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Revealed: Old Street’s Burger Bear still owes crowdfunders thousands of pounds in rewards

PUBLISHED: 07:00 09 June 2016 | UPDATED: 09:04 09 June 2016

Tom Reaney says he has had a 'dark year'. Picture: Thomas Bowles Photography

Tom Reaney says he has had a 'dark year'. Picture: Thomas Bowles Photography

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Hundreds of crowdfunders have “got beef” with a fast food joint on Old Street Roundabout that still owes them thousands of pounds in artisan burgers a year after opening.

"I think it’s criminal. It’s nothing short of theft. You’ve got a duty – it’s not anything that big: it’s just burgers"

Chris Mair

Hipster haunt Burger Bear launched in a container on the Magic Roundabout thanks to a £36,000 Kickstarter campaign promising free food – described as “dripping with tender eat-me genius” – as rewards.

But 12 months on, 200 of the 650 sponsors – those who pledged between £150 and £1,000 – have yet to receive anything from the “disco burger joint”.

What’s more, their demands for answers, and in some cases refunds, have been largely ignored by “uber friendly” owner Tom Reaney, who many have accused of stealing their money.

Breaking his silence in an interview with the Gazette, Tom admitted he had bitten off more than he could chew and said the past year had “nearly killed” him. He said he had been “totally out of his depth” trying to run his business and dish out the “bacon jam”-smothered rewards.

What the crowdfunders’ money should have got them

£20 pledge – 2 x burgers, fries, postcard and badge – 200 backers

£45 – “Crazy” welcome package – 120 backers

£75 – 1 month of free burgers and name on wall – 34 backers

£250 – Private dining experience for 11 people – 18 backers

£2,000 – 1,000 burgers and a party in your house – 1 backer

The cracks had started to show in his last post on Kickstarter, a video last July that angered his sponsors even more. In it, he said he couldn’t “take the pressure” and hit out at those abusing him.

“Those of you who continually give me grief – get a grip,” he said. “See into a world past your investment and realise how difficult this has been. It’s just me at the top.”

The campaign for a permanent branch in Old Street launched in February 2014 and raised the £36,577 target within a month.

But the initial Red Market location fell through and most of the money was used during a nine-month effort to secure the Magic Roundabout spot to add to his branches in Stoke Newington (Stokey Bears) and Peckham (in The Old Nun’s Head pub).

Tom Reaney says he has had a 'dark year'. Picture: Thomas Bowles PhotographyTom Reaney says he has had a 'dark year'. Picture: Thomas Bowles Photography

Tom’s lack of interaction angered backers as early as October 2014.

Speaking to the Gazette this week, Chris Mair, who pledged £150 in return for a team lunch for his staff at Tech City company Dadi, said Tom had “taken the p***”.

“I’ve backed about 10 projects and never had a situation like this,” he said. “He’s not honoured his rewards at all.

“I think it’s criminal. It’s nothing short of theft. You’ve got a duty – it’s not anything that big: it’s just burgers.

Tom Reaney owns two other branches, including Stokey Bears in Stoke NewingtonTom Reaney owns two other branches, including Stokey Bears in Stoke Newington

“The Kickstarter people are the first people he should have invited to come along. It would have been impossible without them.

“For me, £150 is not going to break the bank, but it’s the principle. I don’t like being mugged off.”

A remorseful Tom, 31, has now revealed he is having coins made that will enable the 200 sponsors affected to eat at Burger Bear free of charge – forever.

“It’s been an absolute nightmare,” he said. “I was trying to keep the business going, I’d just had a baby and had 600 people wanting to know what was going on. I was falling under the pressure.

“I was totally out of my depth. I’m in such a better place now and trying to clear up this s**t that I have created.”

He insisted he always said if the sponsors came to one of the restaurants they would be given their rewards and had no regrets over the campaign, despite his “dark year”. “The customers are the only reason I do this,” he said. “I don’t make any money.”

He said he had issued refunds to some of the backers, albeit with the parting shot: “I don’t want you as part of this project if you can’t understand where I’m coming from – have your f***ing money back.”

He continued: “I don’t think people understand how difficult it is. If you earn £50,000 and backed £300 and you’re getting annoyed, f**k you and your £50,000 job.”

Tom has become something of a guru on how not to run a Kickstarter campaign, and has even given talks at Tech City about his disastrous experience. “I’ve seen the dark side of it,” he said. “Now I need to put an end to it.”

The chaos has also led to Kickstarter being criticised for not protecting its customers’ investments.

Chris Mair said crowdfunding sites had a duty to protect backers and should be held to account.

He said: “They shouldn’t just have a platform they profit from that facilitates theft. Crowdfunding is a great thing but needs some form of regulation.”

Kickstarter insisted that, in general, creators had an “incredibly good track record”.

A spokeswoman said: “Since creators are bringing new ideas to life for the first time, there are no guarantees a project will work out. If a creator can’t complete a project as promised, their contract [...] requires them to bring the project to the best possible conclusion, as detailed in our terms of use.”

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