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Drinking for Charity: Houston's First Nonprofit Bar

Drinking for Charity: Houston's First Nonprofit Bar

Houston's Charity Saloon will donate profits to a local charity (while serving good drinks)

The space of Houston's Charity Saloon.

If you've ever wondered how you can turn your Friday and Saturday night activities into, well, charity, here's your answer: head to Houston's Charity Saloon, the first ever nonprofit bar.

Sound crazy? It's got the legs to do it: organized by OKRA (Organized Kollaboration on Restaurant Affairs), the Charity Saloon has supporters from some of Houston's top restaurants and bars: Anvil Bar and Refuge, Grand Prize, Big Star Bar, Poison Girl, and Antidote. Co-owner of Anvil Bar and Refuge, Bobby Heugel, is the mastermind behind the plan, says the Houston Chronicle.

How does it work? Everything beyond the "double black line" expenses (like paying employees) will go to a different non-profit each month. Drinkers will vote for the charity of their choice by, well, drinking: each drink you buy counts as a chip, that you can use as a "ballot" for the charity you want to earn money.

Charity Saloon is set to open in four months in downtown Houston; while the bar doesn't plan on being a mixology bar, it will have a stocked bar and food, owner Brad Moore told the Houston Chronicle. The bar, which will open in the refurbished Red Cat Jazz Café, still needs some dollars to help with renovation costs: you can visit to help out. After all, philanthropy is the best excuse to grab a drink.

Philanthropy and drinking becoming a good mix at bars

Dec. 13, 2013: In this photo, Jesse Mello, left, Erin Holt, center, and Matt Pankey enjoy drinks at The Original OKRA Charity Saloon in Houston. The gives 100 percent of its profits to charity and is set to donate more than $300,000 after its first year. (AP)

HOUSTON – It's become a place where you can eat, drink and be merry — but also give to charity.

Since opening its doors last December, a Houston bar that donates 100 percent of its profits to local charities has far exceeded expectations, helping turn cocktails and glasses of wine and beer into warm blankets and hot meals for those in need.

By the end of this year, the Original OKRA Charity Saloon will have donated about $300,000 to a dozen organizations. The group that runs the saloon — a collection of some of the city's best-known bars and restaurants — had expected to donate only about a third of that amount in its first year.

"It was a good year. It's pretty amazing," said Mike Criss, the bar's general manager. "It's just the community coming together."

The charity saloon is one of several bars around the country using that business model as a way to give back. There are similar bars or concepts in New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Ore.

The Houston saloon, which this year was named one of the country's best bars by Playboy magazine and got a shout-out on the "Colbert Report," has four charities competing for donations each month. Customers vote for a winner, who gets the following month's proceeds.

The Oregon Public House, a similar bar in Portland, has also had success — donating more than $15,000 to charities in its first six months of operation.

"I believe in this model, not just for us but for my city, for our state, for our country," said Ryan Saari, director of The Oregon Public House's board. "I think there is a lot of good that could be done, stepping outside of the box a little bit in terms of how we support and fund our nonprofits."

For A Simple Thread, a small Houston nonprofit that distributes kits with everyday items such as socks, toothbrushes and books to homeless individuals, the $16,000 it got from the OKRA Charity Saloon allowed the group to do more. But it also empowered its volunteers, whose presence at the bar every day during the month it competed helped convince many customers to vote for them.

"We've never had that much money. It gave us the ability to do more for the people that we help," said Jacquie Brennan, the group's founder and board president. "It gave us, as the smallest organization that ever won this thing, confidence in ourselves."

Brennan said the bar's donation helped her organization, formed in 2008, buy and distribute items that it normally might not be able to give away, including sweatshirts and sweatpants, gifts cards to McDonald's and passes to ride the city's bus system.

"We know we're not ending homelessness," said Brennan, who works as a lawyer. "We're not providing shelter. We're not making everything OK for them forever. We're just being kind . to people who need your help."

That kindness was welcomed during distribution of the group's kits recently at a downtown-area park frequented by homeless individuals.

As soon as Brennan pulled up in her Prius — which local homeless individuals now recognize — about 10 to 15 men and women quickly ran up to the vehicle and gratefully claimed the kits. The group also passed out blankets — which were gone in seconds — as well as disinfecting wipes and magazines.

One man hugged Brennan after getting his kit, while another said, "Love you all."

For the Houston chapter of U.S. VETS, a national nonprofit that provides services to homeless and at-risk veterans, the effort it put in to win the $35,000 it received helped bring attention to the group's work, said Tom Mitchell, the chapter's executive director.

"It was a rallying point for veterans groups in the community," he said. "It also helped us get some good PR."

The donation is being used to help pay the salary of a chef for the nonprofit's new kitchen at its main campus, located in a refurbished hotel.

