater reliance on volunteers. He also intends to be more aggressive with fundraising. In part due to the Red and Black’s anarchist reputation (the cafe drew national attention after kicking out a cop in 2010), Langley says he's feared backlash when asking for money. But he says the cafe’s current model is untenable.
“People take it for granted and use the fuck out of our space, which is fine,” Langley says, “but we also want to pay our bills.”