FLORENCE, Ore. — A struggling Oregon restaurant owner has a deal for customers: If they chip in toward his overhead, he’ll pay them back in half price food.
Tom Benson hopes the offer will help him reopen Cactus BBQ in Florence, Ore., which closed Dec. 31.
Winters are tough for restaurants along the Oregon Coast. Tourist traffic dries up after Labor Day — “It’s kind of a like a faucet that only runs during the summer,” Benson said.
And, without a steady stream of local customers to keep the venture alive, restaurants fold. But it takes time to build up that base of loyal local customers who keep eateries alive during the off-season. Benson opened Cactus BBQ on April 1. Summer went well. The tourists came, and slowly but surely, Benson began to build a local clientele. But to get a “full” roster of locals takes three years, he said, as word of mouth spreads.
By the time winter hit, Benson couldn’t pay his bills, and decided to close. That’s when a customer, a business consultant, offered an idea: Benson needs about $20,000 to reopen and make it until this summer. If 100 customers pitched in $200 each, he could repay them with half-off food.
Since then, he’s gotten 35 people to sign up, offering pledges that he’ll collect only if he gets to 100.
But will the plan work? Paying back all those locals will cut into Benson’s profits next summer, and when winter rolls around, he’ll likely see the traffic die down again, just like it did this year.
But he believes another season would give him enough time to recruit enough of a local following to make it through next winter.
“My clientele is going to grow, and it’s been growing steadily,” Benson said. “We have a lot of locals who love the place.”