Following a meeting, on March 9, 2013 my fiancé, Paul B. and I returned home from yet another average meal at a late-night diner with our sober friends. We are all in our 20s and 30s, and we were tired of our alcohol-free options: pizza places meant for kids, average hamburger or breakfast diners, coffee shops, juice bars and sandwich shops. This thought crossed my mind, If I had financial backing, I’d open a nice eating place for people in recovery. I’d serve all sorts of delicious food, gourmet sodas, energy drinks, fresh juices, creative mocktails and, of course, good coffee and tea. Phoenix is the 5th largest city in the country, and we have a huge sober community. I bet it would do well. Plus, it could provide legitimate jobs for people in the program. Sober communities deserve something special too!
I posted my thought on Facebook and the rest, as they say, is history. The next day we found an angel investor who thought it was a terrific idea and wanted to see us turn my thought into a brick and mortar restaurant.
It took Paul and me a week of brainstorming to come up with the name, Counterfeit Bar. We knew it was exactly what we wanted. It branded our concept perfectly. Soon we had a tagline created for us by a sober friend, “Good Times You’ll Remember”.
An integral part of our mission was to help employ people in recovery, so we enlisted the help of our sober friends whenever possible. We looked for sober advisers from all walks of life: interior designers, chefs, cooks, mixologists, bartenders, electricians, plumbers, engineers, mural artists, realtors, front-of-house experience, back-of-house experience, general construction, tenant improvements, business law and securities law. We drew upon the wealth of knowledge and experience amongst people in the program. We made some mistakes, but we kept learning.
Originally I wanted a menu with a southern, Creole focus until I started listening to others. We found a renowned sober chef, the incredibly generous Jeremy P. He was willing to help us create the menu and the recipes; and eventually train our kitchen staff. He suggested a New American focus, upscale comfort food, classics with a twist. We started a Facebook page which has attracted over 5,000 fans. Aaron P, an amazing graphic designer, collaborated with us to design our logo and social media icon.
Because the process was somewhat intimidating, I was off to a slow start. I have a professional background in corporate restaurant accounting, but that was a few years ago. Opening a restaurant was a long way from crunching numbers and paying bills!
My fiancé and I started reading books on opening a restaurant. We talked with commercial realtors, and we started to learn about neighborhoods, buying vs. leasing and how to negotiate a lease or purchase. During our research on similar concepts, we found no big successes. A non-alcohol sports bar in Kentucky, Bar None, had closed. The Other Side in Crystal Lake, IL, opened while we were working on our concept. They received favorable press, but they didn’t serve food.
In talking with people who had attempted similar undertakings in the past, we knew we had to learn from their experience. At the end of the day, one thing was clear. Our idea started within recovery, but we wanted to be inclusive of everyone who wished to enjoy a good meal and a quality alcohol-free beverage. There are many reasons people don’t drink today: health issues, religious beliefs, recovery or pregnancy. We’d like them all to feel welcome and comfortable in our restaurant.
Our biggest hurdle was time. Paul and I had full-time jobs, a new baby, meetings, sponsees, service commitments and a beans-and-rice budget. We couldn’t afford to quit our jobs or quit recovery.
We didn’t have time to write the business plan, but we realized it was the first thing we needed to do. I reached out to my old corporate contacts and one offered to fly in and help with the writing. I took three days off work in late December; my friend flew in; and we worked day and night until the plan was finished. At the end of the day, the numbers made sense. We knew we could do well, but we had to be smart going forward. We needed more investors; I needed a business suit; and Paul needed to trim his beard.
In January 2014, now that we had our business plan, we began to get serious about fundraising. We started small with a goal of selling 50 t-shirts, just to see how it would go. We met and exceeded our goal. As an added bonus, our friends and future customers would wear our wicked-awesome t-shirt with our logo and slogan! This gave us some free advertising and, at the same time, created a buzz about our restaurant.
People began calling every day to see if we had opened. When our baby was asleep at night, we’d reach out to national and local media, local purveyors and sober celebrities. We had created our corporation, opened a business bank account and had business cards printed.
Then we stumbled upon a new trend, sober bars in the UK: Sobar, The Brink, Redemption, Mr. Fitzpatrick’s, Accents, Whistle Stop Temperance Bar, Kennedy Street and others. The good people in the UK were eager to talk with and help us. There was a general feeling that when one of us steps forward, we all step forward. We all had the common goal of trying to make the world of addiction and sobriety a little less lonely. The Institute for Research, Education and Training in Addiction in Pittsburg, PA, published an article on this trend and included our Counterfeit Bar.
In March 2014, we initiated a well-executed Kickstarter campaign with a two-minute video filmed by Aiden F, another friend in recovery. We talked with investors who wanted to help financially and with people who might be willing and able to contribute in other ways. With hope, faith and action, we will be able to raise enough funds to open.
We continue working patiently and persistently each day: employee packets, training manuals, food handler’s cards, OSHA certifications, etc. Each business decision is made with attention to detail. Sometimes those decisions are difficult, especially working within recovery principles. No half measures. We recently returned from the Real Soda Warehouse in CA where we purchased for sampling 350 different varieties of organic and natural sodas, bottled waters, classic favorites and energy drinks from around the world.
We are frequently asked if we will have live music, a dance floor, poetry readings, pool, darts, etc. The answer is always, “We’re not sure.” Many of these decisions depend upon the amount of affordable space we are able to find.
Although we haven’t opened our doors yet, in some ways we feel we have already succeeded. We’ve learned to follow through, keep our word and always be courteous and respectful when faced with doubt, criticism or challenges. The personal lessons we’ve learned keep our business moving forward. For these grateful recovering alcoholics, more will be revealed.
Paul B. and Liz P. live in Phoenix, AZ, with their 18-month-old daughter, Millie, and dog, Cowboy. They have a combined nine years of sobriety and are actively involved in their recovery. They can be reached at email@example.com, on their Facebook page, The Counterfeit Bar or at 480.251.2708.