Imagine a bar and restaurant that, like Newman's Own, gives all of its profits to charity.
Beer and benevolence, it's been called. Drafts and donations. More fun, in any case, than salad dressing.
That's the idea behind Cause, a philanthropub ("a bar where having a good time helps a great cause") that opened last October at 1926 9th St. N.W., in the U. Street/Cardozo neighborhood of Washington, D.C. I've been three times — first to kick off the new year with the D.C. chapter of Net Impact, then to interview founder Nick Vilelle, and this past week to have dinner with my wife.
Cause isn't alone. "Have a pint, save the world," says the Oregon Public House, which plans to open soon in Portland, a hub of both craft beer and NGO activity. In downtown Houston, bar owners came together last year to open the Okra Charity Saloon; customers, who get a vote with every drink, decide which charity should receive the next month's profits. The ideas for these charity pubs evidently arose spontaneously and independently. They're the latest in a wave of mission-driven businesses that blur the lines between the for-profit and nonprofit worlds.
Cause is currently supporting four D.C.-based nonprofits: Agora Partnerships, Common Good City Farm, Higher Achievement and Martha's Table. New groups will be chosen every three months. It's hard to know, for now, how much money will flow to each group, but Cause promises to release its financials. "Everything we do, we want it to be done in a clean and transparent way," Vilelle told me.
An unlikely story lies behind Cause. Founders Vilelle, 33, and Raj Ratwani, 32, (both pictured left) became friends a decade ago as grad students in psychology at George Mason University. Vilelle, an organizational psychologist, went on to a stint with the Peace Corps in Togo and then worked in Swaziland with a nonprofit called TechnoServe that helps entrepreneurs. He'd come across "great grassroots organizations" in the global south where a few dollars goes a long way, and wanted to support them.
Next page: Charting its course