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Bar owners won’t let liquor control commission spoil employee appreciation day

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

Co-owners of Barfly Ventures Mark and Michele Sellers wanted to thank their employees for working their tails off during ArtPrize. So they designated Tuesday as employee appreciation day; whatever alcohol they sold would be split among the employees.

But before they opened, Mark Sellers got a call from the liquor control commission. Turns out, the state doesn’t like servers having an incentive to sell lots of alcohol, and it’s against the law.

“I can’t really be too mad at them because they gave us a courtesy call in advance and told us ‘hey don’t’ do this or you’re going to get in trouble’. It’d be like if a police officer called you and told you to slow down or he’s going to give you a ticket,” Mark Sellers said.

So instead of alcohol sales the Sellers’ will give their employees the food sales, not for just one day but three. They’ll pool the money from food sales at all three Grand Rapids establishments (HopCat, McFadden’s, and Stella’s Lounge) and split the total among all employees; cooks, servers, busboys, managers, and even HopCat’s official “chief beer geek” I met a couple weeks ago.

He estimates they’ll each take home at least a few hundred extra dollars this week. But when I met them at HopCat Tuesday around dinnertime the line was out the door and into the rain.


“The employees will actually come out ahead. I’ll come out further behind,” Sellers chuckled. They don’t mind at all, they say.

“Our philosophy as business people is that you want to make money, but to try to eke out every possible dime of profit a lot of times will backfire on you,” Sellers said, “In terms of bad employee morale, bad customer service cause your employees are aren’t happy so they make it so that the customers aren’t happy. It’s much better to just treat everybody with a lot of respect.”

Michele Sellers says they’ve shut down and thrown kitchen parties for their worker and recently taken some of their original team members (HopCat is almost 5 years old) on a trip to San Francisco.

“I think that doing those things, even as simple as baking cookies for the staff on like their birthdays or Valentine’s day which I try to do; simple things that make them feel appreciated, really, we get paid back in spades with their loyalty and their hard work,” Sellers said.

They got the idea form a bar in Chicago but haven’t been “financially able” to do yet. ArtPrize drove sales up about 20-percent over last year, and that’s up around 20-percent from the year before, they said. ArtPrize organizers estimate about 400,000 people came to downtown Grand Rapids this year.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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