View from the Bar: Uplifting the Community and Revenue

Sean Sullivan / The Port Bar

Welcome to View from My Bar, a series of guest posts from experienced operators and industry professionals. Each post will give contributors the opportunity to share their expertise based on past and current experiences, providing real-life solutions to bar and restaurant world challenges.

Every bar owner has a unique story in how they came to own their nightclub or bar.

Some are longtime bartenders tired of working for someone else. Some are 9-5ers looking to take their business acumen and put it to work on this seemingly untamed beast of nightlife. Others are people with no experience but a dream to do something different.

Indeed, all nightlife entrepreneurs are people who seized onto the adage, “The future can be better than the present, and I have the power to make it so.”

I came to my own decision about opening a bar after realizing that while many people I spoke to talked about opening a bar for the LGBT community in Oakland, California, no one was actually making it happen. So, my partner and I decided to make it happen. And by that, I decided to make it happen and he agreed to keep paying the mortgage!

Long ago, I had bartended at private events for my mom’s events-service business. I didn’t know how to make drinks at all but at the last minute someone called out sick. She assigned me to the task.

The ways to support your community can be simple but the impacts to your bottom line can be profound.

“Make it up as you go,” were my mom’s instructions and I like to think that I’ve been making it up as I go both behind the bar and on the other side of it, ever since. I didn’t stay in the service industry after college but instead went to work in the non-profit sector, which is service in a different way.

People working in the service industry don’t often make a lot of money but find purpose in their work through helping others, find satisfaction through results of creating smiling customers, and oh yeah, a big tip! Non-profit folk are similarly making not a lot of money but are driven with the passion that comes from the purpose of their work.

My non-profit work was very much community based, most of it spent helping build safe spaces for homeless and at-risk youth. In just 2019, our bar, The Port Bar, has received two award recognitions for our work in uplifting the community, one by a local LGBT club, as well as The San Francisco Business Times. It goes without saying that we believe in “doing well by doing good.

However, we have seen that being invested in your community keeps customers coming. Patrons are proud of our community support! Often times, customers choose us over a ride into San Francisco where there are arguably more choices in bars but the feelings they have toward our bar stand alone, and it is often the difference in choosing where they spend their money.

We host a weekly karaoke fundraiser for a different cause each week, in addition to a holiday drive for homeless and in-need youth, and provide our back lounge for free for non-profit fundraisers. The ways to support your community can be simple but the impacts to your bottom line can be profound.

Sean Sullivan is a published author, bar owner, Bay Area community leader and will be writing about more ways the nightlife community is getting involved in making their communities better and stronger.

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