Interview: New American Tavern (2012)

“Many Americans feel disconnected and unfulfilled.  They’re hungry for community and yearn for more meaningful recreation and relationships.  The New American Tavern provides people like this with a vibrant third place that they gravitate towards. While doing so, The New American Tavern supports a stronger future by developing social capital, encouraging civic engagement and accelerating cross-pollination of ideas among mission focused groups and individuals.” – Todd Schechter, Founder, The New American Tavern

Are you in business, or still planning?

Still Planning

Where are you located?

New York City

What problem is New American Tavern trying to solve?

We’re trying to solve the problem of lost potential due to disconnection.  Disconnection matters because it undercuts civility, inhibits economic growth and diminishes general quality of life. By helping to seed connections and by making it easier for groups and organizations who do so to do so, we see an opportunity to support a more macro shift by addressing a root factor: the dearth of accessible and inviting civic spaces in the American landscape.

How did you become interested in this problem?

I became interested in this problem because I felt the vague discomfort and disconnection myself.  Some of my most enjoyable and most interesting experiences have been shared with others over food and drink, so finding ways to bring the two together more often was natural for me.  I’m passionate about connection, about fitting form to function, about learning, about community and about interesting and engaging conversations.  The more I learned about social entrepreneurship and impact measurement the more I saw an opportunity to make a real measurable difference by bringing the things I love together, and the more I dug into this particular concept the more validation I found.

What is your solution to that problem? 

Our solution to the problem is to develop a third place that generates social capital and directs it for social benefit, and to then bring more of the same to communities nationwide.  As part of phase one — early market testing — The New American Tavern threw over 30 events at existing bars and events throughout New York City in Winter and Spring 2012 with over 600 guests attending. As of May 2012, we’re now focused on phases two and three, identifying values aligned sponsors to work with us to bring pop-up tavern pavilions to 5+ cities this coming October, and raising PRI and impact investment capital to open our first brick and mortar location in April 2013.

Has the William James Foundation competition and mentoring program helped you on your way?

Yes, and it and the network continue to.  I invested my time into applying to the William James Foundation’s Sustainable Business Plan Competition because I knew that it would offer me a guaranteed return on investment: feedback!  Having a hard deadline also helped encourage me to make time to get this important written element of our venture development off my checklist sooner than I would have.  We were fortunate to make the second round, in which I got even more feedback, the chance to pitch my idea to part of the community and the benefits that accompanied winning the New York City Social Innovators Collective Prize.  The most unexpected aspects of the experience that have helped me have been the softer ones that come from becoming part of the WJF community.

What other resources have you found that are particularly useful for social entrepreneurs?

As a New York City resident I can recommend that everyone here take advantage of the great free resources available to entrepreneurs in the city which range from free business consulting through NYC Business Solutions and SCORE NYC to reference materials and support available through the NYPL Science Industry and Business Library. For social entrepreneurs everywhere I recommend the following resources most of which I learned about because of my experience as a fellow and trainer with PresenTense:

  • (check the use of your name online)
  • (free photo editing)
  • (crowd sourced competitive graphic design)
  • (freemium contact and email management)
  • (freemium event management)
  • (freemium drag and drop website builder)
  • (volunteer crowdsourcing)
  • (pay for volunteers, a project based service)
  • (freemium online forms)
  • (free online slide shows)
  • (social media influence measurement tool)

For readers who want to know more about what you’re up to, where can we send them

or they can email me

Anything else you’d like the William James Foundation community to know?

As of June 2012 we will be actively seeking investors, specifically from impact investors, social angles and PRIs from foundations.  If you know anyone who you think might be interested or might know someone else who might be interested please forward this info along or introduce us.  I’m also happy to help anyone else in the WJF family however I can, so feel free to touch base anytime.