Indie-nogo? Studying a vegan's tall tales

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Roots Farm to Table Vegan Café is running an Indiegogo campaign, seeking $40,000 to open up in the historic, former Little Market & Deli on East Willamette Avenue. 

To those invested somehow in the future of the Little Market (and the surrounding neighborhood), we'd like to break the news that this probably will not happen — and not just because as of this posting, $470 has been donated, with just four days left in the effort.

Is Shane Gorrell really a vegan chef by trade? It's one of the many questions I ask below. - SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
  • Is Shane Gorrell really a vegan chef by trade? It's one of the many questions I ask below.
When I began researching and writing this post many days ago, it all seemed fairly straightforward. The Indiegogo page (which has been edited several times from its original state) said Roots organizers would offer an all-vegan menu that includes juices and coffee, plus open a farmers market and you-pick garden, and hold classes with national raw-food and juice personalities.

It sounded like a great addition to our small health-food scene. Perhaps something to which you’d care to pitch $1,000, in order to claim the private VIP party perk: a special raw vegan dinner prepared by Scottsdale, Arizona chef David Mortimer. Yum.

But that perk has been removed from the page. And reached by phone at Juice Core, Mortimer tells the Indy that nobody associated with Roots has contacted him to organize any classes.

It's a similar story with Dan “The Life Regenerator” McDonald, whom Roots claimed “will be scheduling time” to offer weekend retreats and classes. Not happening, says McDonald, who counts more than 56,000 Facebook followers. 

Now, both Mortimer and McDonald know of Shane Gorrell — referred to on a now-defunct “Who we are” Indiegogo page as “Raw Food Guy, Shane." Mortimer actually met him when Gorrell was residing in Arizona. But Mortimer says they "didn't talk business stuff too much." Instead, they talked about Gorrell's tale of biking from Longview, Washington, to Sedona, Arizona, and losing 109 pounds inside of 62 days.

Which is some of what Indiegogo campaign organizer Gina Buhl cites when alluding to Gorrell's "great, inspirational story" and his having “overcome obstacles the average person doesn’t overcome” — like supposedly losing more than 250 pounds via juicing and a vegan/raw-food diet. (Via email on July 7, Gorrell told me he cured his own diabetes in 21 days, and fixed his eyesight and high blood pressure. “I was in a wheel chair," he wrote. "The primary physician said I may never walk again.”)

Gorrell's inspirational story aside, Roots is primarily Buhl's effort. A veteran of tanning salon management, she says she wants to bring something to the C-Springs community that is lacking: “I want farm-to-table, to buy from local growers and promote health and well-being."

Notable speakers who were supposedly coming to town. - INDIEGOGO
  • Indiegogo
  • Notable speakers who were supposedly coming to town.
Asked last week about her relationship with Gorrell, she stated that she and Gorrell are just friends who met here through the vegan community. He helped with the Roots website and provided basic business advice. Gorrell, too, identified Buhl as just a friend when he and I spoke by phone for nearly an hour last week.

But that flies counter to how he identified himself and Buhl when reaching out to local writer (and former Indy contributor) JL Fields, via correspondence on June 26:
I recently moved to Colorado Springs where I and my girlfriend are in the process of putting together a vegan cafe. The people that run VegFest said I should contact you and tell you our story. My girlfriend has created a indiegogo campaign to see if the community would support our plans but we haven't had much luck so far.
Further in that correspondence, Gorrell says:
I am a chef by trade and have worked at some of the best Vegan restaurants in New York and in LA. I will be bringing quality foods at a reasonable price. We have already purchased a building and put in a state of art kitchen.
To our knowledge, Gorrell hasn't produced any evidence of being a chef or working at said vegan establishments. But more importantly, the building-purchase claim would seem to defy the Indiegogo campaign. And in further correspondence with Vegan Life Colorado’s administrators (of whom Fields is one) on June 28, Gorrell again mentions having "purchased an old 1902 building that we are converting into a vegan cafe/juice bar." It also says: 
Just so you know, we are a non-profit. We have been asked to partner with Larry Stebbins of Pikes Peak Urban Gardens and are working out the details.
The Indiegogo page does not say anything about Roots being formed as a nonprofit, and the trade name "Roots Farm to Table" remains available to be registered with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. Also, I've been an advisory board member of Pikes Peak Urban Gardens since its formation, and I spoke to Stebbins, who confirms that he did not ask Roots to “partner” with PPUG.

Also in Gorrell's email comes this line:
I consider myself pretty famous in the raw food vegan world as I have over 70 million folowers and have been interviewed by over 20 magazinines in the last year.
A basic web search doesn't unearth 20 recent magazine articles — although there are this one and this one — nor can it verify a sum total of 70 million followers for Gorrell across any platforms. (For perspective, Barack Obama has 43 million followers on Facebook. U2 has 17 million.)

Gorrell also says that he is writing a book. - SCREEN SHOT FROM THERIDEOFHISLIFE.COM
  • Screen shot from therideofhislife.com
  • Gorrell also says that he is writing a book.

