Next Exit, College Station

by ellie sharp


Brad Freels, Chairman of Midway Companies

As construction is kicking off with Century Square – the new 55-acre multi-use development of shopping, dining, lodging and entertainment in College Station – locals eagerly await the opening of one specific new business: PORTERS. The forthcoming restaurant will lend a sleek yet approachable dining experience to the region unlike anything else currently available. And, in a nod towards the region’s railroad heritage, the name comes from both the helpful gatekeepers of the railcar and also a well-recognized leader in the community, Porter Garner. The long-time president and CEO of the Association of Former Students at Texas A&M University also happens to be close friends with the owners.

Located just steps away from a multitude of attractions, PORTERS will cater to an underserved community ready for a taste of upscale dining without the drive to larger towns like Houston or Austin. The overall development comes from Midway, the firm responsible for similar concepts like CITYCENTRE in Houston. Brad Freels, chairman of Midway, and Charles “Chuck” Criswell, partner and General Manager for PORTERS, are part of an experienced team bringing a unique combination of knowledge, compassion and energy to the design and subsequent experience at the restaurant. Both leaders contribute decades of experience in their respective fields and understand the importance of community engagement for business success.

In this way, they chose to collaborate with NextSeed to fund PORTERS and offer the region a tangible connection to support growth in ways beyond simply going out to eat. Visit for more information on how to get involved.

We sat down with Freels and Criswell to learn more about how they connected and the kind of impact they hope PORTERS will create on the community for generations to come.


Chuck Criswell, PORTERS General Manager

How did PORTERS come into play, and how does it fit within Century Square?


When we’re developing places and when we have these canvases that we’re painting on, we can be very specific with what businesses we use to fill the canvas and create the feel that we’re trying to accomplish. In Century Square, there was one spot that was perfect for a higher end restaurant that was still approachable and that would resonate with that community. You can go out and try to curate the right tenant for it or you can do it yourself. We took it upon ourselves to put together a group who could do this correctly. I think the residents and visitors of Bryan-College Station and Brazos County in general are going to really embrace PORTERS. Some good restaurants certainly exist, but I think they are ready for a dining destination of this caliber.

What made you believe this project and this team could be successful?


What always impressed me about Chuck was that he understands the hospitality side of the business. We first met when Chuck opened Eddie V’s in CITYCENTRE, and when you went to his restaurant, he knew people by name and you could tell he took it seriously at a very high level. On the chef side with Bill, it was just the same thing – the quality of the food product was just fantastic. When we had the opportunity to do PORTERS in College Station, we knew we wouldn’t be taking on this opportunity without him and Bill. We wouldn’t have the confidence that it could be pulled off to the level that we wanted it to be pulled off.


I would say from the concept and design part, Midway has been incredible, and I’m fortunate that they bring extensive experience to us – they’ve seen a lot. They’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work across the country. When you have good operators and good people, it just brings better people to the table. I think we can execute service very well, and if we can add that hospitality element, it’s just going to make a big difference in the community. I think it will be much appreciated if we come in with a high level of execution and raise the bar, which I think will make everybody in the region better.

What is going to make PORTERS special for College Station?


People get tired of having to drive to Cypress or Houston for an upscale experience and they’d like to get it in their own community. I think that this restaurant will cater to the town’s ability in regard to extending who comes to town, why, and for how long.

We always talk about our purpose at Midway, “Create enduring investments in remarkable places that enrich people’s lives.” For me, this project falls under enriching people’s lives. Brazos Valley is a huge region, and when thinking about PORTERS, I think about a couple who lives out in Hearne or Somerville and are celebrating their 35th anniversary. They come over for a special night, and our team is going to deliver to make it even more special. That couple will go back and talk about it, and it will become a great memory for them. I have very little doubt that PORTERS will get known as being the regional place to go for special events and occasions. Because that’s what we care about – doing something that means more.


That purposeful and personal approach to decisions is carried through on the products as well. We made a big commitment on cooking with real wood and live fire cooking, which you don’t see often, even in Houston. It’s a level of training that we have to deliver on but the end product is so much more remarkable, and I think that level of care will become a signature of PORTERS. It fits the Texas style cooking, the product, the execution, and it will be something that will be classy. I think people will really enjoy it.


And for this to work, it has to engage the whole community. We don’t have a single A&M moniker at Century Square, and it’s not because we’re opposed to it. There’s just no need for it. College Station has grown beyond just the university. There’s so much more to the region. The restaurant itself should feel like you’re in Midtown in New York or Chicago or Houston. It will feel very urban, very approachable and authentic.

A lot of times, when people think about great steaks or great seafood, they think about the less inviting places. But this isn’t an old, stodgy restaurant that feels club-ish. This is an extremely approachable, young, energetic place. The music will be a little more alive and it’s a little bit edgy. You can have a really fun restaurant and really great food. I can go in with jeans on in the evening and sit next to a guy in a suit or go in on Saturday and sit on the porch with a golf shirt and shorts on and feel comfortable. You’re never going to feel like you’re underdressed or overdressed for this place.