That new chef, 55-year-old Aubrey Foote, is a veteran himself who served in the Army and has utilized U.S. VETS' services.

As he chopped cabbage that would be served at lunch during a recent weekday, Foote said he believes the quality meals he prepares help show veterans working to rebuild their lives that they have not been forgotten.

"They feel that someone cares for them," he said.

Criss and Saari said they believe charity bars will be embraced by other communities. They've already received calls from people in Canada, England, France and India interested in the concept.

"We never thought it would be this big, where it is right now," Criss said. "I'm still amazed."

Lucille's 1913 Gets a New Truck in Touching Gesture

Lucille's 1913, the nonprofit run by Chris Williams of the popular restaurant Lucille's and brother Ben Williams, founder of Highway Vodka, is back in the news, and for good reason.

The siblings were featured in March on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt for the work they were doing to help feed Houstonians, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic and primarily in underrepresented communities.

According to the Chronicle, another pair of siblings, Laura and Jeff Parks, watched the report at home in Southern Ohio and felt the Williams family could use their food truck. That truck was originally given to Laura's son Jesse, but he died in 2016 after battling a number of health issues.

So, the Parks drove the truck from Ohio to Houston and gave Lucille's 1913 the truck.

The NBC Nightly News chronicled this as a follow-up to their March story, and the report will air at 5:30 p.m. today. Below is a clip shared by NBC Nightly News.

After learning about the nonprofit Lucille's 1913, Laura and Jeff Parks made a heartfelt donation to help cofounder Chris Williams feed more people — a food truck.

Descend a Houston Skyscraper … for Charity

We’ve seen the pandemic transform so many events, from concerts and football games to charity galas.

Many events have been canceled, but many more pivoted into new formats. We saw Houston Ballet’s annual ball go virtual this year. Last October, Dress for Success Houston’s annual gala was converted into a drive-thru bash that took attendees on a fun-filled jaunt down Eastside Street.

Now at this point, you’d think we’ve seen it all. You’re wrong. So wrong.

Opting for a simple virtual event spent at home seemed too dull for the staff at The Women’s Home , because on May 1 the nonprofit, which provides support to women and families facing addiction, homelessness, and mental illness, is giving donors the opportunity to rappel down the side of the 250-foot DoubleTree Galleria building.

Yes, you read that right. That’s 26 whole floors people have the opportunity to scale.

This unique opportunity is a part of TWH’s fundraiser “Over the Edge ,” and although donations start at $1,000, you get to see your money go toward programs that are integral to Houstonian women, and also you can do probably the most exciting thing you’ve done with your life in over a year.

“We thought it was something out of the box that we had never done before,” says Julie Comiskey, The Women’s Home chief development officer. “We thought it was something interesting that would bring in a whole new group of [donors] not familiar with The Women’s Home.”

There are different donation packages ranging $1,000–20,000 that include various incentives, like the ability to bring more people to rappel with you.

If scaling a giant building doesn’t sound like a good time but you still want to donate, the “chicken coop” package is your best option: You’ll donate $1,000, but you don’t have to rappel, which then gives everyone the grounds to call you a chicken. Bock, Bock.

There’s no need to worry about being around other “edgers” because according to Comiskey, each person, unless in a group, will rappel at different times.

“People are still a little hesitant about going out,” Comiskey says. “It’s perfect because people will be able to social distance.”

If pandemic life is sending you over the edge, this event . quite literally . is for you.

In New Pubs, Good Cheer and Good Works

PORTLAND, Ore. — Ask a bartender exactly how much profit was collected from that pint of beer you just drank, and the answer is likely to be as murky as a barrel-aged bourbon stout. The economics of alcohol, like the calorie count, are usually about the last things purveyors want their customers focused on.

But now a new generation of beer halls dedicated to something beyond the cash register is cropping up around the nation and the world, with proceeds going not into an owner’s wallet but to charity, and bending elbows may never be the same.

“More people will want to support your business than if you’re just doing it to pay for your second home,” said Ryan Saari, a minister and a board member of the Oregon Public House, which is preparing to open here as soon as next month in a residential neighborhood, pledged by its charter to donating all profits to charity.

The place already has a slogan outside on the century-old red brick facade, “Have a pint, change the world,” and a painting on the back wall of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of giving.

The beer-for-charity movement, like the microbrew phenomenon that preceded it, is different depending on where you look. In Houston, for example, where a group of giving-minded bar owners opened a place called the Okra Charity Saloon last month, patrons get a vote with every drink as to which charity should receive the next month’s profits. A project in Melbourne, Australia, plans to put geography into the equation — sale of a beer from Africa, for example, will be linked to microloans or charities in the country of the beer’s origin.


