A solid investment

A solid investment

Help Yourself offering 10 percent returns

Try, and try again.

When Help Yourself organic café owner Charlie Wilson was declined for a conventional bank loan to expand her business, she did what most freethinking business owners facing a challenge do – she turned to the Internet.

Help Yourself Café is expanding into the Fleming Street laundry space to offer a daily organic market instead of just once a week. Volunteer laborers as well as donated building supplies have been flowing into the space since owner Charlie Wilson was denied a conventional bank loan.

The former executive chef and restaurateur who opened her healthy hot spot on the corner of Fleming and Margaret Streets in Key West three years ago learned of the concept launched by Kickstarter.com two years ago where artists, designers, technologists, musicians, filmmakers and foodies reach out to online followers to help fund their creative projects – whether it be an industrial strength espresso machine, an art book deconstructing the world of cosmetic surgery or a smart phone application to help you remember where you parked your car.

Wilson also delved into the world of Slow Money, a concept Entrepreneur.com called “one of the top five trends in finance for 2011.”

Referred to as “nurture capital” instead of “venture capital,” Wilson developed a local investment strategy to help fund her business expansion called “Carrot Cash.”

“For instance, if someone donates $1,000, they’ll be given $1,100 in ‘carrot cash’ to spend here in the market,” Wilson elaborated. “These are, for the most part, regular customers of the café and the Monday Market, who know they will spend money throughout the year and are offering money up front so we can build the market.”

When Key West’s Waterfront Market was forced out of business by high rents at the city-owned seaport location, conscious customers no longer had a local market to purchase organic, pesticide-free, environmentally friendly produce in the Southernmost City.

Wilson left Key West at 2:30 am Monday and had just completed the eight hour round trip trek to the mainland when customers began milling about the perimeter and scouring for the prettiest greens, tomatoes and mushrooms on the table.

Not only is she bringing healthy food to Key West, she’s dropping it off at several locations in Marathon and Big Pine on her way down.

Mary Phund (left) said she was one of Buco Pantelis’s first customers at the Waterfront Market, and she’s now helping out each Monday during the weekly market at Help Yourself. Judith Morris is another loyal customer at the market who seeks out organic produce as part of her 13-year battle with cancer.

Volunteer laborers have been working diligently on the renovations of the adjoining space that once housed a laundry mat. Soon, organic produce as well as spices, beans, grains, nuts, seeds, sweeteners and breads will be available throughout the week instead of only on Monday.

Her goal of $35,000 to purchase new equipment for the business expansion has nearly been met due to an overwhelming amount of individual financial pledges from her loyal customers.

As Elisa Levy pledged her $75 in carrot cash, she clarified her reason for investing in Help Yourself.

“There’s nothing better we could do for our kids than giving them organic food, and she’s been such a great supporter of this community.”



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