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What went wrong?

Sims-Fewer launched The Anarchist to make “great, non-corporate coffee more accessible to the working-class people who are increasingly denied the good things we all deserve,” he told Blog TO.

His aim was to grow the business beyond a sole proprietorship into a worker-owned and operated co-op with everyone making the same living wage and having “equal decision-making power within a consensus-based democratic system,” the company’s website says.

He launched the business without the help of investment capital. Instead, Sims-Fewer took over a pre-existing cafe from Pop Coffee Works, his house roaster and landlord. For six months, the business used the space for free, and thereafter paid a ”very discounted rent.”

“Without their incredibly anti-capitalist generosity, the cafe would never have happened,” Sims-Fewer wrote on The Anarchist’s website, adding that this allowed him to start the business without “selling my soul to sketchy investors.”

His costs at the start were limited to merchandise, internet and utilities.

“Even that was a lot more money than I had, but with the magic of credit card debt I was able to get the ball rolling and have gradually been adding to the shop as things sell,” Sims-Fewer wrote.

After “much enthusiasm” from Toronto’s “radical progressives” in the early days of The Anarchist, a lack of funding — specifically from “generational wealth/seed capital from ethically bankrupt sources” — forced Sims-Fewer to make the difficult decision to close the cafe after just one year, he wrote in a farewell message on the company’s website.

The café owner said he didn’t have the funding to “weather the quiet winter season, or to grow in the ways needed to be sustainable longer-term.”

He ended his farewell message with thanks to his supporters, and a parting declaration: “F— the rich.”

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‘Pay what you can’ model

One big challenge for The Anarchist was the cost of running a specialty coffee business — which Sims-Fewer describes as “the small part of the coffee industry that deals with the highest quality coffee from a taste perspective.”

The Anarchist partnered with a few very small, independent roasters with direct-trade models and a keen focus on the ethics of the coffee supply chain.

This doesn’t come cheap, and the café was called out by customers for its high prices. Sims-Fewer had to explain his pricing model on the website, stating that he set prices as low as he could afford to, while still being confident he wouldn’t have to raise them after the six-month rent-free grace period.

To counter the high prices, Sims-Fewer launched “pay what you can” drip coffee, which was subsidized by the more expensive drinks, but still lost the owner money.

“One of the issues with a lot of my ‘pay what you can’ oriented ideas is that the more money people have, the less they're willing to pay,” he wrote in the website’s FAQs. “I get people in designer suits paying $1 for a coffee, and unhoused people trying to give me $10.”

Despite the anti-capitalist cafe’s short life and imminent closure, Sims-Fewer said the project “has been a huge success” and he hopes to put what he learned to use in future projects.

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Bethan Moorcraft is a reporter for Moneywise with experience in news editing and business reporting across international markets.

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