Blue Wing Frog gets jump start after closure

By Josette Keelor

FRONT ROYAL — Restaurant owners Kelly Sprague and Robert Hall are thankful for the community’s support following their late winter closure.

Two and a half months after opening Blue Wing Frog picnic market and brew at 219 Chester St., Front Royal, the couple announced online their restaurant would close March 15.

Since then the community rallied to help them reopen, holding a cash mob at the restaurant and contributing to an online fundraising campaign the couple started at GoFundMe.org. So far, Sprague and Hall have acquired about 25 percent of their $20,000 goal, and the restaurant reopened March 29.

On a recent spring day after the restaurant reopened, Hall said they chose to close when they learned they wouldn’t get the $32,000 loan that would take them through March. The money would have covered capital operating expenses, some equipment and refrigerated display cases.

When they contacted The U.S. Economic Development Administration last fall, they were referred to People Incorporated, which on its website, peopleinc.net, says it offers financial assistance, loans, training and services to help start or expand businesses.

According to Sprague, the process was delayed as People Inc. asked for more information from her and Hall. In February, they needed a letter from Blue Wing Frog’s landlord as a waiver after the couple used their equipment as collateral for the loan.

“And this was already after we’re fairly frantic because three months had gone by, and we still didn’t have an answer,” she said. “The landlord refused to sign the letter, so we put his [Hall’s] tools up for collateral, which they told us was okay.”

“And then they just stopped talking to us,” she said. “We couldn’t get them to call back or anything like that.”

President and CEO Robert Goldsmith, in People Inc.’s Abington office, said the loan approval timeframe is different for each business but that Sprague and Hall were not approved for theirs because “they either didn’t provide or were slow to provide” information.

“The loan review committee meets on a regular basis, typically it meets on a quarterly basis, but will meet more frequently than that if need be,” he said.

He said the committee and management team “work to be responsive and get this done in a timely manner, but if we don’t have the information that’s necessary then we can’t approve the application.”

Sprague said she knows of only one other business owner who attempted a loan from People Inc. and was approved after already deciding to go another route.

“Did we count our chickens before they hatched? Yes,” she said. “It looked really good and we got our hopes up. So did we make a mistake? Yeah, absolutely. We thought it was a go, and that’s our fault, but at the same time I’m angry because that process was supposed to be promised to us to be a six-week process and it just dragged on and on and on, and they kept the hope alive … and then by the time we were in this jam, it was clear it was not going to materialize.”

After hearing of the closure on Facebook, Craig Laird, owner of Royal Oak Computers and founding committee member of the Front Royal Independent Business Alliance, said he pulled together some business owners and decided on the cash mob.

“It’s a good way to show community interest in a local business,” Laird said. Blue Wing Frog had more than 700 likes on its Facebook page, so he knew the interest was there.

“It’s such a touching story of support that when everybody heard that they were closing … it just became a live thing, [with people saying] ‘Don’t go,'” he said.

With $15,000 left to reach their goal, Sprague said the page at gofundme.com/7nkxro will stay open through April, but she doesn’t plan on bringing in much more through fundraising.

“But what we do expect is that our traffic through here will increase, especially on days like this,” she said. “I think spring has finally defeated winter.”

Hall offered a different perspective.

“I’m going to wait two weeks,” he said. “It’s going to be tax day before I say spring is really here.”

Contact Blue Wing Frog at 540-662-6175 or bluewingfrog.com.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com>