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/// Q&A HopCat’s TopCat

Questions for GR’s bar mogul Mark Sellers, owner of HopCat, The Viceroy, and Stella’s Lounge, and co-owner of the forthcom- ing Pyramid Scheme, a bar/live-music venue.

Any bar where you can tell the owner is having fun with it. At The Meanwhile you can sense it. The Winchester, The Green Well, Founders, these are great places in Grand Rapids. You can tell the owners are passionate about it. For me, it’s a whole sensory experience. The music is very important; the lighting; the whole ambi- ence is as much or more important than the menu. Any place can offer virtually the same menu anymore.


HopCat’s been rated the third best beer bar in the world for two years now, according to Its recipe for success?

For me, the key to success is doing it for fun. I started this bar for me as a customer. I knew what I wanted the place to look like and what I would want on the menu. The saying around the bar is, “What would Mark do?” I think more bar owners should stop worrying about what others find interesting and just do what’s interesting to them.

You once promised yourself that you would never again live in Grand Rapids. What happened?

My wife and I loved living in downtown Chicago. But there’s a lot of noise pollution in the city. I remember lying in bed, realizing there was never a time at night where you couldn’t hear a siren somewhere. Add to that buses and horns. So we started looking at less densely populated cities. Then one year we were back here visit- ing my parents for Thanksgiving and on a whim started looking at houses. I fell in love with the architecture here. I love historical architecture, and the prices for something like that are ridiculously low compared to cities elsewhere.

You switched careers from managing hedge funds — a notoriously cutthroat career — to owning bars. Was that a rough transition?

No. Well, only it that I’ve had a lot to learn about the hospitality business. Going the other way would have been very difficult. You have to be really Type-A to be an investment manager.

Are you Type-A? I am a recovering Type-A. It will be a lifelong battle.

REVUEWM.COM | JANUARY 2011 | 13 Mark Sellers

You’re not completely finished with your stress- ful investment days. To protect your investments you had to oust management and take over Premier Exhibitions Inc., which owns the Bodies Revealed exhibit and salvaged items from the Titanic. Was that a hostile takeover?

We were the largest shareholder, so it wasn’t necessarily a takeover. But we did hostilely kick out the manage- ment. With 16 percent of the stock, we should have had a lot of say, but management wasn’t listening to us. We called for a proxy fight, which is basically a vote of no-confidence. It cost about a quarter of a million dollars to replace management. But we had $20 million invested in the company, so it was worth it. Things are a lot better than they were; stock’s up 200 percent.

Last prompt: Your bar employees call you “a big dork.”

That’s probably accurate. They’ve witnessed me trying to get the high scores on most of these arcade games. n


F FFM2011 616.526.6282

our establishments vary from a world-class beer tavern to a Prohibition-era speakeasy to a retro-punk whisky bar with vintage arcade games. All of which begs the question, what’s your ideal hangout?

MAR 7 Ladies Literary Club; Mar 7, 8pm; $10 GUNGOR FEB 5 Covenant Fine Arts Center; Feb 5, 8pm; $15 MEWITHOUTYOU

31 JAN ÓLAFUR ARNALDS Covenant Fine Arts Center; Jan 31, 8pm; $10





















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