A Topsham man attempting to open a café at the site of the former Little Dog Coffee Shop in downtown Brunswick defended his crowdfunding effort to open the business after receiving blowback on social media this week.

Raffi Sulahian said he purchased the shop’s equipment from Little Dog owner Larry Flaherty, who closed the business following union strikes. Sulahian said he’s trying to take over the shop’s $5,175-per-month lease and started a $50,000 GoFundMe campaign to fund the effort. The campaign raised $3,020 as of Thursday afternoon.

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

Several users who commented on The Times Record’s Facebook post about the fundraiser were uneasy.

“Wait. We fund his coffee shop? Don’t we already … by purchasing said coffee?” one user wrote.

“Why on earth would anyone ‘donate’ to a for-profit business? He should be looking for investors, not donors,” another user wrote.

In a series of posts on the Radio Midcoast WCME Facebook page, Sulahian wrote he turned to crowdfunding after “two different financial backers decided it was too much to get involved with.” He did not indicate if he has sought a business loan.


Sulahian did not respond to a message left Thursday afternoon. After The Times Record published a story about the fundraiser earlier this week, he sent a reporter the message, “We’re done.”

“As for crowdfunding, it’s 2023, and it’s a thing,” he wrote on Facebook. “More than half of Silicon Valley startups are seeded with cash infusions from interested investors who collectively risk very little in support of a great idea. I’ve never used ‘other people’s money’ … so this isn’t exactly my first choice.”

“Crowdfunding platforms are specifically designed to help individuals raise money for everything from for profit businesses … to personal reasons that people have for which they need financial help. And I’ve personally donated to at least 4 different business startups,” he wrote in another comment. “I didn’t realize that it may seem odd to some, but I just felt it was a good way to get the community involved with a sense of ownership.”

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

Sulahian, 65, owned three cafés in Monterey County, California, in the 1990s and 2000s when he went by his middle names, Morgan Christopher. 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 story dubbed him a “coffeehouse king” who “spawned arguably three of the most popular coffee shops in the county.” It also said he “ruffled feathers, burned bridges — and, at least sometimes, didn’t pay his bills, his employees or his taxes,” citing a personal bankruptcy and a federal tax lien.

Sulahian declined to comment on the story. He also declined to comment on if he plans to hire former Little Dog union workers for his potential new Brunswick shop, which would be called Tableau Café.

In a May 27 letter to the editor in the Portland Press Herald titled “Brunswick baristas’ action amounts to distraction,” Sulahian blasted the union.


“The recent strike against Little Dog Coffee Shop in Brunswick is indicative of so much that’s wrong with this country at the moment,” he wrote under the name Morgan Christopher, of Yarmouth. “One barista, employed for a month, has reportedly had enough. Of what, exactly? No dishwashing solution and a broken coffee grinder? Who’s raising this dysfunctional, traumatized, anxiety-ridden generation, who needs safe spaces and trigger warnings to get through their days?

“Corporations like Amazon and Starbucks keeping their employees from collective bargaining agreements is enraging. This demands our collective outrage. Instead, we’re distracted by employees at a mom-and-pop. Threatening small businesses already struggling during the pandemic era is no joking matter.

“What’s undeniable is that these misguided employees and their union should be condemned for this abuse of the collective bargaining system meant to protect employee rights. They probably think they’re ‘fighting the good fight,’ but they’re embarrassing themselves in broad daylight.”

The union did not respond to a request for comment on Sulahian’s letter.

In a Facebook comment in response to the letter, Sulahian wrote, “All I can say is that it was fueled by what I had heard only from one side of the turmoil.”

Little Dog opened in 2005. Flaherty, who owns the Met Coffee House chain, acquired the business 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.

In response to Sulahian’s efforts, Flaherty said in an email Thursday, “I have no comment as I no longer own the business.”

Tondreau LLC owns the shop at 87 Maine St., which has been advertised for sublease. Tondreau’s listed manager, Allan Jagger, of Falmouth, could not be reached Thursday.

Sulahian ended one of his Facebook comments with this: “I’m just a guy who bought some equipment from a closed business and hoping to do a coffee joint in town that appeals to the values of this amazing little town. … it’s not like some international jewel thief just came into town.”

Striking Little Dog Coffee Shop union workers were joined by Bath Iron Works union workers in rallies in June. Courtesy of Machinists Local S6

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