Minnesota AG sends warning to owners of Hope Breakfast Bar

Minnesota AG sends warning to owners of Hope Breakfast Bar

Minnesota AG sends warning to owners of Hope Breakfast Bar

The owners of a popular local restaurant group built on the premise of giving back to the community received a warning from the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office that it may be in violation of charity and solicitation laws.

Brian and Sarah Ingram run Hope Breakfast Bar, which has locations throughout the Twin Cities metro. Since it opened in 2020, the Ingrams have committed to giving three percent of all sales back to the community through their nonprofit, Give Hope.

“Whenever tragedy strikes and we feel compelled to assist, we pledge to contribute 100% of our sales directly,” said Brian Ingram in a new post on the organization’s website.

But 5 INVESTIGATES learned that last summer Give Hope had its 501(c)(3) status automatically revoked because it never filed the necessary annual paperwork. That means the public has no way to examine how the nonprofit is spending its money.

Then in February, the charities division of the state attorney general’s office sent a letter to Give Hope saying “it has come to the attention of this Office that Give Hope may be soliciting charitable contributions in Minnesota without being registered.”

A spokesperson for the AG’s office told 5 INVESTIGATES that “registration with the AGO is an important tool because it allows the AG to detect potential violations like misused assets in financial statements and other documents that charities are required to file with us.”

Nonprofit lawyer Emmett Robertson says the reason the rules are in place is all about transparency.

“It’s the expectation, not just from the IRS but also from the Attorney General’s office, that if you’re a tax-exempt organization, you’re going to be operating with a fair amount of transparency,” he said.

‘Cost of Giving’

Brian Ingram declined an on-camera interview unless it was aired live on television. 

After 5 INVESTIGATES started asking questions, the Ingram’s attempted to clear the air online about the “Cost of Giving.”

“As we delved deeper into the intricacies of giving as a 501(c)(3) organization, we realized that it didn’t always align with our ethos,” Brian Ingram wrote. “We’ve always been committed to responding to immediate needs, bypassing the bureaucracy and overhead costs sometimes associated with larger 501(c)(3) organizations.”

The Ingrams now describe the organization as a C-Corp Nonprofit, which experts say is a taxable nonprofit. Online, Brian Ingram said that “for us, giving isn’t about tax write-offs; it’s a calling.”

He recently addressed the situation on the local podcast, People and Places and How We Use Spaces.

“Not a big rule guy and there’s so many rules on how you give as a nonprofit,” Ingram said. “We transitioned to a foundation because we want to give in ways where we can just give immediately and not have to follow maybe some of the rules.”

Give Hope’s website no longer mentions being a 501(c)(3), and Hope Breakfast Bar’s commitment to giving three percent of sales now reads a “portion” of sales.

On the same podcast, Brian Ingram said that’s because “it’s actually much more than three percent of sales. We just give whatever we can give.”

Accountability “not a bad word”

Ingram’s family of restaurants is growing rapidly – there are currently four locations of Hope Breakfast Bar in the metro and two more are opening soon. Ingram recently told the Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal that he hopes to break more than $30 million in sales this year.

Kris Kewitsch is the Executive Director of the Charities Review Council, which works with nonprofits to pass a rigorous accountability standard so donors feel good about giving.

“Accountability isn’t a bad thing. It’s not a bad word,” she said. “I should be able to let you know that here’s what the organization is accomplishing this year.”

Several examples on social media appear to show the Ingrams giving generously during crises, to people in need, and after tragedy. One day in February, they committed to giving a full day’s worth of sales to the families of the fallen first responders in Burnsville. 

On Facebook, Brian Ingram posted a screenshot of the transfer of more than $20,000 sent to the police benevolent fund. 

But nonprofit experts say that doesn’t replace federal and state rules on charities.

“The rules still apply,” Robertson said. “We want them to apply to everybody, because then the people that are doing bad things are going to have those enforced against them.”

When asked what happens next, a spokesman for the AG’s office said that “if there is no response, the matter implicates the legal/investigative side of the office, and those processes are not public.”

It is currently unknown whether the AG’s office has initiated any investigation.