Welcome back to IBJ’s video feature “Inside Dish: The Business of Running Restaurants.”
Our subject this week is Mass Avenue Pub, a quintessential neighborhood bar-and-grill joint toward the northeast end of downtown’s Massachusetts Avenue arts-and-retail corridor. In recent months, it also has become one of the last bastions for smokers on the Avenue, after several of the remaining taverns along the street banned butts in advance of the Super Bowl.
The influx of puffers only solidified the owners’ somewhat reluctant position as smoker-friendly. With as much as 65 percent of the pub’s clientele opting to light up, co-owner Tracy Robertson felt she couldn’t take the chance of alienating such a big population until all the bars in the city had to follow the same rules.
“I felt like I would be sacrificing my livelihood," Robertson said. "I couldn’t guarantee that the numbers would get better.
“Now that all bars and restaurants have to be nonsmoking, I think we’ll see an initial drop in business, but I think it will rebound and we may even see better numbers.”
At 6 a.m. on Friday, June 1, the city’s most restrictive smoking ban yet will go into effect, expanding existing citywide restrictions against indoor public smoking to include bowling alleys, hotel rooms and most bars.
With the playing field leveled, Robertson is relieved to be able to offer a smoke-free atmosphere. “I’m a nonsmoker, and it does bother me to go home and smell like an ashtray,” she said. “And it’s hard to watch people walk in and then walk right out of your business because of the atmosphere.”
The transition will entail more than just tossing out the ashtrays that dot each table in the 49-seat pub. In the video at top, Robertson discusses plans to give the restaurant a deep cleaning after the ban goes into effect. She also details the savings the pub will reap from no longer needing to maintain an air-purification system.
For the most part, Robertson and business partner Alan Woodrum want the pub to keep the same low-key, come-as-you-are vibe that endeared it to downtown neighborhood denizens when it opened in December 2001. After all, it survived a two-year hiatus in the mid-2000s after a major infrastructure collapse.
On Jan. 25, 2005, the back end of the pub fell into the excavation pit for a neighboring condominium project. Thus began two years of wrangling with lawyers, accountants and insurance companies as the pub’s landlord tried to scrape together the funds to rebuild, and Robertson and Woodrum held tight to the belief that they needed to stay in the same location.
“I didn’t feel like I could move my business even within the confines of Mass Ave and have the same character, have the same great product, the same feel, and cater to the same neighborhoods,” Robertson said.
In the video below, Robertson discusses the origins of the pub–originally named 745 Bar & Grill, after a predecessor in the same location–and then details the near-tragic events of Jan. 25, 2005. Since reopening on Feb. 7, 2007, the pub has maintained annual gross sales of about $500,000, Robertson said. Her income is based primarily on a salary that counts as an expense on the balance sheet. Profits for the most part are invested back into the pub.