Dharma Southern Kitchen, the plant-based restaurant that arose from a vegan hot dog cart, launched as a mobile food trailer and then opened as a brick and mortar anchor of the South Street Market, has big plans for expansion, and it's looking for investors in a serious, grownup and governmentally regulated way.
Dharma has established a page on StartEngine, a website that provides a platform and resources for companies seeking investors through a process known as equity crowdfunding. But Shaun Noonan, Dharma’s founder and CEO, is quick to point out that this isn’t the type of fundraising site that most people are familiar with.
“This is not like crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe where people are being charitable and maybe get a free t-shirt,” he told me. “This is an actual equity or stock sale in the company. This is an SEC-regulated platform that allows everyone – internationally, nationally or locally – to become a stockholder in Dharma Southern Kitchen.”
That doesn’t mean that Dharma Southern Kitchen is going public – there won’t be an initial public offering (IPO) and it won’t show up on a stock exchange board. But investors can purchase real shares in the company and potentially make money on the investment.
Though Noonan won’t make any promises. Mostly because it's forbidden by the Security and Exchange Commission.
“I’m learning that there are certain things I can and cannot say and certain numbers I can’t allude to,” he said. That includes making claims that the company will perform at a certain level or grow exponentially. He can’t even tell potential investors “your mileage may vary.”
But he can say that the company is poised to do well by showcasing its reviews, marketing strategy and plans for expansion. And he can point out, as he does on the StartEngine page, that “in the last 15 years, the number of Americans following plant-based diets has increased by 300% to over 9.7 million as of 2020.”
That sort of potential has already intrigued 22 investors to buy shares, which are priced at 76 cents, to raise more than $37,000 – in just five days. (Although shares are priced at 76 cents, there is a minimum investment of $190, or a little more than 144 shares.) DSK (which again is not its stock symbol) aims to raise $1.07 million in the first tranche of the offering.
The monies will be used to fund the restaurant’s expansion. “We’re looking at putting three more locations within the state of Florida within the next 12 to 16 months,” said Noonan. “Our real goal is we want to be in every metropolitan environment in the lower 48 states within the next five to seven years.”
Dharma Souther Kitchen already has three locations, including inside Market On South and Henry’s Depot in Sanford, and another in Tampa.
The restaurant, which opened its first brick and mortar location in 2015, was originally called Dixie Dharma but the name was changed in 2020, Noonan said, when customers explained the fraught context of the word Dixie. (Dharma is a word used in Hinduism and Buddhism that refers to the basic principles of individual existence.)
For more information about becoming an investor, visit the Dharma Southern Kitchen StartEngine page.