October 18, 2012

New 'PhilanthroPub' Invites Guests to Eat, Drink, and Do Good

A new bar in a trendy Washington neighborhood opens its doors for a preview this Saturday night to give customers a first taste of its unusual business proposition: donating all of its profits to charity.

The bar, called Cause, and dubbed a "PhilanthroPub," is the brainchild of Nick Vilelle and Raj Ratwani. The two friends, who met in graduate school, came up with the idea while sharing a beer in a restaurant. They noticed a lot of money was changing hands and knew that profits from selling drinks are higher then those from selling food.

Both men have an interest in supporting nonprofits: Mr. Vilelle has worked for both AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, while Mr. Ratwani has spent much of his career in academia.

The founders plan to give 100 percent of their net profits from operating the bar and restaurant to three to six new charities each quarter. When patrons pay their tab, they can select from a menu of charities to benefit. No one will be solicited to make any other charitable donation while they are at the restaurant.

Any money left over after covering Cause's expenses will be donated to the charities at the end of each quarter. The founders have promised to let bar patrons and others know  how much the bar raises and how charities use the money. Mr. Vilelle said Cause's goal is to be able to give away $100,000 annually.

The bar's beneficiaries, a mix of domestic and international organizations, will always be groups that have been vetted by watchdog organizations, Mr. Vilelle said.

The two founders are also open to choosing groups that are popular with patrons, in the hope that customers will be inspired to support the organizations with outright donations.

Some people have doubts that Cause will be able raise enough money to make a difference to any of the charities that receive its help.

"This will fly just long enough for someone to get drunk and hurt someone, then the 'PhilanthroPub' will be 'donating' all of its proceeds to a bunch of ambulance-chasing lawyers and their clients," wrote one critic who commented on an article about Cause and two similar pubs published by Bloomberg Businessweek.

But Mr. Vilelle and his cofounder are fairly confident their idea will work, and they have dreams of opening Cause bars in other cities. To increase the chances of success, they have recruited two industry veterans who, between them, have opened more than 20 restaurants, as well as an advisory board of five business experts.

We'll follow the progress of Cause and provide an update here. Until then, Cheers!