Establishing A Venue That Makes No Profit… Whatsoever
Opening a bar or restaurant as an independent owner and operator is considered the hardest of any business to start, so one can imagine the challenges in establishing a venue that makes no profit whatsoever. The Organized Kollaboration of Restaurant Affairs (OKRA) in Houston, Texas, has come up with a new model that defies these odds and is changing the face of charity, one cocktail at a time.
OKRA was formerly established in 2011 by a group of local restaurant and bar owners that were passionate about giving back to the community. In 2012, it launched OKRA Charity Saloon – a bar where 100 percent of the proceeds are donated to charity. The bar, located at 924 Congress Street in downtown Houston, is housed in a historic building, which further reflects OKRA’s commitment to the local Houston community.
Bobby Heugel, president and co-founder of OKRA, believes that a bar, which is seen as a place of social gathering, fully aligns with the themes and lessons we learn from charitable initiatives. “The beauty of charity is that it fosters collaboration and community. That is the essence of most bars and certainly of OKRA. The combination seemed obvious for us.”
Bobby Heugel, taken at The Pastry War, his new mezcaleria.
Photo credit Julie Soefer.
OKRA Charity Saloon is a 501C6 certified not-for-profit organization, operated by OKRA’s administration, which also independently operates several of Houston’s successful local bars, including Poison Girl, Grand Prize Bar, and Anvil Bar & Refuge among other bars, coffee shops and restaurants.
Much like the bars and restaurants involved in OKRA, the bar has no menu, but features 25 classic cocktails, emphasizes local brews and includes a small collaborative food program from the group’s culinary members, including Clumsy Butcher, Revival Market, Oxheart, the Modular, Paulie’s and others.
OKRA Charity Saloon’s proceeds are donated to a different Houston-based organization or social cause each month. For each drink purchased, guests receive one vote that they may cast that night for one of four charities selected by OKRA’s members. The charity with the most votes at the end of the month receives the next month's proceeds. To date, $143,000 has been donated to nine local charities.
OKRA Houston. Photo credit Julie Soefer.
By benefiting a new charity each month and nominating four for the following, funding is acquired for elected charities and awareness is generated for other nominees. Heugel adds “everyone benefits from this model and we hope others will learn from this concept. Every month, four more advocacy groups become patrons of the bar, where they meet former nominees, who have too become patrons and loyal OKRA supporters and our network continues to grow for the good.”
Only a few other cities have seen a similar concept, including DC’s Cause The Philanthropub and Portland’s Oregon Public House, but this concept definitely has potential in other top tier cities, like LA, NYC and Chicago. “We’d love to see this idea expand even further and we are proud to be demonstrating such a successful and seamless model,” says Huegel.
One of OKRA’s first initiatives was successfully amending a policy that was threatening to increase the parking requirement for bars and restaurants in Houston. So what’s next for these ambitious philanthropists? “We are now lobbying for Uber to be introduced to the city, to help support more public transportation and less driving after consuming alcohol based beverages,” explains Huegel. “This is an important issue, especially in Houston, where mass transit is limited.”
Huegel adds that OKRA is also tackling issues like modern cooking techniques and progressive industry standards in the areas of hospitality, product selection and labor. All in all, OKRA Charity Saloon demonstrates a wonderful example of how to remain relevant, philanthropic and creative within one of the most challenging and competitive industries today.