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

A man attempting to open a new café at the former Little Dog Coffee Shop in Brunswick said Friday afternoon he’s reconsidering the effort after receiving criticism from the community, including a state representative.

Raffi Sulahian, who said he lives in Topsham, purchased the shop’s equipment after former Little Dog owner Larry Flaherty shut down the business last month following union strikes. Sulahian launched a $50,000 GoFundMe campaign for his plan to open the Tableau Café after he said two investors backed out. The campaign raised $3,060 as of Friday afternoon but had been paused and updated to read, “We are pausing the GoFundMe campaign as it has encountered some resistance from those who have unanswered questions about the legitimacy of crowdfunding a for profit business.”

Brunswick state Rep. Dan Ankeles, whose district includes the downtown area where the storefront is located, on Thursday warned people against donating to the crowdfunding effort, first in a Twitter post and then in a statement to The Times Record.

Ankeles pointed to a May 27 letter to the editor in the Portland Press Herald that Sulahian wrote using his middle names, Morgan Christopher, and saying he was from Yarmouth. Sulahian blasted the Little Dog union, calling them part of a “dysfunctional, traumatized, anxiety-ridden generation, who needs safe spaces and trigger warnings to get through their days.”

He added, “These misguided employees and their union should be condemned for this abuse of the collective bargaining system.”

Brunswick state Rep. and Town Councilor Dan Ankeles. Michele Stapleton photo

“It conveyed what his real intentions are,” said Ankeles, who also serves on the Brunswick Town Council and described himself as a progressive Democrat and union supporter. “You don’t write that letter if you don’t mean that.


“When you see anti-union activity in our backyard, it gets me fired up.”

Ankeles, who said he is “completely disgusted” by the situation, issued this statement, which he also posted in part on the Radio Midcoast WCME Facebook page, where Sulahian has been a frequent commenter:

Whoever buys Little Dog needs to understand: a) This place is essential social infrastructure in the heart of Brunswick. One should not invest in such things lightly, and one should have a deep and stable commitment to this community, both socially and financially. b) The employees worked really hard to achieve their union, and this is a town that values the right to organize. Any new owner ought to respect that, respect the creation of the union, and act accordingly when it comes to hiring practices. It’s not a hard formula to follow, and good faith actions will go a lot farther than words. Right now it appears what is happening is thinly veiled union busting. All of greater Brunswick should reject this. We deserve a central gathering space that is worthy of our values and worthy of its workers.”

In a subsequent interview, Ankeles said, “I don’t think people should give a dime to (the GoFundMe campaign). I think it’s kind of a scam, to be honest.”

Sulahian was also criticized on Facebook and Twitter for crowdfunding.

“Why on earth would anyone ‘donate’ to a for-profit business? He should be looking for investors, not donors,” one user wrote on a Facebook post by The Times Record


“Something doesn’t sit right with me,” a Twitter user wrote. “He seems like a pretty standard small business owner that bills himself as a larger-than-life mover and shaker.”

Ankeles pointed to Sulahian’s history in California, where he ran three cafés using his middle names Morgan Christopher in the 1990s and 2000s. A 2009 story titled “The caffeine highs and financial lows of local coffeehouse icon Morgan Christopher” in The Monterey Weekly accused Sulahian of not paying his bills, employees or taxes at various points. It also mentions he had a personal bankruptcy in the 1990s and a $142,000 federal tax lien in 2008.

“This guy is trying to convince Brunswick that he’s all right, and I don’t think that’s the case,” Ankeles said. “He goes by so many different names, I’m not quite sure who this guy is.”

Explaining why he paused the crowdsourcing effort Friday, Sulahian cited “turmoil, started by one local newspaper reporter who intentionally created an unnecessary firestorm.” He also referenced Ankeles for “attacking me publicly and implying that I am somehow ‘union-busting,’ a breathtakingly preposterous accusation.”

“I’ve decided to just pause and reconsider the wisdom of continuing with the project altogether,” he wrote. ” … we have to decide if the unanticipated hurdles that lie ahead can be negotiated. And if not, all donations made thus far, much of which has been spent on electrical and interior redesign, will be refunded.”

Patrick Bruce, an organizer for Workers United, with which the Little Dog union is affiliated, said he was upset with the tone of Sulahian’s letter to the editor.


“When he and I last spoke, nearly a month after the (Portland Press Herald) letter, he called the Little Dog strike a ‘great victory’ and agreed with me that that victory would be hollow if the workers did not keep their jobs,” Bruce said in a statement. “He had voiced a great deal of respect for the workers and their place in the community leading up to the purchase. … I’m surprised by the sudden change of tone.”

Ankeles said the Little Dog workers have been suffering throughout this process, as they have been out of work since June 10 when they went on strike.

“I’m sure there is somebody out there who would want to buy this place and would do right by this community and the employees,” he said. “This is such a Brunswick institution and everything about this has denigrated it and flew in the face of our town’s values. It’s really upsetting because it’s the central gathering spot we’ve used on so many occasions to do good things.”

One of the Little Dog workers, Chris Cushing, said Sulahian called police June 28 when Cushing entered the shop to get his personal belongings.

“At his request, the Little Dog workers met with Raffi about rehire and potentially retrieving some personal belongings to make way for renovations to the basement,” Cushing said. “Raffi told me that he did not have the code for the basement space we used as a breakroom, and I informed him that I was able to open it for him. He texted me and requested that I … come to the back door, but did not come to the door when I knocked. Taking his invitation at face value, I went in and retrieved my belongings. While I was exiting, Raffi appeared and began to yell at me.”

Sulahian then contacted police, who issued Cushing a trespass warning.

Sulahian responded in part that “law enforcement decided there was sufficient cause to issue a warning.”

Cushing said he was surprised Sulahian went to police.

“I don’t think most rational business owners would have acted the way Raffi did,” he said.

Bath Iron Works employees join Little Dog Coffee Shop workers on strike on Maine Street in downtown Brunswick in June. Jessica Czarnecki photo

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