Why did you choose to fund PORTERS using crowdfunding and specifically by using NextSeed?


What I really love about NextSeed and PORTERS is that I wanted the social side of it. I wanted 500 people to say “I have a piece of that restaurant” and take pride in it because it’s their restaurant; it’s the community’s restaurant.


There are so many people I know – my friends and my family, the chef’s friends and family – who couldn’t get involved in the equity side. NextSeed was perfect for giving our people a vehicle to back us and get excited about what we’re doing and feel like they are participating and supporting us. Just the thought that we can bring the community together and bring people together and everybody can get excited about it. They can say, “Hey we’re truly a part of this restaurant, we believe in Chuck and we believe in Midway, and it’s a great partnership.”

You signed a 75-year lease for the property. Why is it important for you and the executive team to make a generational investment in A&M through this project?


A lot of us went to A&M, and we take a lot of pride in the school. And this is just right for College Station. It’s a holistic approach to how to make the whole region better. My humble opinion is that College Station has had marginal development over the years because what was there worked. I think development in the community is going to get better because people will demand it once they have something to compare current development to.


In regard to the 75-year lease I started thinking, “Wow, if I do this right, my kids’ kids could be running this restaurant.” And that’s something that I never thought about in my life. I don’t think you see this kind of excitement and anticipation from the community anywhere else.

How did you get into your careers of hospitality and development?


My mother was the dining editor for the Houston Chronicle and all my life I’ve been in the restaurant business. I’m still amazed how I can spend a career in a business and it still be challenging everyday. When you’re trying to perform at a level that you want to enjoy as a career, there’s always a challenge out there. I’ve always been entertained by the level of products and what’s been going on in the restaurant business.


I just liked development. I grew up enjoying building things, working on things and creating things and it brought me into this development world. I just always enjoy creating and visualizing things.

Any advice for others who are looking to get into your space?


At the end of the day, just don’t compromise. If you want to do something right, don’t settle. Don’t compromise because there are a million times you can compromise in life and you can settle for something that’s just “good enough.” But I think the best things in life come when you keep pushing on them and make them happen.

The Secret of Equity Crowdfunding for Businesses

Equity crowdfunding

After the passage of Regulation Crowdfunding (“Reg CF”) in May 2016, investing in private companies is no longer an exclusive privilege of the wealthy.  Since then, the mainstream media has been fixated on how regular Americans have been impacted by equity crowdfunding. Equity crowdfunding is where investors receive ownership of a small piece of the company in return for their investment. The debate remains hot and center, leading the public and entrepreneurs to believe equity crowdfunding is the only innovation under Reg CF.

What has been missing in the big debate is that the scope of Reg CF has actually unlocked the capital markets for private companies.  Like publicly listed companies that can raise capital through selling stocks or issuing bonds to the American public, private businesses can achieve the same goals using either equity crowdfunding or debt crowdfunding under Reg CF.  That’s right – the secret is you don’t have to give up equity under Reg CF. Debt crowdfunding exists, and is also a highly attractive fundraising method for private businesses.

Then why all this focus on the equity part of Reg CF?

The public has been dazzled by the stories of Silicon Valley unicorns.  The dreams of becoming an early stage investor to one, or to be a founder who gets “funded” and propelled to the next generation of tech darlings like AirBnB, Snap or Oculus, are just too sweet.  For investors, why worry about how to cash out, or for entrepreneurs, why worry about the cost of capital when equity crowdfunding seems like another gateway to the American dream?  Act fast, or you can only be a part of Silicon Valley by watching HBO.

As the old proverb says, “when it is too good to be true, it probably is.”  The reality is, equity crowdfunding doesn’t make sense in lots of cases, especially for entrepreneurs.  For many entrepreneurs, sale of equity should be the last resort in your fundraising efforts.  Equity has the highest cost of capital for businesses owners because you are selling a piece of future profits to investors – forever. For many businesses, there are viable debt solutions, such as subordinated loans or revenue sharing based financing that could address their growth capital needs.  However, if your business needs large infusions of expansion capital, if your start-up costs are high and you don’t have visible revenue streams, or if every dollar you make needs to be reinvested – then giving up equity is probably what you must do. Fast growing consumer packaged goods and tech companies are often the ones that need equity investors for these reasons.

Innovation in debt crowdfunding is what gets seasoned entrepreneurs really excited.

Away from the eyes of the public, many startups are focused on bringing innovation under debt crowdfunding to American businesses.  Instead of just pursuing a cookie-cutter, highly restrictive bank loan, entrepreneurs now have access to alternative leverage structures, such as subordinated or revenue-based sharing loans.  Small and medium-size companies can now fundraise across the capital structure between senior secured loans to equity, just like the big boys do in public markets.

Moreover, investors are just as vested and believe in you enough to put money into your company.  Your business stays at the top of their minds because you’re paying them regularly.  Most people actually like being debt investors.  As a debt investor, they have visibility on their expected return – how much, how often, and for how long they’re getting paid.