Other projects are in some stage of development, in cities from Hyderabad, India, to San Francisco.

People who track philanthropic trends said the number of upstarts going full tilt toward a charity-driven business model, especially in the viciously competitive food and beverage industry, remained small. But in the post-recession landscape, they say, a ferment of experimentation is clearly in the air, as many private charities continue to struggle for funds.

Giving by individual Americans, while up from the nadir reached in 2009 during the recession, was still lower in 2011 than in 2000, according to the most recent figures from Giving USA.

“It’s a clever idea and certainly a noble ambition,” said Patrick Rooney, the associate dean at Indiana University’s School of Philanthropy, referring to the charity pub concept. His advice for drinkers? Ask questions like an accountant, about a place’s overhead and expenses, and who actually receives the money. “Frankly, there are some charities I would support and some I would not,” he said.

Mr. Saari at the Oregon Public House agreed that success or failure would hinge on the transparency of the economics. If customers suspect, even for a moment, that what smells like good works is really just a clever business model to attract customers, the effort is doomed, he said.

“In our cynical society, people will immediately say, ‘O.K., how much is the president making?’ ” he said. So the pub’s books will be open for the checking, he said, and customers will be able to choose from a menu on the wall exactly where they want their contribution to go as part of the order itself. About a dollar on a locally brewed draft costing $4.50 to $5 a pint is profit, as it turns out.

The Public House’s charter prohibits any member of the board, including Mr. Saari, from drawing a salary, he said, though it will have a paid staff for the bar and kitchen of perhaps seven or eight. Through grants from the city and private donations — about 30 people have given between $1,500 to $2,500, support levels that come with a free beer a day, or a week, for life, and their own mug — the bar will also open with no loans or capital to pay back, Mr. Saari said.

In Washington, D.C., supporters of Cause, which calls itself a “philanthropub,” in the trendy U Street Corridor, said their business model is based on research that says young people give less to charity than their elders — busy with careers and maybe burdened by college debt — but are still willing to chip in under the right circumstances.

“Everything is competing for their attention, and this is another way for people to combine charitable giving with something they’re doing anyway,” said Raj Ratwani, a cognitive psychologist and a founder of Cause, which opened last fall, describing the young professional the bar is aiming for. “They’re going to find time to go out and drink no matter how busy they are.”

Here in Portland, which prides itself on its variety of local brews and a culture of social consciousness, the Oregon Public House — which Mr. Saari believes was a speakeasy in Prohibition days based on the latched peepholes on some of the upstairs doors — is expected to be the first local bar departing from the traditional commercial form, but not the last.

Another group here is considering opening a worker-run, collectively managed brew pub for “people who resist patriarchy and oppression on all levels, unrepresented and unwaged workers,” and “people who face and are against police brutality,” said Stephanie Phillips, one of the organizers, in an e-mail.

The city’s economic development arm, the Portland Development Commission, which also works with traditional companies like Nike, has backed the Oregon Public House with more than $50,000 in grants, about a quarter of the start-up costs. Stephen Green, a business analyst with the commission and an adviser to the bar, said he fantasizes about a national chain of public houses based on the Oregon model that raises money for local charities.

Mr. Saari said his next step, once the bar is open, is an in-house brewery. Eventually, he hopes to see bottled Oregon Public House beers in local stores, with each type of beer dedicated to a specific cause, so that someone buying a six-pack of say, Oregon Public House Education Ale, a tentative name and product, would know the proceeds were going to an education charity supported by the pub.

But as so many failed entrepreneurs can attest, operating a small food and drink business has never been an easy road to riches — or now, donations. “The failure rate is about as high as any business you could start,” said Daniel Borochoff, the president of Charitywatch, a nonprofit watchdog and information service in Chicago.

The result is a masterful blend of two premium whiskeys one bringing the sweetness of grains and malt with an oak barrel finish the other, a smooth whiskey that tastes like the caramel corn you enjoyed at the state fair as a kid. Both whiskeys spent just the right amount of time aging.

The combination of mash-bills consisting of Midwest corn, a little malt and a little rye makes a damn fine spirit that’s good enough to shoot, sip or mix.

Wine Companies That Donate to Charity


In addition to donating almost half of its proceeds to charity, Jordan Winery also hosts select events for non-profits.

