Opinion: Spurlock Showed It’s Really Easy to Get Spun

Filmmaker/Restaurateur Morgan Spurlock engages with customers at Holy Chicken on opening day — Photo by Walker Evans.

Morgan Spurlock did something in Columbus that bad actors in the startup scene do — spin the general public, the media, and our elected officials with a neatly packaged load of BS. The gist of Holy Chicken was, as believed by the marketing, a new and transparent fast food restaurant that provides a healthy alternative to current fast food. No one covering this bothered to look beyond the spin. Only after the curtain was lifted did we finally see that we had all been had. Don’t feel bad, we’ve all been spun at one time or another.

If you looked beyond the spin and the marketing, Spurlock did nothing different than any other fast food restaurant. The chicken came from industrially-raised sources, not his farm, and the sides and chicken were deep fried — making it tasty, but not very healthy. Spurlock did get his chickens butchered locally, his bread locally, and his sauces made locally — much like any fast food restaurant sourcing vendors as close as possible to stores. Spurlock is also paying a $15 per hour wage, which is admirable, but not atypical of short run pop-up shops. Spurlock put signs in the restaurant explaining how all of the marketing tactics, colors, and aesthetics of the restaurant were designed to make people feel like they were eating healthy, when in fact they are not — just like many other marketing ploys by other fast food chains. Spurlock’s message was a clear commentary on fast food — don’t believe the hype.

Morgan Spurlock did something in Columbus that bad actors in the startup scene do — spin the general public, the media, and our elected officials with a neatly packaged load of BS.

A worthwhile message, but having a startup venture pull an outright con on a population might actually cause damage to the main street startup business ecosystem that Columbus and Ohio has been so proud to cultivate. What happens to the next legit culinary entrepreneur that does have an idea for farm-to-table or healthy and sustainable food? Does it not even launch or just fail because of Spurlock’s con job damaging public perception in the Columbus and Ohio market? Spurlock made an important point about our system of mass produced food, but he did it by making people feel dumb and that’s not the way to make friends and influence enemies.

Paul Proffitt is the founder of the non-profit SunDown Group — Photo by Walker Evans.

Having been in the startup scene in Ohio for many years, I have seen legit startups — that have a great product or service — work insanely hard to get the slightest bit of love from local media, local government or even from the local community. To see unconditional and widespread love for Spurlock handed out for his fake startup really does make me exceptionally frustrated for the startups that should be and actually deserve getting local love. Stars swooping into town make for interesting stories, but the people that make the companies, create the jobs, and take the real risks should be the ones that get the accolades — not someone who perpetuates a game.

We all know that Small Business Saturday is coming up on November 26th. So, if anyone out there feels like they got conned, flimflammed, or have had their faith even slightly shaken in startups or small businesses, I urge you to head out and shop local to support the real and legit small businesses that create jobs, make our local economies better and richer, and actually care about you as a customer.