At The Original OKRA Charity Saloon, every drink will be to health.
From the folks behind the Organized Kollaboration on Restaurant Affairs (OKRA), Houston’s latest in-the-works-bar will donate 100 percent of its profits to a different, local non-profit each month.
OKRA was officially established in 2011 by president Bobby Heugel, co-owner of Anvil Bar and Refuge. He is joined by Paul Petronella, owner of Paulie’s Restaurant on Westheimer, Brad Moore of Grand Prize and Big Star Bar as well as Miriam Carillo and Scott Repass of Poison Girl, Black Hole and Antidote. A parade of owners from other local independent bars and restaurants including Oxheart, Revival Market, Underbelly and more are also represented.
The members focus on improving Houston for small businesses and using their businesses to improve Houston through philanthropy. The Charity Saloon is in tune with this mission and a dream Heugel has discussed since OKRA’s inception.
“The credit goes to Bobby,” says Petronella.
The Charity Saloon will be located in the soon-to-be-refurbished bar inside the former Red Cat Jazz Café at 924 Congress in downtown. It's the first of it’s kind in the country, and as far as the members of OKRA know, the world. They’re hoping their establishment will inspire similar ventures.
The bar will operate normally with the only difference being the profits will go to a local nonprofit.
“The employees here will get paid. Anything pass the double-black line, goes to charity,” says Petronella.
Patrons will determine what nonprofits benefit each month.
Here is how it works: Every drink earns the drinker a chip. They take this chip to a wall of “ballot boxes” and drop it into the box of the nonprofit they believe should be sponsored next month.
In essence, OKRA is forcing nonprofits to support other nonprofits. If an organization wants to benefit from drink sales, they have to encourage their supporters to buy drinks the month before and vote, and the money earned from those drink/votes will support whatever group is being sponsored that month. Pretty ingenious philanthropy.
As far as day-to-day operations, the four say they envision Charity Saloon to be a mix between Poison Girl, Grand Prize, and Anvil.
“It won’t be a mixology bar,” says Moore, suggesting it will operate more like Poison Girl – not a place for super-fancy cocktails, just a bar with a quality liquor selection. And food.
“We’re going to try and keep it simple, but delicious,” says Petronella. “We might pull a couple of different things from our participating OKRA members.”
The four say the real focus is creating a cool atmosphere to encourage repeat customers that will help OKRA give back.
“It’s time to give back,” says Moore. Not that any of us are wealthy, but yeah it’s time to give back.”
Repass echoes his sentiments.
“Our profit is actually made by a community. You know when you go into a bar that you could get that beer for half-price and drink at home. You’re coming because you want the community that bar is creating – same with restaurants and the atmosphere,” Repass says. “This is our chance to not only to give back to a community that makes us money, but help create that community downtown.”
Revitalizing downtown Houston was another factor in choosing a location.
“Downtown has been dead for at least 10 years and there’s space everywhere,” says Petronella. “I think this would be a really good stepping stone to bring downtown back to what it used to be.”
OKRA worked with the Houston Downtown Management District in order to find a suitable location. Repass researched the space and says it was built in the 1880s as a bar, The Original Casino Saloon (which is what inspired the name for the Charity Saloon).
The space seems like an ultimate find – it’s not only equipped with a full bar and kitchen, but beautiful tiling, original red brick walls, stunning, curved skylights, and an electric piano.
“It works, too!” said Petronella.
Repass says people could also use the Chartiy Saloon as a reception hall for weddings, galas, etc.
“[But] what you were paying to use the reception hall is going to charity,” he says.
The Charity Saloon is slated to open in about four months. Stay tuned to www.friedokra.org for a solid date and for information on how your nonprofit can benefit from its profits.
Overheard at Charity Saloon:
OKRA’s announcement of opening The Original OKRA Charity Saloon inspired us to come up with potential quotes one might overhear there. Share your own here or on twitter: @2995 #OHatcharitysaloon.
“I thought I had a drinking problem, turns out I’m just awesome at philanthropy!”
“Dude, remember that time I got super wasted and help your after-school program buy books?”
“My boyfriend asked where I was, so I told him I was at a ‘fundraiser.’”
“If you walk your tab here, you’re basically stealing from charity.”
“Sure, put all your drinks on my tab, I’ll just write it off at the end of the year.”
“I’d like to make another donation, AKA order a gin and soda.”
“Fundraiser? I hardly even know her! HEY-O!”
“Dude, I come here so much the bartender calls me their greatest benefactor.”
“Charity begins at … this bar! Am I right?”
“My girlfriend told me I needed to stop hanging out here so much. I never pegged her for a Scrooge.”