Apparently I have a lot of friends up in arms this evening over the fact that Rich and Chris Magner, the owners of Ann Arbor’s iconic Blimpy Burger, have launched a crowd funding campaign in hopes of raising the money needed to reopen their restaurant in a new location. (As most of you probably know, the property upon which Blimpy Burger has stood since 1953, on Ann Arbor’s South Division Street, was recently sold to the University of Michigan by the widow of the restaurant’s original owner.) It would seem these friends of mine are of the opinion that, since Rich and Chris have owned the restaurant for the past 20-some years, they should just borrow money from a bank to relaunch the restaurant, and leave us, the general public, to invest in new and riskier enterprises. And I can see how one might come to that conclusion. After all, Blimpy Burger has an incredibly loyal clientele, as evidenced by the lines winding around the block during the months running up to this summer’s demolition, and, one would assume, the owners, even if they’d just been breaking even before, must have been doing quite well toward the end, thanks to all of the publicity. None of that, however, in my opinion, should keep them from exploring crowd funding.
First off, it’s not just about money. Moving a restaurant, even a successful one, is a risky endeavor. People may follow you, and they may not. And, this, I assume, is doubly true when a business is leaving an iconic location. I’m sure the Magners will attempt to preserve what they can from the original restaurant, but, no matter how much they try, it just won’t be the same. And they know that. Even with the old counter, signage and grill, they’re still going to lose a certain number of customers who were motivated primarily by the nostalgia, which hung like grease from the walls of their old space. And, as that’s the case, I think they’d be foolish not to engage people by way of a fundraising campaign like this. Sure, the money is nice, but it’s more important, I think, that they’re actively engaging their customer base and making them feel as though they’re part of “the next 60 years” in the Blimpy Burger’s history. To be successful, they need their long-time fans to buy in, and this is a way of doing that.
Second, to my friends who are asking why they don’t just “get a bank loan,” the answer is simple. They are going to get a bank loan. They’re only attempting to raise $60,000 by way of this campaign, whereas the entire project, according to the owners, will likely cost in excess of $300,000. So this isn’t like they’re the owners of an NFL franchise demanding that taxpayers fund the construction of a new stadium. They’re just looking to raise enough so that they can secure a bank loan.
And, third, and most importantly, what they’re asking from people isn’t outrageous. While they’ve set the upper limit for contributions at $10,000, they also have a $2 level, and about a dozen other levels of participation in between. And, more importantly, they’re very clear as to what one gets at each level of participation. (For $10,000, you and a friend get a free burger every week for life, a piece of the original restaurant, and the promise of never having to wait in line again.) Of all of them, I’m most partial to the $10 level (outlined to the right), which gets you a $10 gift card for the new Blimpy Burger. In that instance you’re essentially just fronting them the money over the winter, while they’re securing a bank loan and working on their new building. And I don’t see how anyone could have a problem with that.
One last thing… I know this may come as a shock, but I’ve never eaten at Blimpy Burger. What’s more, I’ve never met either Rich or Chris Magner. So, who knows, they could have the funds on hand to do the whole thing themselves, and they may just want, as some are suggesting, to see if they can get the community to pay a big chunk of it. I suspect, however, that’s not the case. In all likelihood, they’ve been scraping by for years and this recent turn of events has been incredibly difficult for them, even with the uptick in business they experienced this past summer, once it became known that the beloved restaurant’s demolition was eminent. So, yeah, I don’t see anything wrong with them giving people the opportunity, should they want to take advantage of it, to play a role in the relaunch. As long as they’re up-front and honest about it, I really don’t see a damn thing wrong with it. And, with that in mind, I’m chipping in $10… Click here if you’d like to join me.
And, remember, any space occupied by Blimpy Burger is a space that cannot be occupied by a Starbucks, Five Guys, or CVS. And that, I think, is awesome.