To Kick or Not to Kick

The idea of delivering a small amount of my pocket money to help fund a greater good (in the form of access to tastiness) is appealing. But Stephanie March has concerns.

I am not a stodgy old-money traditionalist by any means, but for some reason, Kickstarter has given me worries from the start. At first flush, of course I like the idea that there’s a portal for small groups to earn start-up capital, especially in the food realm where bankers loooooove to trot out their favorite statistic: “You know, 50 percent of all restaurants fail.”

And the idea of delivering a small amount of my pocket money to help fund a greater good (in the form of access to tastiness) is appealing, to be sure. But I have concerns. There was a local business (let’s say it sold fizzy gobstoppers) that won funding on the site and quickly signed a lease. They paid rent for a whole year without actually occupying or working on the space, just wrote check after check. In the end they dropped the space, signed another lease, opened to cheers, then closed. So, who cares? The donors got the gobstoppers promised by donation, and they knew the risk going in, right?

I think there’s something worrisome about the food universe getting all whipped into a frenzy about gobstoppers and pushing expectations high while throwing money at people who may or may not be ready for it or have no real accountability in how it’s used. At least banks make you fill out spreadsheets. I fear the whim and caprice of people who think, “Hey, I make a good salsa, I’m going to open a Mexican restaurant” because they, more than others, contribute to the ghostly banker stat I mentioned before. I worry that with Kickstarter, all these future Salsa Kings need is a blogger or media kid to say “Wow, lookee there!” and they’re in business before they know what they’re into. Beyond the disappointment, unfulfilled gift cards, lost jobs, and lives changed when a place closes, there are also potentially farms and vendors left unpaid and landlords left holding broken leases. Don’t even get me started on the people who then pronounce a location doomed or a foodstuff “over” due to a closing.

This isn’t to say that I don’t love a good success story as much as the next person. I happen to think the kids behind The Buttered Tin, who won some of their funding on Kickstarter, are a seasoned bunch who know what they are doing. They used their funding mostly to make their already-chugging plan better, by buying additional equipment and paying for training. Their financial goal and the rewards delivered all made practical sense. And maybe that, and not simply the poppy dust of inspiration, is what should earn you thousands of free dollars and a place in people’s trust. Hungry for more? Get the weekly dish from Stephanie March every Saturday at 1 pm on myTalk 107.1.