How Kickstarter Kept A North Country Cafe Open - And Kept It In The Family

Jan 16, 2015

If there were no buyers the fear was that the Cold Mountain Cafe would close.
Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

For 15 years the Cold Mountain Café in Bethlehem has been a fixture in the North Country.

But when one of its co-owners died, it looked like the café might close.

That is until the owner’s daughter decided to turn to the community for help.

To a large extent Kate Foley grew up in the café her father co-owned, waiting tables and becoming friends with hundreds of customers.

But when she decided she wanted to buy the half of the business owned by her father’s partner she ran into a big challenge.

Money.

She was worried The Cold Mountain Café would be sold or even closed.

The restaurant has one long, narrow room, a dozen or so tables and an atmosphere that’s easy going, unpretentious. The walls are decorated with the works of local artists.

“It is not quite Cheers but you could come in and there’s no question there would be somebody here that you could join at a table if you are by yourself or somebody to say ‘hello’ to.”

That’s Colleen Foley--Kate’s mother.

Her husband, Jack and his friend David Brown opened the restaurant in 1999 and each owned half.

Kate Foley on her "new" restaurant: "My heart is totally invested in it."
Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

The two families ran the restaurant together until Jack’s death in 2012.  And finally Colleen Foley and David Brown decided it wasn’t the same. They were tired and would put the café on the market.

And it was that “for sale” sign that finally got to Kate Foley.

“I realized after people kept coming to look at it that I was becoming really distraught at the thought that somebody might actually buy it.”

That made David Brown very happy.

“It was a great thing. It was wonderful. She’s fresh. She has a lot of new ideas.”

But the problem was this: how do you come up with $50,000 when you’ve just graduated from college and have student loans?

“I realized working as a waitress my debt-to-income ratio was not very ideal.”

So she didn’t go to a traditional bank—she turned online to Kickstarter, the internet crowdfunding website in which people donate money to projects or causes they find interesting or worthwhile.

Her mother, Colleen, was skeptical.

“I said who is going to give you enough money to buy this and she said ‘Well, what do we have to lose?’”

Nationally more and more small businesses are turning to crowdfunding, says Ethan Mollick, a business professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied crowdfunding.

“Small businesses turning to crowd funding is relatively new. It is amazing how effective crowd funding can be in helping people start businesses.’

Efforts that succeed share a few elements, Mollick said.

“So, you are more likely to be successful if you have an appropriate background, so you have experience in the area you are starting the crowd-funding campaign in.

"If you show prototypes.

"If you have a lot of social network connections that support you.

"If you don’t make stupid mistakes. For example, one spelling error in a crowd-funding campaign lowers your chance of success by 13 percent.”

Since Kickstarter began in 2009 about $1.5 billion has been raised for about 77,000 projects ranging from businesses to the arts.

Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

And in the North Country, Mollie White, an official with the Northern Community Investment Corporation, says more local businesses are trying it.  And the ones that succeed seem to have one thing in common—a strong community around them.

“Cold Mountain Café had a very loyal client base who understood if the Kickstarter wasn’t successful it is possible that they wouldn’t be in business any longer.”

One of those loyal clients is  Lon Weston of Bethlehem, who worried the restaurant might close.

“It is an icon. A social center. It is everything you could ask for in a neighborhood café.”

He chipped in money along with more than 200 other people and suddenly, last October, Kate Foley had $53,000.

“It was tremendously exciting obviously and I still feel very humbled that many people wanted to support me and believed in me.”

Kate bought the other half of the restaurant, so she and her mom co-own the place and she’s still busy hustling between the tables and the kitchen…

But now she’s an owner.

Sitting in the café on a Friday morning, Kate’s mom, Colleen says she got something more valuable than money from the effort.

“I think the thing that we learned most from this whole experience is that you never travel through life alone. You can’t imagine how many people are around with you and are supporting you and that was a wonderful lesson for me.”

Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR