HopCat Sets Standard of Excellence in Food, Brew and Eco Footprint

By Daniel A. Washington

The name HopCat may be new to some, but is revered by many in the Detroit region because of each location’s uniqueness and uncompromising quality. Founder and owner Mark Sellers, would have it no other way as he prides himself on his business approach and dedication to localism as his food and pub chain continues its rapid growth.

The Detroit Regional Chamber caught up with Sellers to talk about his keys to creating a local business success in HopCat, a woodwork-filled brew pub with a massive beer list that offers creative brunch and comfort food.

Read the Q&A with Chamber member HopCat founder and register for the Inside the CEO Mind on Aug. 16 at the Midtown location.

Q. What all went into the ideation of “HopCat”?

A. I came up with the name HopCat based off of my love for jazz music and beer. In jazz if you are a cool cat you are hepcat, and beer has hops in it, so we called it HopCat.

I wanted a lot of craft beer and I didn’t want there to be any Bud, Miller or Coors, just craft beer from small breweries, so that is what we did. I didn’t want the employees to wear uniforms. People in most places make their employees wear an outfit, I just wanted them to be themselves. I wanted a lot of local art work and music related artwork because I love music. I wanted the food to be comfort food that goes well with beer.

Q. What do you think has helped HopCat become such a success?

A. We didn’t really try to do anything by the book, we just crack friesdid what I thought I would want if I were the customer, I just thought about myself as a customer. It turned out to really resonate with people, because it is different than other places. The artwork is different, the music is different, the craft beer thing was different, at that time especially. Then we had this dish called crack fries, which are seasoned French fries, that people seemed to really love almost immediately.

Q. What led you to opening a location in Detroit?

A. I started looking at opening a location in Detroit at least two years before we ended up opening it in 2014. We really wanted to be a part of the renaissance in Detroit. I could see that it was starting to go in the right direction and I wanted to be here early before the resurgence in interest.

We found the location on the corner of Woodward and Canfield, after looking at maybe 30 locations. I bought the building from the Michigan Land Bank and then we spent about $4 million to rehab it.

Q. Rumor has it that employees helped create a recycling program, that has been implemented at each location. Is it true?

A. When I started HopCat we weren’t recycling at first and a lot of the employees came to me and said, we couldSellersCropped be recycling this stuff. I just said to myself, yeah, I really want to develop a program to minimize waste. So, early on with the help of employees, we came up with this program where we would compost and recycle anything that we could and then whatever is left over we would dispose of in the landfill.

We had a couple people on staff who volunteered to help develop that program and led the training materials.

Over the years the training and program has gotten more and more sophisticated, so we have gotten better and better at it – at this point, about 35 percent goes to compost, 55 percent goes to recycling and 10 percent goes to the landfill.

Q. What can we expect next from the HopCat brand?

A. The next location we are opening is in Louisville, Kentucky on July 30. That is actually going to be our biggest location, it is 14,000-square-feet. Detroit is 12,000-square-feet by comparison, so it is even bigger than the Detroit location, so we are really excited about that.

Then Chicago is opening on Sept. 3 on Clark Street, which is a high volume, high traffic and is a north to south artery through the city.

Q. What is next for you as you have made a second career out of the food and brew industry?

A. I am going to keep doing this until it is no longer fun. And what is fun for me is designing each location to look different, that is what I really get excited about. Also, just being creative and coming up with new menu items which I am involved in and managing the bars’ music lists, which is constantly changing. As long as I can do that stuff and have other people run the bars for me, I am going to keep doing this.

Ronald McDonald House of Detroit holds successful grand opening gala

Detroit … Nearly 200 guests attended the Grand Opening Gala for the Ronald McDonald House of Detroit on May 30 at Max M. Fisher Music Center to celebrate the new House at 4707 St. Antoine, Suite 200, in Detroit’s Midtown. The event raised $37,000 for the House.

The theme, “A night on the town in Midtown” played well as guests, attired in long gowns and tuxedos, enjoyed cocktails and appetizers in the reception area of the Music Center. The character Ronald McDonald joined in the festivities, posing for photos and joking with guests. Dinner in the Music Box room of the Music Center featured lavish food stations and classical music by Sasha.

During the reception portion of the event, guests were able to board a shuttle that took them to the House, located about 1-1/2 mile away, for a tour. Guests said they were impressed by the size, the attractive furnishings and the elegance of the House, which opened to residents on April 1, 2015.

During the program, Jennifer Litomisky, executive director of the House, spoke about “The Heroes behind the House,” giving thanks for the work of Gary Granader, who oversaw construction. His father Harry built the first Ronald McDonald House of Detroit in 1979, next to Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Jackie Meara, regional director of Global Operations for Ronald McDonald House Charities, noted the importance of longtime support of McDonald’s owners and operators and La-Z-Boy, which furnishes all the new Houses in the U.S. and around the world.

Larry Gold, CEO of Children’s Hospital of Michigan, spoke about the partnership between the hospital and the House. He recalled that one parent said to him, “On the worst day of my life (when my child was in the hospital), the House was the best thing that happened to me.” Families who had stayed at the House spoke about their experience and told how much the kindness of the staff and comfortable House meant to them during a very trying time in their lives.

