Culinarium appeals for support

[attach]3208[/attach]A Davisville retailer is appealing to her customers to help her keep the doors open.

Kathleen Mackintosh of [url=]Culinarium[/url], a gourmet food store featuring Ontario-grown products, says business has been doing well since opening in April 2008, but that she needs capital to keep running the business.

The appeal, sent out via email to some 1,000 clients in early December, wasn’t easy to do.

“We’ve essentially admitted we’re struggling,” Mackintosh said in mid-December.

The Culinarium Shared Plate Dinner Program would see a customer investing $500 or $1,000 to help Mackintosh keep the business running. The return on investment would be paid out over a period of three years in the form of locally grown groceries from the shop’s suppliers.

A $500 investment will yield $600 worth of groceries over three years, to be redeemed from June to December starting June 2011, while a $1,000 share would bring $1,300 worth of groceries over the same time period.

The program is similar to Culinarium’s food share programs, Mackintosh says, where people pay a lump sum for locally grown food for the season. The difference here is that there is a return on investment, and the payback is spread over three years instead of over one.

Thanks to an e-blast and media coverage like an interview on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning, the word has gotten out and Mackintosh has, on paper, raised about a third of the $100,000 goal within a week.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Macintosh said of the response.

“We’ve seen growth and momentum since September,” she says, when business was up 40 percent from the previous year.

“We need more time to sustain that.”

Mackintosh admits the share program, as with any investment, carries some risk. But she says so far there has been no money exchanged — the offers are essentially pledges, and she won’t start collecting on them until they know they’ll be proceeding with the program.

If the goal is unmet, the store will simply close and no one will have lost any money.

Meanwhile, if the program goes ahead Mackintosh says she’ll guarantee peoples’ investment for the first year even if it turns out the business cannot sustain itself, meaning customers can redeem their groceries for one year but will lose years two and three.

So far people, including the local community and those as far-flung as Richmond Hill, have been gracious in their support. Even if they can’t swing a $500 donation, some have offered to volunteer or help out with professional services.

“I don’t have the words to express how grateful and touched I am by our customer generosity,” Mackintosh said.

Mackintosh will be making a final decision as to whether or not the program will proceed, and the store remain open, by the end of December as her lease expires February 1.