When Krista Moore took over Madelyn’s Diner in Stratford, she found herself having to pay off the restaurant’s outstanding debt.

Unable to attract the interest of banks, Moore instead turned her customers – essentially offering discounts in exchange for advance payments.

“It’s hard to ask for help. It’s a vulnerable feeling,” she says.

“The assumption is (that) we’ve been here for 30 years, so we must own the building – which we don’t.”

Moore calls her program “diner dollars.” In exchange for specific amounts, anyone who takes her up on the offer will receive their money back, and then some, in the form of vouchers for the restaurant.

“It really is no different than just selling a gift certificate. I already had that money, ahead of time,” she says.

Moore hopes to raise $100,000 by the end of June.

She’s just one of six business owners in Stratford who have started up similar programs.

All of them got the idea from Ruth Klahsen, the owner of Monforte Dairy.

Needing money to rebuild her business, she offered her investors a 150 per cent return – as long as they collected it in the form of cheese, dinners or anything else available at Monforte.

In a little over a year, she raised $500,000.

“People were talking about it a lot. It was something new and innovative,” she says.

Klahsen has since used a similar program to put a $250,000 down payment on 40 acres of farmland, which is being used to allow young farmers to start their careers.