Donors who contributed $10,000 or more to the Hearts, Hands and Home Campaign were given engraved crystal hearts on stage, presented by Litomisky and Teresa Saputo, chair of the campaign.
“The gala was our way to thank donors for their gracious support and generous contributions over the years and especially during the renovation for the new House,” said Litomisky.

To date, the House has raised nearly $2 million for a $3 million campaign that runs through August 2016. Learn more at rmhc-detroit.org or by calling 313.745-5909.

Opening date of Whole Foods in Midtown Detroit to be announced Friday

From MLive.com

February 28, 2013

By David Muller

DETROIT, MI – The exact opening date of the highly anticipated Whole Foods in Midtown Detroit will be announced tomorrow, Red Elk Banks, the company’s executive operations coordinator, said at the Detroit Policy Conference Thursday.

For months, the company said the 20,000-square-foot Midtown store would be opening this Spring. In November, company spokeswoman Kate Klotz said the company typically announces its opening dates 60 days prior to coming online.

Work on the building began in August. Once open, the location will employ about 80 people.

The retailer was also reportedly given $4.2 million in tax credits to open the store at the corner of Woodward and Mack Avenue. Last June, the Michigan Economic Development Corp.announced a $1 million incentive for the construction of the Midtown store.

Quantifying Downtown Detroit’s Comeback

From The Atlantic Cities

February 20, 2013

By Richard Florida

When people talk about the resurgence of urban America — the shift of people, jobs and commerce back to downtowns and center cities — they’re usually talking about a narrow group of elite cities like New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Boston, and San Francisco.

That’s why a report [PDF] released this week on the transformation of downtown Detroit is so interesting. It documents the ongoing regeneration of a decent sized swath of the city’s urban core. Detroit’s Greater Downtown spans 7.2 square miles (reflected in the title of the report). It runs across the city’s riverfront*  from the central business district to trendy Corktown, home of Slows Bar B Q and Astro Coffee; Mies van der Rohe’s verdant Lafayette Park and Rivertown, north to the Eastern Market, Detroit’s farmer’s market; the Cass Corridor, with arts institutions; Midtown, home to Wayne State University, up Woodward Avenue to Tech Town and New Center.

The report draws on new and unique data from local surveys as well as national data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and other national sources. It is the product of a partnership between the the Hudson-Webber Foundation, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, the Downtown Detroit Partnership, Midtown Detroit, Inc., D:hive, and Data Driven Detroit.

The Greater Downtown corridor has a population of 36,550 people or 5,076 people per square mile. It might not be not downtown Manhattan, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, or Philadelphia, but it compares favorably to other Midwest city-centers, like downtown Minneapolis, with 3.4 square miles and 28,811 people; downtown Pittsburgh at 1.3 square miles and 4,064 people; and downtown Cleveland at 3.2 square miles and 9,523 people. Of these downtowns, only Minneapolis has greater density than Greater Downtown Detroit.

Greater Downtown forms the Detroit region’s commercial, educational, and entertainment hub home to major higher ed, arts and cultural institutions, its football and baseball stadiums and hockey arena, and several hundred restaurants, bars and retails shops. Each year, 10.5 million people visit the Greater Downtown area, according to the report.

While Greater Downtown is more affluent than the city as a whole, it lags behind other urban centers. The average per capita income of Greater Downtown residents is $20,216, considerably higher than $15,062 for the city as a whole but behind the nation ($27,334) as well as other urban centers like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Residents of Greater Downtown are also more educated than the city as a whole (see table below). College educated residents between the ages of 25 and 34 made up eight percent of the population for Greater Downtown compared to just one percent for the city as a whole, three percent for the state of Michigan, and four percent for the nation. More than four in ten young adults (42 percent) in Greater Downtown were college-educated, compared to 11 percent for the city, and higher than both the state and national rates of 29 and 31 percent, respectively.

Still, one of the most interesting findings from the report is that Greater Downtown is considerably more racially diverse than the city as a whole.

Even in the fabled Motor City, downtown’s regeneration is being driven at least in part by people looking to live more sensibly and efficiently, with less dependence on the car. The report highlights this trend providing the results of a survey of pedestrian and cycling activity across Greater Downtown’s six main districts.

As in other cities, Detroit’s downtown urban transformation has surfaced a variety of issues. This past summer, Karen Dumas, former press secretary to Mayor Dave Bing, asked if Detroit was losing its fabled grit and becoming too suburban, highlighting the tensions arising with the influx of new, more affluent residents. “On one hand, you see a ‘new’ Detroit. Young, white, educated and employed are the characteristics of those who are taking a chance on the city. They stand in stark contrast to native Detroiters — most of whom are African-Americans and many who are undereducated and unemployed — who have stayed and stuck it out over the years, through challenge and controversy.”

And while Greater Downtown has seen considerable process, large swaths of the city remain terribly distressed. “We’re a long way from gentrification,” Kurt Metzger, director of Data Driven Detroit, the source of much of the data for the report, told the Detroit Free Press.

I will be looking in more detail at these important issues in the upcoming Detroit installment of my ongoing series on America’s class-divided cities.