Go Woke, Go Broke: Leftist Coffee Shop’s ‘Pay What You Can’ Experiment Flops

Toronto’s The Anarchist, a coffee shop that operated on a “pay what you can” system, is set to close at the end of the month, just over a year after its establishment. Owner Gabriel Sims-Fewer shared a candid and expletive-filled announcement on the company’s website, expressing appreciation for the opportunity to explore alternatives to the capitalistic norm. However, he cited a lack of “seed capital” from what he described as “ethically bankrupt sources” as the primary reason for the coffee shop’s failure to weather the quiet winter season and ensure long-term sustainability.

The Anarchist’s unconventional approach to pricing aimed to make coffee more accessible and affordable, particularly for working-class individuals. Sims-Fewer had acknowledged that the “pay what you can” model resulted in gradual financial losses, which he hoped would be counterbalanced by sales of more expensive items. He also criticized the specialty coffee industry for its perceived inaccessibility to working-class people and its tendency to cater primarily to the white upper middle class.

In his efforts to challenge the industry norm, Sims-Fewer recognized his own privileges as a white cisgender man and openly apologized for it. He expressed a commitment to hiring individuals from diverse backgrounds and granting them equal ownership, emphasizing his intention to create a coffee shop that was less centered around whiteness and maleness.

Besides the apparent financial constraints faced by The Anarchist, the coffee shop was not immune to the broader challenges experienced by businesses in Canada due to government lockdowns and vaccine mandates. Sims-Fewer had previously announced that proof of vaccination would be required for dining in the restaurant, aligning with public health measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

It is worth noting that The Anarchist’s closure is not an isolated incident. Similar alternative businesses founded on explicitly leftist principles have also faced significant challenges. Last year, Mina’s World, a Philadelphia-based coffee shop known for its LGBTQ brand identity, closed after employee unrest led to demands for resource redistribution. Accusations of manipulation, abuse of power, and various forms of discrimination were posted on social media by a group calling themselves the “Mina’s World Workers.”