Of course, it also needs to make sense for the business. If your business is sharing revenues with investors or paying them a set amount each month, the business needs to generate enough revenue to do so.

Equity or debt?

The actual cost of selling equity may be more than what you think. If it’s friends and family, maybe they’ll cut you a deal. Traditionally, bigger investors will get the first bite, and you’ll likely end up paying them every year until you can buy them out. With equity crowdfunding, you have more ability to set the terms because you’re proposing a take-it-or-leave-it deal to investors. Either way, the total cost of selling equity may not be evident until much later.

The cost of debt may also seem high for first-time business owners. Unless you’re getting an SBA loan or a standard bank loan with lots of collateral, interest rates probably aren’t going to be in the single digit range. Despite the cost, more experienced entrepreneurs prefer to borrow or self-fund to keep control over their company. With debt crowdfunding, you have more flexible payment options and your business should be assessed in line with your industry’s standards, not with one blanket test that treats all businesses the same. Keep in mind that most lenders won’t lend the entire amount you need to open a business and will expect to see other sources of financing. Shop around for rates, but pay attention to what you need to give up to get it.

Now you have more choices.

Regulation Crowdfunding came in to open up a new way to jumpstart businesses. And not necessarily by forcing a business owner to give up equity. Business funding is usually made up of different sources – angel investors put in some money, owners put in some money, get bank loans and get money from other places. Crowdfunding can be a part of that equation now.

Hitting $200,000 was a cinch for Cinco TacoBar

cinco tacobar

Cinco TacoBar raised its maximum goal of $200,000 in 6 days. Congrats to the 148 investors that got in this deal and are now part of the Cinco inner circle! This popular California taco joint in the East Bay is opening its second and bigger location, complete with a make-your-own-margarita bar.

Cinco TacoBar uses the freshest ingredients to serve up old-world recipes in a modernized Mexican taqueria. The original Cinco TacoBar in San Leandro is packed from open to close, and the second space will bring the sustainable, locally-sourced concept to Livermore, CA.

We can’t wait to see what else the Cinco team creates in their next space. If their tacos are any indication, it’s going to be absolutely delicious.

How sweet it is! Sugar Refinery raises $273,800

The Sugar Refinery on NextSeed

The Sugar Refinery Grubs and Grog easily surpassed its minimum goal and raised $273,800 from 213 investors!

The new neighborhood bar and restaurant plans to open in early 2017, and its aim is to embody the warmth of southern hospitality and the charm of its historic Sugar Land community.

Behind the facade of a sugar processing plant, the doors to The Sugar Refinery will open to a 1920’s era bar and lounge. Themed as a modern rendition of a Prohibition-era speakeasy, the bar will be fashioned in décor and furniture that’s styled in the era with bartenders and servers dressed in period attire. Local drink connoisseurs will enjoy a menu that ranges from craft beer to wine and whiskeys from around the world, and creative cocktails will be concocted by expert mixologists. The food menu will feature a mix of comfort food dishes, with its award-winning chef’s unique take on original 19th-century food trends.

The support of investors across the country is bringing The Sugar Refinery to life!  Congrats to NextSeeders around the country who have launched this unique gem.

Rambler Hit Max Capacity at $150,000!

rambler san francisco

Rambler hit its maximum funding goal and raised $150,000 from 131 investors! Rambler opened its doors October 13th and has garnered popular praise from media and customers alike. SF Weekly calls it “sexy” and their food has hit top lists, like their wood-grilled octopus and burger. Zagat provided a first look at Rambler’s food, which is rooted in Italian and American comfort cuisine, and their “impressive cocktail creations.”

Located a block from Union Square in the new Hotel Zeppelin, Rambler is reactivating this space that used to house Wolfgang Puck’s iconic Postrio restaurant (and taking advantage of its famous wood-fired pizza oven!). It’s a modern interpretation of a classic American restaurant or pub, with understated, elegant elements of the 1920’s Art Deco era. It is designed to attract local residents, tourists and office workers for breakfast and lunch by day and dinner and drinks in the evening. With its breadth of food and beverage menu options, Rambler is filling a niche in the restaurant, bar and hotel industry that does not exist in the neighborhood today. It’s bringing an inclusive, bohemian dining and drinking experience to the Union Square and theater district, embodying an old-world feel with a little bit of a rock n’ roll flair.

In addition to its own dining room and bar spaces, Rambler will provide all of the food and beverage to the entire hotel. This includes staffing the hotel lobby bar, catering on-site events and providing 24-hour room service for hotel guests. The team behind Hat Trick Hospitality Group developed the concept and will oversee the day-to-day operations of Rambler. Previously, this team of restaurateurs launched The Brixton in 2011, a uniquely American gastropub on Union Street, and followed up with a second project together in 2013 with the opening of Redford, also located in Union Square.

Investors in San Francisco now have a new connection with their city through Rambler. And investors from around the country have one more reason to visit San Francisco! Congrats to everyone who made this happen!