Raffi Sulahian placed these signs in the front window of the former Little Dog Coffee Shop in Brunswick to drum up support for a fundraising campaign to open a new café there. Courtesy of Raffi Sulahian

A man described as a “coffeehouse king” in California is trying to open a new café in Brunswick at the site of the former Little Dog Coffee Shop.

Raffi Morgan Christopher Sulahian said last month he purchased the Maine Street shop’s equipment after Little Dog owner Larry Flaherty closed the business following a union strike. Flaherty leased the shop from building owner Tondreau LLC and it has been listed for sublease for $5,175 a month.

Sulahian’s goal is to take over the lease, and he started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $50,000 for the effort.

“I’m just hoping I can build a new café here,” he said. “These places are important in every community. … No one is happy that the place closed. I want to get it open before people lose interest and go elsewhere.

“I’m hoping to do a great, eco-friendly coffee and tea house. … I’m assembling a great team to help accomplish that potential goal.”

As of Monday afternoon, the campaign had raised $3,000. Sulahian declined to say how much he paid for the shop’s equipment. He wrote he needs $21,000 for a two-month “cushion” for rent and payroll, $12,000 to update and repair equipment, $7,000 for inventory to open the shop, $5,000 to “create a safe and efficient working area for our employees,” $2,500 to renovate the counters and lighting, and $2,000 to upgrade the electrical and plumbing systems.


GoFundMe deactivated the fundraiser Tuesday morning for several hours then reactivated it later in the day.
“Our Trust and Safety team temporarily paused the fundraiser to ensure it was within our Terms of Service,” a GoFundMe spokesperson said in an email.
Sulahian did not respond to messages seeking comment on the deactivation.

Sulahian, 65, said he lives in Topsham. He was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. In 1993, when he went by his middle names Morgan Christopher, he opened Morgan’s Coffee & Tea in Monterey. He launched an unsuccessful bid for mayor of Monterey in 2002 then sold his business in 2003. He went on to open Café Noir in Monterey, which closed, then opened Ol’ Factory Café in Sand City in 2007. He closed the Ol’ Factory Café in 2009.

The Monterey County Weekly profiled Sulahian in 2009 in a story titled “The caffeine highs and financial lows of local coffeehouse icon Morgan Christopher.”

The exterior of the now-closed Little Dog Coffee Shop on Maine Street in Brunswick. Jason Claffey / The Times Record

“There are two Morgan Christophers,” the story begins. “There’s the charismatic coffeehouse king who turned a blighted corner into downtown Monterey’s most popular café (with Morgan’s Coffee & Tea), breathed life into a tricky space next to Osio Cinemas (with Café Noir) and transformed Sand City into the hip place to drink in killer craft beer, fair trade coffee, savvy conversation and edgy art (with Ol’ Factory Café). There’s the man admired because he brought a big city buzz to a tiny town, spawned arguably three of the most popular coffee shops in the county and accomplished what people said couldn’t be done.

“But while one Christopher was accomplishing the impossible, the other did what you can’t do. In an at-times claustrophobic business community, he ruffled feathers, burned bridges — and, at least sometimes, didn’t pay his bills, his employees or his taxes.”

Sulahian declined to comment on the story, which says he filed for bankruptcy around 1996, claiming ” ‘a woman from L.A. who ran a bar in the area’ cheated him and other businesses for a lot of money.” It also mentions a 2008 federal tax lien showing he owed more than $142,000.

“I am someone who likes a big vision and then has stumbled famously and publicly trying to fund those ideas,” the Weekly said he wrote in an email to the publication. “Certainly, no one is harmed anywhere near the degree I have been financially and [in] terms of how this has impacted my own health.”


Sulahian plans to name his Brunswick business Tableau Café.

“We have experience creating successful coffee houses in the past; we want to do it again for a vibrant community that desperately wants theirs back,” he wrote on the GoFundMe campaign. “Our organic coffee will be small-batch roasted … Organic teas will be sourced from Fair Trade growers. Our baked goods will be prepared in-house daily. Our sandwich breads will be supplied by Maine’s newest and most impressive bakery. Our walls will showcase the area’s best artists. Our welcoming vibe will be unmistakeable.”

Sulahian declined to comment on if he will hire former Little Dog workers if plans for the new café advance. Union representatives did not respond to messages seeking comment. Michael P. Boyd is listed as the manager of Tondreau LLC; attempts to reach him Monday were not successful.

Little Dog opened in 2005. Flaherty, who owns the Met Coffee House chain, acquired Little Dog last year. Its employees soon unionized through Workers United and filed several unfair labor practice charges against Flaherty with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming he declined to fix broken equipment, prohibited pro-union signage in the store, reduced the shop’s hours and refused to negotiate a contract, among other complaints. The union held a one-day strike in May and went on strike again June 10.

Flaherty denied many of the union’s claims.

“They hit us with one strike and/or unfair labor practice charge after another (justified or not) knowing how costly it will be for the business to continue to lose revenue or try and defend itself, with the intent of either making the business cave to their demands or shut down entirely,” Flaherty said in a statement in response to the strike in May.

Raffi Sulahian is trying to raise $50,000 to open a new café at the former Little Dog Coffee Shop in downtown Brunswick. This sign in the shop’s front window encourages people to donate to his fundraising campaign. Courtesy of Raffi Sulahian

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