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Community rallies bigime for local coffee shop

ROYAL OAK COFFEE owners Aless and Matt Delia-Lôbo, holding their daughter, Frances, were surprised how quickly and generously people responded to the GoFundMe campaign for their Middlebury business.

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury-area residents have always valued a good cup of coffee — especially when it’s brewed and poured by congenial, caring folks in a soothing environment. It’s a recipe that kept Carol’s Hungry Mind Café percolating thanks to donations long after it became clear its financial cup was running dry at its erstwhile Merchants Row location (now home to Little Seed Coffee Roasters).

So when Royal Oak Coffee on Seymour Street in Middlebury last week launched an online fundraising campaign to remain in business, it wasn’t super surprising to see faithful customers rally behind their favorite java joint.

But Royal Oak owners Matt and Aless Delia-Lôbo never imagined just how quickly and generously their fans would respond.

The outpouring has indeed been grande.

Just 48 hours after issuing their GoFundMe plea on Wednesday, April 17, the Delia-Lôbos eclipsed their $30,000 goal to catch up on back taxes, pay off penalties, draw down business loans, finish repairing flood damage, settle miscellaneous debts, and contract with a new financial planner.

“We are absolutely floored by the outpouring of support we have received,” the Delia-Lôbos wrote in an update message on their GoFundMe page.

“We had no idea what to expect at first, but it’s amazing that this is getting so much traction already,” they added.

During a brief phone interview with the Independent on Monday, Matt Delia-Lôbo said it was with mixed feelings that he and Aless advanced the GoFundMe effort as a last-ditch effort to salvage Royal Oak, located at 30 Seymour St.

“Asking for help was very difficult. As business owners, we feel like we should be able to figure this out; this is our responsibility,” he said. “The $30,000 (appeal was), ‘If we make this goal, we literally won’t lose our house and everything.’”

The couple, in their GoFundMe narrative, was candid in what led Royal Oak to the precipice. Those reasons, they said, included:

  • A 2019 launch that just preceded the COVID pandemic, which sent local, state, national and global economies into an economic tailspin. An enterprise tied to the premise of social interaction was suddenly paralyzed by lockdowns.

The couple has already pared back operations in view of budget challenges. Last year they closed their smaller, second location — Lost Monarch, which was in the Stone Mill building.

  • “Bad luck with professional financial services” that put the business “in a chokehold.”
  • “An unprecedented issue with our point-of-sale system, Square, which has now taken over a week to resolve, with the result that our income from recent sales is inaccessible.”
  • Being let down by a “trusted financial professional” who allegedly accepted payment for services but didn’t follow through with services. “When we caught on to the severity of the situation, we reached out to remedy the issue only to find out they had retired and left the state,” according to the Delia-Lôbos.

“We have subsequently become locked out of several financial programs and opportunities that we should have been able to take advantage of while they were available for things like utilities, property taxes, home repairs, childcare, etc., leading to more debt,” they stated. “We have a new professional we are working with now so we’re ready to move forward but the financial hole this has left us in is now insurmountable.”

Compounding the financial stress and uncertainty: The Delia-Lôbos are expecting their second child.

“You, as part of our community of customers, supporters, and friends, as well as the shop, mean absolutely everything to us,” their GoFundMe message states. “We want more than anything to keep the shop open; we know it means a lot to many others just as it does for our family.”

Matt said he was too nervous to check the campaign progress until several hours into its first day. He was thrilled to see a total of more than $12,000. The donations have kept on coming; as of Tuesday they had received $34,365 from 457 donors.

Based on that success, and advice they subsequently received for giving Royal Oak a stronger financial foundation, they bumped their goal to $60,000.

“Reaching this amount will allow us to wipe out the rest of the business-related, high-interest debt, taxes, and penalties, allowing us to utilize our income from sales to keep up with ongoing taxes, fees and rent moving forward, and will help us begin to repair flood damage at our home,” the couple said. “This strategy will maximize our use of the donations, stopping the snowball of compounding interest. Then, we can catch our breath, regroup and keep things moving forward sustainably.

ENCOURAGING WORDS

Some donors offered words of encouragement with their Royal Oak donation, which have ranged from $5 to $1,250.

“Thank you, Matt and Aless, for providing such warmth, care and delicious coffee!” Christopher Leonard wrote in a message with his $300 donation.

“Running a small business is HARD. So often, business owners struggle in silence, while keeping a smiling face on for their community,” wrote donor Natalie Miller.

“Proud of you for asking for help and so happy to see your community rallying around you.”

Also on the donor list is Counseling Service of Addison County Executive Director Rachel Lee Cummings. She told the Independent why she contributed.

“I grew up in a small family business that always seemed to be on the brink of bankruptcy, no matter how hard my parents worked,” she said. “I’m happy to support Royal Oak both as a regular customer and through their fundraising efforts. The owners have created a wonderful space with exceptional coffee and treats. I want them to thrive, even in the face of recent setbacks. Small businesses form the backbone of our community and economy, and it’s disheartening that the margin for success remains so narrow.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

 

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