How One Brand Raised $40K in the Midst of COVID-19

    Pure Green saw surprising success with crowdfunding.

    Lineup of juices and smoothies at Pure Green.
    Pure Green
    Pure Green has five Big Apple locations.

    Naturally, when New York City-based Pure Green launched a crowdfunding campaign in February, COVID-19 was not on its mind. Franchise expansion was. But it turned out to be the chain’s saving grace nonetheless.

    In the first three weeks of March, Pure Green raised $40,000—a time when capital has never been more critical to restaurant chains’ survival. Founder and CEO, Ross Franklin, believes his brand saw a spike in fundraising due to Wall Street’s troubles. People sought more stable, long-term investments, and crowdfunding was the outlet they turned to.

    Once the campaign ends, Franklin says, Pure Green will use the money to support operations, staff, and eventually to open new franchises in Chicago, Orlando, and Philadelphia. The 2014-founded fast casual has five locations in the Big Apple today.

    Ross took some time to chat with QSR about how COVID-19 has impacted the business, the crowdfunding success, and what pieces of advice he has for fellow restaurateurs trying to navigate arguably the biggest crisis the sector has ever seen.

    Firstly, talk about the brand. What’s the backstory?

    I founded Pure Green in 2014, out of my desire to help everyday consumers transition into more healthier lifestyles. We currently operate five Pure Green locations in New York City, where we offer a series of handcrafted and made-to-order superfood smoothies, acai bowls, cold-pressed juices and shots. All Pure Green products are formulated to have a combination of high-performance nutrition with an amazing taste.

    In 2016, Pure Green launched its wholesale division, which now services thousands of accounts including dozens of professional sports teams and high-end hotels. Everything we do stems from our mission to build healthier communities around the globe, which is more important now than ever.

    So, obviously, when you started the recent crowdfunding campaign, you had no idea COVID-19 was coming. Have you been surprised by the funding the past three weeks? What do you attribute that to?

    These are certainly unprecedented times. The entire world has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and many industries are suffering. The virus really hit home about 30 days into our equity crowdfunding campaign and we were expecting the worst. But, our campaign has surpassed our expectations.

    Beginning on the day the market fell 3,000 points, we raised over $35,000 within a three-day period from over 100 investors. We achieved trending status on Republic.co, the equity crowdfunding platform our campaign is running on. I believe that the volatility of the stock market, and the strong need for practical health solutions during this time, has led people to really rally behind our campaign and invest in us.

    People from all walks of life have invested, complete strangers who believe in our mission and feel the need to support us. Here are a few words from some of the investors in our equity crowdfunding campaign:

    Pure Green
    Pure Green
    Pure Green

    What did you originally plan to use the money for?

    We are operating profitably and pre-coronavirus, we planned on using the funds for marketing to attract more franchisees to Pure Green. We were also planning on using some of the money raised to open three additional, corporately-owned Pure Green locations in 2020. 

    How has that changed?

    While we are still planning on using the funds for marketing, we believe that after the coronavirus pandemic settles, there will be a high availability of commercial real estate on the market. With that said, we are now planning on opening up six additional, corporately-owned locations this year.

    Do you think this is something other brands could benefit from, crowdsourced funding?

    A hundred percent. In the midst of COVID-19, small business owners are scrambling to stay afloat. I recently received a call from a fellow business owner who sustained massive losses from the coronavirus and is now struggling to survive. My advice to him consisted of the following:

    • 1. Apply for the SBA Disaster Loan
    • 2. Apply for your local state's grant for relief (NYC requires two months of losses of 25% less than the previous year, so he will have to wait until the end of April to apply)
    • 3. Start an equity crowdfunding campaign immediately

    From a restaurateur’s perspective, what has it been like living this coronavirus nightmare each day? What has Pure Green done to stay afloat?

    Each day has been a battle in adhering to the New York City mandates. Pure Green is fortunate to be considered an essential business and we are allowed to remain open for takeout and delivery. We are now working closely with our delivery partner platforms to maximize this aspect of business.

    And, to ensure the safety of our guests and team, we have gone through great lengths including continuous and rigorous cleaning protocols, social distancing adherence, and removing all seating from our stores. We have had to restructure our staff schedule at every location due to a significant drop in in-store traffic.

    What has been the hardest decision you had to make?

    The hardest decision we’ve had to make is to stay open. The easy decision would have been to close all stores until the coronavirus subsides. However, whenever we are faced with tough choices, we always keep our mission of “building healthier communities” in mind, and look for the option that is most in alignment. In this case, we felt that keeping our stores open so that we can keep our communities healthy during this time was ultimately the right decision.

    What are some policies you implemented, from cleaning to employee programs, in light of the pandemic?

    To adhere to social distancing guidelines, we pushed back the ordering position in our stores so that guests interact with the cashier from six feet away. We’ve blocked off a section of our stores where delivery drivers wait for their orders. We’ve limited the number of guests allowed in store at any given time. We’re also encouraging our guests to order from all of our delivery platforms through contactless delivery.

    Pure Green

    Talk about the rush to takeout and delivery right now. What would be your advice to brands that aren’t familiar with the process?

    Our advice would be to get on as many delivery platforms as possible right now. We also recommend using a consolidator (one tablet only for multiple platforms) like Chowly or Cuboh so that your store doesn’t have tablets all over the place. This will help to streamline delivery operations.

    What are some other pieces of advice you would offer to restaurateurs trying to make it?

    Right now, restaurateurs need to do whatever it takes to survive. Funding is certainly the key to being able to weather the storm. Businesses aren’t able to rely heavily on federal and state loans or grants, as no one knows if they will qualify, or how much and when those funds will become available. Restauranteurs need to make some tough decisions right now and every case is different, but launching an equity crowdfunding campaign is a viable option. (I would be happy to offer any restauranteur free advice by emailing me at ross@puregreenfranchise.com).

    What do you think the industry will look like on the other side of this? Do you have a personal sense of how long you think it might continue?

    I think we are at least three months away from things getting back to normal and even then, things will not be the same. Many companies will have massive debt and unrecoverable lost revenue, and many businesses will be closed for good. At the same time, there will be a high availability of commercial real estate, and I believe some brands will be able to grow quickly as a result.

    What would you say is the biggest misconception today considering restaurants and how they’re dealing with the crisis?

    Most people don’t fully understand the long-term effect this crisis has had, and will continue to have on the restaurant industry. The long-term growth of the restaurant industry has already been impacted in ways that most people are not thinking about. I believe that former full-service restaurants will shift to a greater percentage of quick-serve style options, and will also ramp up online deliveries, in response to the risk posed by future pandemics and major events. 

    What has been Pure Green’s secret weapon in this process?

    Pure Green’s secret weapon throughout this entire process has been our team of dedicated staff members. They are the backbone of our company. Our Director of Operations, Michael Cecchini, has been picking up our employees at their homes and driving them to work so they don’t have to take public transportation. Our store-level employees are our true heroes, as they have been risking their safety to be on the front lines to service our guests. I am truly thankful for our entire team and owe a lot to the