Here’s how it is: Geek Bar has had a rocky road to getting to where it is. My staff and I have fought tooth and nail for every victory, every amazing news story, every geek to come in our door. There have been sacrifices, and every one has left a mark on us. It’s been worth it when we see the community come together, to walk in our door and call us home. Those marks have left us bleeding though, and I must once again come to the community. Either we get saved, or we go down in flames. There is no middle road anymore.
In January 2013, in good faith, we set about to make the space on N. Clybourn Avenue our own. We sunk over $300,000 and over a year of work into trying to make that happen right up until we couldn’t any longer. Despite rumors, it was not the liquor license that was our problem there. Two departments of the city would not release our application to even get our building permits. The Zoning Board, which is the department that signs off on liquor licenses alongside the Liquor Commission, and is generally the very last and most difficult department to get through, had already signed off. But between a hostile community group, and a new ward map that gave us two aldermen that didn’t seem concerned with supporting us, we ended up without any significant political support to help push us through that process.
During the latter half of that whole process, we opened Geek Bar Beta. It was, at first, an act of frustration. We were prepared to open a bar, but we didn’t have a location to open in. So I made some calls, was introduced to the owners of Storefront Company, and a deal was struck. We opened an extended pop-up location, the first experiment of its kind anywhere, in Wicker Park. We did it largely on a wing, a prayer, and a hefty SBA loan for our equipment and starting inventory with the intention of staying for two months, three on the outside, and then moving into the Clybourn spot. That, clearly, didn’t pan out.
In January, we began talking to Storefront Company about keeping the location permanently. At the time, we figured that we would always need a test kitchen, and keeping the Wicker Park outpost open as Beta in perpetuity seemed like an excellent way to stay in a neighborhood that had embraced us while getting innovative in both the food and beverages that we served there, as well as in testing events and other aspects of the business. As the Clybourn situation deteriorated over the next several months, it instead became our primary option.
All this while, we continued to refine our operations. I can’t say enough wonderful things about our team. We have, almost universally, had a team that believed deeply in what we are doing for the geek community. It has been one of our core strengths. My biggest mistake as CEO was that I didn’t want to let go of the amazing people working so hard for our success, believing deeply that we would get revenue up fast enough, or open a second location and need the people that knew our system inside and out. As a result, our labor remained high for too long, and while we addressed that problem through layoffs, or not replacing some folks that were leaving already for various reasons, we will show ourselves in the black for the first time just a little too late, and after some really bad months that left us too far behind to catch up on our own.
The good news here is that we are in a position to be sustainable if we can pay off those debts that need to be paid immediately for the business to stay open. Our absolute immediate need is $20,000, though truth be told, we need an operating reserve and funds to make smart strategic decisions for the business as well. Ideally, I would like to see us raise $75,000 by the end of the month to continue with our renovations that will reduce costs, create a more geeky environment, start intensive marketing to take advantage of the new changes, and ensure our sustainability in the long term.
I’m turning to you all for help. I have exhausted the network that I can tap into discretely. This is my larger call for help. If you or someone you know can help Geek Bar, I want and need to talk to you now. We can make this all work and achieve our vision of celebrating and fostering geek culture in all its forms with your help.
Thank you, geeks.
David Zoltan Fleet Admiral Geek Bar
Because the questions have been asked, let me address where the money is going as well. We need $11,000 to pay the tax man which we had been trying to delay until we were profitable in the next month and change. We need $6,000 to pay back wages and $3,000 in rent that became a problem when the festival we went to this weekend flopped hard (Forest Park Music Fest at the end of the Blue Line, which had projected 10-20,000 and ended up with a fraction of that number). The combination of the sudden inability to delay payments and the lack of expected revenues created a huge insurmountable gap.
As for the additional $55,000 if we can get it, $30K of that is for a new operational reserve so we never, ever have to do this again. $25K is to do some marketing, some additional renovations to save us more costs, and add some things that our customers want (more TVs, more consoles, a new geeky mural on the wall, a freezer for the kitchen, hand dryers for the bathroom, etc.).
I wanted to talk about what we're doing to be sustainable moving forward, because that's super important to your confidence in our ability to be good shepherds of your money:
First and most importantly, we've made some big changes to the layout of the space, adding 33 chairs to the 66 that were already there. That added capacity not only allows us to regularly serve more of our community, but it boosts us above our break-even point when calculated on a per-seat average. In the past, when we were full, our geeks would end up heading off to other places, because as a group, we're not so big on waiting in lines that don't have John Barrowman at the end of them. Understandable, really. Now, we can keep more geeks at the bar, and it feels less crowded too!
We upgraded the WiFi at the bar. Well, we had someone come in and fix the hotspot to work properly really. We love tech, but our nerdy pursuits have more to do with chemistry than technology. But we got it fixed which is the important part. That lets us do two things: 1) more tech-oriented or online events like Hearthstone Fireside Gatherings or hackathons, and 2) it opens us up for a cool plan we've been brewing, called GeekFleet Prime, to open ourselves up during the daytime hours as a coworking space so that you can work with other nerds in an awesome nerdy space. (Contact us by any channel for more details on the coworking space and the benefits that come with it.)
While we were at it, we better organized our graphic novel and book collection and tabletop gaming collection too. Ikea shelves. Cheap, sleek, and effective.
That was just Stage I of our transformation of the space. We've got a lot more plans that will help us save money, better geek out the space, better organize and display within the space, dampen some of the sound that bounces pretty hard in there, and so forth. I hope you continue to support us so that we can get to these further Stages we have planned, because each one makes Geek Bar better for you and for the staff.