A Top-Notch Bar with an Irresistible Mission

James Courtney

Photo by Kody Melton

What if you could have dinner, catch a concert, play some arcade games, knock back a few adult beverages, and donate to your community, all in one stop?

David and Pamela Malley, the owners of The Cherrity Bar, a new, charity-based venture in San Antonio, Texas, have put in place a rather novel concept that will, they hope, allow them to sustain a business that offers just such an opportunity.

The Cherrity Bar—its name a play on the words “charity” and “Cherry Street,” one of two intersecting streets on which the bar is located—debuted in late March on San Antonio’s burgeoning East Side. The grand opening and ribbon cutting occurs July 15.

This venture is a result of the Malleys’ general desire to give back—“We were at a point in our lives where we were doing well and thought this would be a great way to give to the community,” Pamela told Make Change—and an experience that has deeply touched their own lives.

The Malleys. Photo courtesy Pamela Malley.

The Malleys’ son Connor was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome at age 6. Pamela, a speech language pathologist by trade, has been able to provide Connor a great deal of specialized support, thanks to her professional training. Connor, who is now 15, also inspired her to volunteer to serve on the board of the Tourette Association of America (TAA) and find ways to fund its mission. The couple’s experience running property rental and lot maintenance businesses made renovating The Cherrity Bar’s two old, converted houses and spacious outdoor area into a donation-generating business a good fit.

While David’s experience as a real estate investor (among other things) helped him determine how to renovate the space, he called in some experts to help with the service aspect, recruiting local bar owner Jeret Peña (described as San Antonio’s “cocktail king” by the San Antonio Current) and another longtime fixture behind the city’s nightlife scene, Steven Raul Martín, to co-direct the drink offerings. Several successful local restauranteurs and beverage industry veterans also serve as advisors.

Photo by Louie Preciado.

Here’s how The Cherrity Bar’s concept works: For starters, 10 percent of the bar’s profit goes to the Tourette Association of America every month. Beyond that, San Antonio area nonprofits can apply to be one of three charities (called “Cherrities”) featured on a monthly basis to receive a percentage of Cherrity’s remaining profits. The applicants are vetted by SA2020, a public-private partnership developed to make good on a wide range of citywide goals by 2020. The 20-member Friends of The Cherrity Bar, a “diverse panel of volunteers representing the many faces of giving in the community,” meets quarterly to choose from among the approved charities, guided by a monthly theme provided by SA2020 such as Civic Engagement (May) or Arts and Culture (July). Patrons then have the opportunity to use tokens (one per drink or $10 minimum food purchase) to vote for one of three selected charities for that month, after visiting a viewing wall that provides information on the featured organizations and a ballot box for each. At the end of each month, the remaining 90 percent of the profit (after 10 percent goes to the TAA) is split 60/30/10 between the first, second, and third place charities respectively.

One of Cherrity’s two buildings houses the bar and some swank indoor seating areas, while the other building is currently rented out to an upscale deli and a ramen spot from chef Michael Sohocki, responsible for several other critically acclaimed restaurants in the city. The large outdoor space boasts a little something for all ages, including an arcade, a chill zone (for kids who might have conditions that require them to take sensory breaks), a Gaga Ball court, corn hole, ping pong tables, a shuffle board, a wooden stage, ring toss, a sweet selfie window with the city skyline in the background, and umbrella-shaded patio tables aplenty.

Photo by Louie Preciado

Renting out the second building is a canny way to generate profit for the endeavor while The Cherrity Bar finds its audience. Between their soft opening and now, the Malleys say they’ve lost money as they build The Cherrity Bar brand. However, they see the nonprofit partnership as integral to their strategy and thus have made sure the early participating charities are rewarded.

“The charities themselves will begin to really drive business as they host events and bring their communities in,” explains Pamela.  “I hope we are eventually giving away $20,000 or $30,000 a month.”

Photo via Pamela Malley.

In April and May, The Cherrity Bar handed out donations ranging from $300 to $1,665 to organizations like San Antonio Youth Literacy, Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, the San Antonio Public Library Foundation, San Antonio Sports, The THRU Project (which provides support to kids in or previously in foster care), the San Antonio Police and Fire Department’s Benevolent Funds, and, of course, TAA.

“When you visit The Cherrity Bar, you know that the proceeds aren’t just going to a charity—they’re going to a charity creating the progress that San Antonians said they wanted to see,” said Mary Kate Hull, a Brand Specialist with SA2020, in an email referencing her organization’s charity vetting for the bar, which is based on community priorities research. “We love how The Cherrity Bar exposes San Antonians (and out-of-towners!) to local nonprofits and makes it so simple to make a difference.”

Pamela emphasized that two things really distinguish The Cherrity Bar from other similar ventures, like Okra Charity Saloon in Houston: all, not some, of the profits go to charity and money is consistently going to at least four different charities per month.

She also expressed her hope that, with all the thought that has gone into not only the causes of The Cherrity Bar, but also the entertainment offerings and the space itself, “it will be a very family-friendly place where people feel good about coming regularly.”

Photo by Kody Melton

The Malleys are confident that as the surrounding area—across the street from the city’s Alamodome and a few minutes’ walk from Downtown—continues to develop, the amount they give away will rise exponentially.

For David, “learning patience is both the biggest challenge and greatest reward” of having a child with Tourette Syndrome. And, as he waits to be able to hand out bigger and bigger donation checks, he’s enjoying the new purpose and community engagement The Cherrity Bar has provided in his own life.

For patrons, it’s hard not to fall in love with such a positive business model. And let’s face it, with a choice location, expertly-crafted food and drink, and plenty of entertainment, this bar would be a delight even if it didn’t do a damn bit of good for the world.