And finally, about the Indiegogo venture specifically: 
The campaign is more or less to pull people together, raise awareness and share our plans.
So, not really about having to buy the building, which lines up with something Gorrell said to me during our interview: "Mainly we are creating this Indiegogo account to pull the community together so they know what we're doing. We don't necessarily need the cash to tell you the truth." 

Which may be news to those who have donated already, and to potential donors in the campaign's waning days.

But back to the Little Market for a moment. Building owner Chris Bettendorf did host Buhl and Gorrell for a trial run on a mini farmers market recently. Though they paid for the trial run in cash, the name Gorrell gave her “didn’t appear anything like his signature,” she says, adding that she “couldn't find any info online about the name he gave me.”

She recalls him speaking of being an Army Ranger as well. And when I spoke to Gorrell, he also told me that he was an Army Ranger long before he put on the excessive weight, and that he didn’t like to talk about his military service, “mainly because I don’t want free stuff. I just don't believe the military should get so many free benefits. You know. I joined because of 9/11. I was pissed, to tell you the truth.”

When later asked to provide documentation of his military service, Gorrell failed to do so. Asked to provide documentation related to other businesses he claims to be involved with, his response came to me via Buhl:
Shane did mention to me that he would have been more than willing to give you all the documentation you requested but when he was moving right before the bike ride his enclosed trailer was stolen in Arizona, which can be proved. Also, he also told me last week that his truck had been stolen, he said he did file a police report in conjunction with it.
I reached the Colorado Springs Police Department yesterday morning in regard to the truck theft. A spokesperson says: “A report was not taken as his vehicle was repossessed by the credit union."

From here, we could go into how the "serial entrepreneur" claims to have built 27 mobile coffee shops from the ground up and, just in the last three weeks, sold two kettle corn businesses ... or how he says he owns the Hollywood Video brand and plans to revive it as a Redbox rival ... or mention his previous Colorado Springs-based juice business, called Fresh Start, which he says he recently sold to an overseas company ... or talk about his BuyerSaver page previously citing experience ranging from the "Gorrell Mink Ranch" to millions of purchase orders for "Shane's Safe Parrot-Perches."

You can see where this is going. But if you can't, here's just one more of Gorrell's claims:
There’s a company that wants to buy BuyerSaver. I might sell it. If I can't find a CFO within the next couple weeks I'll be selling BuyerSaver to a company that already has kind of the same model in place, it's called Smartypig. … They want to adapt the model into their model they already have. On one of their shares [on my Twitter page] they wrote that my model will actually change the way we do banking.
I cannot locate this on Gorrell’s @BuyerSaver Tweet history. Smartypig representative Michael Ferrari responded to my query about Gorrell's claim by saying, “We have never expressed any interest in buying that company. And with 100% certainty we would never buy that company.”

I asked Buhl in a subsequent phone chat about Gorrell’s many unanswered questions and unverifiable claims. Her reply:
I’m not going to question anything else. I’m going to see it for what it is. And that’s the type of person that I am. I don’t look at everybody’s background to say, ‘Oh well he may not be telling me exactly correct information about Hollywood Video per se, or whatever the case. I trust that he’s done that because I’m not going to go do background research on him to find that out. What I’m going to do is look at what I need to see. And I need to see that he’s vegan. I need to see that he’s juicing. I need to see that he's doing exactly what he's talking about he's done.  
She said she's seen Gorrell working not as a business partner, but instead as perhaps some sort of employee, hosting raw food talks and classes. But as of Monday, challenged by this reporting, she said Gorrell “has totally stepped away from everything."

Later that evening, Gorrell confirmed that statement in an email to me, saying, "I'm no longer a part of Gina's business venture, In fact I have been called out to Seattle and don't know when I will be able to return."

As for what will happen if the Indiegogo campaign fails to meet its goal, Buhl says:
My Next step is to rerun the campaign in a different manner in order to get the funds needed. The reason that I had $40,000 on there is because my goal was to purchase the building. That was the goal. When I found out that [Bettendorf] wasn't going to hold it for me — I’d asked her if she'd hold it for me for at least the length of the campaign, she said no — I had to come up with a backup plan. My backup plans were to just do a juice bar and just rent. Just lease the building. There's numerous places in Manitou or downtown or Old Colorado Springs or anywhere like that. That's my backup plan is to do that. To rerun the campaign, change it to where it coincides with what I'm looking for and trying to do.
It's worth noting that for anyone concerned about the veracity of a crowdfunding initiative, Indiegogo does host a Trust & Safety page. Also, Colorado Department of State PIO Tim Griesmer offers the following:
In terms of our practices, we do offer the following advice on internet and social media solicitation on our website. This is geared toward charitable organizations but is translatable in many cases to business entities. In many ways, online crowdfunding efforts are uncharted territory, and we try to provide Coloradans with tips to make wise decisions. Likewise, we manage the following website, which allows a user to verify a nonprofit or charity that is soliciting funds. 

 

Many questions remain for this Indiegogo campaign. - SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
  • Many questions remain for this Indiegogo campaign.



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