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The Yachtsman Controversy: Kickstarter Backlash?

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Been hearing much about The Yachtsman these days, by any chance? The upcoming Fishtown tiki bar, from PYT's Tommy Up and partner Sarah Brown, has raised some eyebrows and some ire for turning to Kickstarter to raise the last of the funds necessary to get it up and running.

Eater Philly's been keeping tabs on the situation, and today, the Yachtsman hit us up on Twitter like:

The article cited in the bar's tweet, which ran last year on Eater National, is just one of many pieces the Eater network has run on the widespread Kickstarter phenomenon within the hospitality industry.

So the Yachtsman is hardly the first restaurant project to turn to Kickstarter for help. In a Zagat interview, Up even nodded to Philly's own Pizza Brain as one inspiration for the move. (It may be worth noting, though, that Pizza Brain's Brian Dwyer was a first-time owner and artist who was selling the idea of a pizza museum — facts that probably could have thrown up some roadblocks along the traditional bank-loan route.)

Reasons for the pique vary: one Eater commenter expressed the straightforward opinion that if the owner of an existing business can't swing the cost of a new place through traditional means, then they just can't really afford to expand. Commenters on Foobooz, well... they ran the gamut. City Paper's Emily Guendelsberger suggested the bulk of the problem may come down to the tone and attitude of the Yachtsman's principals.

The article The Yachtsman pointed to above on Twitter, even while chronicling one restaurant's runaway success with crowdfunding in 2013, did raise the question of "whether customers will tire of giving money to for-profit businesses." The owner in that case said at the time that he would not turn back to Kickstarter were he to open another restaurant. Andrew Zimmern, who was also interviewed therein, expressed the opinion that there were legitimate reasons even for for-profit businesses to consider crowdfunding, which offers "the cash infusion of private investment without the strings." That's in line with the bar's official Kickstarter appeal, which read in part: "Instead of bringing in some corporate money, and losing the singleness of vision we feel is important, we want to keep The Yachtsman weird."

So what's going on here? Is this part of a genuine backlash against certain types of projects Kickstarter has evolved to fund? Or does the problem lie more in the particulars of this project and in the way it's been presented? Ultimately, any proof of fatigue may lie only in whether or not the project can attract enough backers. (But the campaign's still got 26 days left, so until then, of course, feel free to hash it out in the comments.)

The Yachtsman (forthcoming)

1444 Frankford Ave., Philadelphia PA

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