Cause was a five-year dream for owners Nick Vilelle and Raj Ratwani, former Peace Corps volunteers who arrived at the idea of opening a bar that allowed others to contribute to communities without a serious commitment or a two-year stint in Africa. They enlisted John Jarecki and Dave Pressley, two industry veterans whose experience at establishments like the Light Horse, Eventide, Tallula and Poste, helped the owners raise $25,000 for startup costs through Indiegogo and arrive at a model that will allow them to pay off all expenses and salaries while donating the remainder. The two-floor restaurant is located in a space once occupied by La Carbonara, which closed in 2010.
“It’s a nice meeting of minds," says Vilelle of the relationship with Jarecki and Pressley. “We throw out crazy ideas and they tell us, ‘No we can’t do that.’ Also, giving all the profit away is a concept they hadn’t tried before.”
Cause’s beneficiaries will change quarterly; this quarter, three of the four charitable organizations (Martha’s Table, Common Good City Farm and Higher Achievement) are local. When the bar tab arrives, customers will be able to select which of the charities they’d like their money to reach. Really intriguing is the fact that the breakdown will be public: At the close of each quarter, Cause will release its numbers so anyone can see precisely how much money went to the charities.
But the restaurateurs emphasize that Cause won’t be a gimmick bar. “We don’t want to be just ‘the charity bar,’ ” says Vilelle. “We want people to come in for the food, the drinks, and have it just be a bonus that we give to charity.”
The interiors feature paintings of renowned activists such as Sojourner Truth and Harvey Milk made by local youth artists. Draft beers join a cocktail menu inspired by the activists: the Harvey Milk is a take on a Brandy Alexander; the Mahatma Gandhi is a kaffir lime-scented gin concoction; and a margarita named for Eva Peron goes by the name Evitarita.
The menu, conceived by executive chef Adam D. Stein (the opening chef at the Queen Vic), is heavy on elevated bar food: African chicken groundnut stew; a fried oyster and kimchi sandwich; the “LGBTQ” sandwich, featuring beef tongue; and tater tots made not from potatoes but pig’s feet. The menu and eventual specials will frequently feature on-trend offal, but that’s simply in keeping with Cause’s mission of sustainable practices.
“I didn’t come in deciding we have to do heart, we have to do trotters, we have to do headcheese,” says Stein. “We said, ‘We want to make sure we’re getting whole animals from local sources, so if we do, the only real responsible thing to do is figure out how to rest of it.”
Before the bar officially opens Wednesday at 8 p.m., take a quick peek inside.