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INSIDE DISH: Smokers' haven prepares for ban

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Inside Dish

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.



 

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Mass Avenue Pub
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745 Massachusetts Ave.
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(317) 974-0745
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www.massavepub.com
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Concept: Quintessential low-key, come-as-your-are neighborhood pub.
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Founded: December 2001, taking the name of its predecessor in the space, 745 Bar & Grill. After the business was forced to close for two years in the mid-2000s due to a structural collapse, it reopened as Mass Avenue Pub on Feb. 7, 2007.
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Owners: Alan Woodrum and Tracy Robertson
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Startup costs: $85,000 ($40,000 to reopen the business after the building was reconstructed in 2007)
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Gross sales: $500,000 (2011)
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Seating: 49
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Employees: 13
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Goals: Deep-clean the restaurant after the June 1 smoking ban for bars goes into effect, and make some subtle updates to the decor while maintaining the homey atmosphere.
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Good to know: Robertson is married to Stuart Robertson, owner of MacNivens Restaurant & Bar at 339 Massachusetts Ave. Neither has an ownership interest in the other's venue. "We are both very strong personalities, and we run our businesses separately and differently," Tracy said. "It's best that we don't work together, because I really do want to stay married."
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  • Love this bar!
    I love this bar, the lunch specials and the people who work there! When it goes smoke free....I'll love it even more!
  • Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
    Kudos to them for going "cold turkey" and not trying to find ways to complain or, worse, evade the ban that most of us realize is worth the effort for general health.

    Now it's up to the rest of us to help out by going in and having a drink at the least. Studies in other areas reveal a slight drop in business at the start of smoking bans, but a rise shortly afterwards as the 75% of us who don't smoke realize they can go have a good time and breath clean air.

    Good luck and cheers.
  • Can't Wait
    My wife and I can't wait to hit bars like the Mass Ave pub and sit at the bar at other bars. I believe you will see, these bars' business will pick up. Just like other states, the non-smokers and smokers will patronize; the smokers will just smoke outside.
  • Me Too
    I go out for drinks a couple times a week on Mass Ave. A good amount of my friends either smoke or don't mind it, and they like Mass Ave Pub. I won't go there anymore, period, so we go somewhere else that is smoke free. 6 years ago I loved the Pub, and can't wait to fall in love all over again! Be there the first week of June.
  • You'll get our business
    Actually, a few friends and I were talking and Mass Ave Pub is one of the bars we're most excited about going non-smoking as we've mostly avoided it because it was smoking.

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