Jordan Vineyard & Winery

In 2012, Jordan Winery’s owner created the John Jordan Foundation with the goal of fighting the negative effects of poverty and providing disadvantaged people tools needed to succeed educationally and professionally “from cradle to career.” Jordan funds the foundation’s programs by funneling about half of the Jordan Winery sales proceeds into the non-profit. The foundation has helped thousands of families through education, after-school enrichment and health programs, and has, to date, supported more than 220 organizations. The foundation has funded iPad and Chromebook education pilot programs, bringing technology to some of California’s poorest schools a pediatric wing at Santa Rosa Health Centers Accelerated English Language instruction programs and numerous programs for abused and special-needs children. Its annual Teachers’ Wishes program supports classroom projects for teachers impacted by state and local budget cuts. Every holiday, Christmas at Jordan event ticket proceeds go to Toys for Tots donations. There’s a John Jordan Foundation section on the winery’s website and a few posts on their blog with charity spotlights, but they don’t make their social responsibility a central part of their marketing. “Giving back is just a part of who we are as a company,” John Jordan says. “As a successful business, we have a responsibility to play an active role in improving the lives of those in need.” Jordan wines can be found on restaurant wine lists and in wine shops across the country, as well as online at Tastings by appointment only.

Photo courtesy of Bob Cabral Wines.

Bob Cabral Wines

Bob Cabral, former winemaker at Williams-Selyem and current director of winemaking at Three Sticks Wines, created his own family brand in 2016. For it, Bob, his wife, Heather, and their daughter, Paige, contribute profits from sales of Bob Cabral Wines to their favorite causes, which include local schools, Healdsburg Future Farmers, 4-H, the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, the ELF Foundation that’s helped build an edible garden at a grammar school in Petaluma, and donated $250,000 each to Sonoma Fire Relief and Napa Fire Relief. The Cabrals also distributed several thousand dollars in gift cards to fire evacuees at shelters. As he explained, “Winston Churchill once said, ‘We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.’ We have chosen to build this new wine brand with the intention of using it to give—to give back to those who have changed our lives forever.” By appointment only.

Photo courtesy of

Iron Horse Vineyards

Sparkling wine expert Joy Sterling is known for creating specialty bottles of bubbly for both customers and causes. Her limited-edition Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blancs supports the National Geographic’s Ocean Initiative with $4 per bottle being donated to establishing marine protected areas and supporting sustainable fishing practices around the globe. By appointment only.

Photo courtesy of DeLoach.

DeLoach Vineyards

This Santa Rosa winery, owned by Jean-Charles Boisset, produces a “Vinthropic” line of Sonoma County wines (a $20 Chardonnay and $25 Pinot Noir), with all net sales proceeds donated to the Redwood Empire Food Bank, Sonoma County’s largest hunger-relief organization. Vinthropic is part of the Fight Against Hunger campaign launched by parent company Boisset Family Estates in 2010 the goal is to contribute at least 60,000 meals each year through wine sales. Tasting room open daily.

Photo courtesy of Coppola Winery.

Coppola Winery

“Buy a Bottle, Save a Bee.” That’s the motto of the sustainability team at Francis Ford Coppola Winery and Virginia Dare Winery, both in northern Sonoma County. Ten percent of the sales proceeds from the company’s Bee’s Box Wines (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) are donated to organizations whose missions are to promote bee pollinator health through conservation, education and research. Winery employees tend the hives, giving bees a safe environment in which to thrive and enhance the biodiversity of the vineyards. Tasting room open daily.

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Nonprofits and Charities in Other Cities

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Houses of worship become clinics

Already, Houston&rsquos faith leaders have jumped into action, transforming houses of worship into vaccination clinics. Spring Woods Baptist Church and St. Luke the Evangelist joined mosques such as Nasfat Houston and Buddhist temple Wat Buddhavas in the effort and partnered with Harris County Public Health.

Fellowship of Purpose, in northeast Houston, also hosted a clinic with Harris County Public Health on April 30.

Outside the building, Fellowship of Purpose provided food drives, water distribution and regular COVID-testing events. Now, it is able to offer vaccines as well.

&ldquoWe didn&rsquot know how we would be used to serve,&rdquo said senior pastor Byron Murray. &ldquoThere&rsquos no way we could have foreseen this.&rdquo

St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Humble also hosted a vaccine clinic on April 22.

Chris Rubio, director of the congregation&rsquos office of family life and social concerns, said 105 people showed up for their first round of shots.

The church has hosted weekly food distributions since the pandemic began, serving 88,945 individuals since last March. Then, it added COVID testing to its services. Providing vaccines was a logical next step, Rubio explained.

&ldquoI saw a need in the northeast part of the county,&rdquo he said. &ldquoWe&rsquore not even close to herd community. We really need to find a way to go forward.&rdquo

Rubio invited the school district and Northeast Houston Interfaith Council to get involved &mdash and is looking for ways to do more.

&ldquoWe&rsquove just scratched the surface,&rdquo he said. &ldquoWe definitely are going to help, especially with getting the word out. It&rsquos so important right now.&rdquo

Drinking for Charity: Houston's First Nonprofit Bar - Recipes

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Watch the video: Drunk Tuesday-Until I fall away (October 2021).