Craig Nelsen, who claims his waffle store was bankrupted because Groupon was too slow in sending him money from the daily deals he offered, just posted an epic rant about the experience in the comments section of the article we wrote about him earlier today.
It's the story of how he created Back Alley Waffles, and the role he believes Groupon played in its death.
He has some nasty things to say about Groupon users, too. He claims they were impatient and left comments on Yelp that hurt his business if they didn't get their waffles fast enough.
This, without editing, is what he wrote:
I started serving waffles in my art gallery as a way to bring attention to my art and, hopefully, save my struggling gallery. The original idea was to give waffles away free every Friday night as a kind of delicious gimmick to get people there.
That grew into Back Alley Waffles.
So, almost by accident, I found myself trying to open a restaurant with no money. YOU try that some time.
On the first day we were open, we had four customers. Then a popular local blog called princeofpetworth.com wrote something nice about us and, on our second day in business, we had a line out the door. You try THAT sometime.
It was an exhausting--and frequently embarrassing--process, but as the days and weeks went by we added staff, accumulated necessary equipment, steadily made improvements to the facility, filed necessary paperwork, bought a cash register, expanded our hours, began accepting credit cards, and bought a growing percentage of our supplies wholesale.
And, every week, business improved--including in the teeth of a brutal heat wave that had the streets deserted. We had gone from having to wait for one table to pay its check so we could take the money, run to the store and buy heavy cream to make the butter for the waffles the table next to them had ordered to, in our last week in business, adding a savory waffle to the menu and, that last Sunday, serving over 200 waffles and nearly half that number of fresh fruit smoothies each containing seven kinds of fresh fruit, plus aloe vera, honey, and vanilla yogurt.
The customers during our very first weeks--our neighbors--were patient, forgiving, and sophisticated enough to assess the situation correctly, settle in with a section of the Sunday paper, and roll with it. I would deliver a table their waffles after some ungodly wait, apologizing, and telling them there would be no charge for the waffles, they would insist on paying. As one such table was leaving, a member of the party came up and pressed the cost of the meal into my hand. I started to object, but she pressed back firmly. "Take it," she said, "we want you to succeed." That table had already paid its check.
Contrast that to the Groupon customer. They were the first, if their wait time grew, to start sighing and giving hard stares to the employees, who, of course , were doing their best under difficult circumstances. "We churn our own butter here," I would explain, "which is a process that seems different every time, and can be quite lengthy. But," I would promise them, "If you've never had butter that's never been chilled, you are in for a special treat."
But many of the Grouponistas were simply indifferent to the prospect of a new sensual experience. They had their coupon and their right to cheap food, and they wanted that food delivered with the kind of uniform efficiency the McDonald's Corporation fields globally 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
When it wasn't, they would Yelp us.
Sheri S from Washington, DC yelped, "So, we arrived around 1:00 pm, an hour before the place closes and the cook says he just served the last batch of waffles and smoothies to the previous customers. Mind you, there are only four menu items: buttermilk waffles, smoothies, chai tea and coffee. How is it possible that you run out of ingredients? "
We waited for ONE HOUR for these amazing waffles that people keep raving about. Every time we'd get up to leave, the guy kept saying someone was coming with the ingredients from Safeway. Why was he coming from Safeway? And, it only takes 10 min to walk from Back Alley Waffles to Safeway.
The guy arrives with the buttermilk cream to make the special "butter." By the time he makes the "butter" from scratch, we had waited for more than an hour and only a small waffle. I expected a monster size IHOP waffle. Nope. I could've made these waffles at home. The only thing they did was drop this huge scoop of butter that looked like ice cream on top of the waffle. And, you needed it because they didn't give you enough syrup.
And, here's the kicker - for one waffle you pay $8 [$4 for Grouponistas]. It's not worth it. You can try, but you'll leave very disappointed. I should open up my kitchen and rip people off for some subpar $8 waffles I can make at home with ingredients I got from Safeway."
Sean P from Brookline, Massachusetts yelped, "The waffles might be great, but I wouldn't know due to their overwhelming incompetence. Even if the waffles are great, we should all teach this place a lesson in customer service by avoiding it until they figure out how to run a business. I'm going to try to get my money back from Groupon."
Yes, I would rather slam my hand in a car door than honor their Groupon coupons and then wait up to three months for the $2.00 Groupon will send me to pay for the waffle they ate.
Despite all that, we were winning. We were actually opening a successful restaurant with NO MONEY. And this is not just empty chest-thumping. The reason I can say with some confidence that we would have succeeded is because the entire staff is still pressing me to re-open. Remember, these are people to every one of whom I owe weeks of back pay. What does it say about their belief in Back Alley Waffles that they, who were in the trenches every day, want to keep working?
It was Groupon that broke our backs. As we waited and waited for our money (how can it take ten days to "process" a check? I can write one in twenty seconds flat.) that thousand dollars loomed larger and larger until, finally it snuffed us out. Yes, we were under-capitalized. Yes, it was my fault for signing up with Groupon in the first place. But Groupon sucks.
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