After a career in finance, Mark Sellers was semi-retired when he decided to open a bar that was the type of place he wanted to hang out at.
And just like that, in 2008, downtown Grand Rapids’ HopCat was born.
What started as simply a hobby has now been ranked the No. 3 best craft beer bar in the country and Sellers is in the process of opening numerous new locations.
HopCat opened its second location in East Lansing last July, as well as a location in Indianapolis this summer. HopCats in Detroit and Ann Arbor are slated to open in November and January, respectively.
Sellers thinks the bar's success can be attributed to three simple things: beer, food and atmosphere.
“A lot of the choices I made...others in the (bar) industry said wouldn’t work,” Sellers said.
Those choices include no uniform requirements for employees and deciding not to carry fizzy American macro beers like Budweiser or Miller.
“I wasn’t trying to make money and it turns out that’s how you make the most money,” he said.
As Sellers grows the HopCat brand around the region, there will be a certain amount of standardization across the restaurants such as the same food menu and a similar aesthetic vibe. Artwork featuring legendary rock and jazz musicians, long a standard of the original location, will be a part of new locations.
While all locations will share common traits, Sellers said he’s not trying to start a chain. Each HopCat will have its own unique characteristics. Take the Detroit location, for instance. When it opens this winter in the city’s Midtown neighborhood it will mark Sellers' first foray into live music.
The location will feature a 400-person live music venue on the building’s second floor. The venue will focus on rockabilly and alternative country acts. Veteran club manager Ted Smith of Grand Rapids venues The Orbit Room and Tip Top Bar and Grill will be handling booking for the venue.
“One of the big reasons (Sellers) approached me is he liked the bands I book at Tip Top,” Smith said, adding New York City-based Pitch Black Brass Band will play the venue on its opening night.
Thus far the success of HopCat speaks for itself. The East Lansing location, as well as the newer Indianapolis bar, have both performing exceptionally well, he said. He expects that his philosophy will transfer just as well to Detroit and Ann Arbor.
“If you try to please everyone, you please no one."