With clubs closing all over town, Garfield coffeehouse The Quiet Storm is trying a novel approach to staying in business: selling itself to the neighborhood.
The move by founder Ian Lipsky and partners Jill MacDowell, Sheryl Johnston and Rob Park is not exactly a dot-com-worthy Initial Public Offering. They're forming a corporation and hoping for contributions starting at around $300 from people in their neighborhood who have come to value the business. They'll make their case on Feb. 25 at 6 p.m.: "Serving hors d'oeuvres and wines, going over the books, and making the formal presentation," Lipsky says.
The business cost $50,000 to open and $10,000 last year to run, he reports. That's how much he's in debt.
"I don't know if it has been done," says Lipsky of their plan. "But if [investors] are looking for a return, that's not what we are offering. We are offering a return in quality of life."
"Maybe 10 years from now, when we have Quiet Storm 2 and Quiet Storm 3, which serve alcohol, we can pay dividends to all the people who believed in us in 2004," says MacDowell, only half-joking.
The Storm has attracted 600-800 people a week, reports MacDowell, who does the spot's cooking, marketing and Web work, having merged her vegetarian catering business, Herbs & Spices, with the coffeehouse, which hosts her Sunday Brunch and Tuesday Night Supper Club. She calls Lipsky simply "the number man."
"We have people, it's scary how much time they spend here -- from morning coffee to dinner," she remarks. The back table hosts Howard Dean meetups and other groups. It also features speakers, bands and, currently, a Scrabble tournament. The place even recently put on "a great bat mitzvah. ... It was off the hook."
"The premise" for selling shares, says Lipsky, "is, look, The Quiet Storm has value to you as a neighbor, as a resident. Obviously, the business is still struggling. We don't make money. Our intent here is to entrench The Quiet Storm in the neighborhood."
"And to get an enormous salary," MacDowell jokes.
But there's at least a kernel of truth in that. "Obviously what we need to accomplish in the next year is to figure out ... how to pay ourselves something," Lipsky concedes. "We could make The Quiet Storm profitable by buying a liquor license ... and putting in a hood and start making French fries and hamburgers, but we'd lose The Quiet Storm."
"We're making it a place we would hang out at, because that's all we know," adds MacDowell. "This place isn't for everybody, but I hope it's for more people than I could imagine. We're very positive. There's no reason not to consider it's going to continue in this vein."