News and Tribune

January 28, 2013

Taco Punk owner’s move kick-starts a controversy

Some media react negatively; owner is more than 20 percent to goal

By AMANDA BEAM
newsroom@newsandtribune.com

LOUISVILLE — Can a simple taco actually cause controversy? Some local media in Louisville tend to think so. 

Taco Punk has been in the news last week for its use of Kickstarter, a crowd-sourced funding platform for creative projects. 

The Kickstarter site is pretty straightforward. Businesses submit a detailed development plan online in hopes that supporters pledge money to their venture. People who donate receive various incentives for their efforts depending on the amount spent. 

Critics charge that the service is akin to charity or, as WFPL News intern Rae Hodge labeled the funding source in her op-ed piece on the radio station’s website, “a handout.” Taco Punk owner Gabe Sowder disagreed. He sees the service as a way to raise much-needed capital for his new business from supporters who like and agree with his ideas and methodology.

“It’s not a charity site. It’s a very idea-oriented site,” Sowder said. “These are people who are trying to take their ideas and use any resources they can to make them a reality.”

In order to collect the funds, the monetary goal established by the company must be met in an allotted time period. For instance, Taco Punk is attempting to raise $20,000 to go toward the creation of an environmentally sound outside dining area. 

Any remaining funds would also be used toward starting a catering enterprise. As of press time, the Taco Punk initiative already had 39 backers who have pledged a total of $4,285. Twenty-five days remain for Sowder to reach his goal or he receives nothing. 

Of course, other funding methods wouldn’t have been needed if Taco Punk’s first year in operation had performed like its business model had predicted. However, for a myriad reasons, it did not. After many major city and downtown events, customers failed to visit the restaurant and the area, and its expected windfall revenues vanished leaving it in its current situation. 

Looking at other funding mechanisms, Sowder decided loans were not an option. With limited collateral, he said finding reputable lenders is difficult.

“The idea of going to a bank is just not a reality. A bank can like your idea and think it’s the greatest idea they’ve ever heard, but banks are banks and they can’t change their rules,” he said. “Everybody seems to think that there’s massive amounts of money available and there’s not, especially for restaurants.” 

As new businesses are added and more redevelopment opportunities become available to the area known as NuLu — on and around East Market Street in Louisville — Sowder thinks Taco Punk will flourish. Until then, he said the business would survive with or without the Kickstarter funds, despite reports to the contrary. But, without the new revenue, changes would need to be made, which could include cuts. 

“We can’t continue on with this business model. At some point, something’s got to give. If the business model is not working I can either create business or make cutbacks,” he said. “That’s the last thing I want to do.

Despite the hubbub, Sowder said he hopes customers can see the positive programs and changes his local fast-food restaurant has brought to the community. 

“My motivations are very sincere,” he said. “I want you to go out there and find another independently owned fast-food restaurant that has our record. You’re not going to.”