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HopCat Sets Standard of Excellence in Food, Brew and Eco Footprint

By Daniel A. Washington

The name HopCat may be new to some, but is revered by many in the Detroit region because of each location’s uniqueness and uncompromising quality. Founder and owner Mark Sellers, would have it no other way as he prides himself on his business approach and dedication to localism as his food and pub chain continues its rapid growth.

The Detroit Regional Chamber caught up with Sellers to talk about his keys to creating a local business success in HopCat, a woodwork-filled brew pub with a massive beer list that offers creative brunch and comfort food.

Read the Q&A with Chamber member HopCat founder and register for the Inside the CEO Mind on Aug. 16 at the Midtown location.

Q. What all went into the ideation of “HopCat”?

A. I came up with the name HopCat based off of my love for jazz music and beer. In jazz if you are a cool cat you are hepcat, and beer has hops in it, so we called it HopCat.

I wanted a lot of craft beer and I didn’t want there to be any Bud, Miller or Coors, just craft beer from small breweries, so that is what we did. I didn’t want the employees to wear uniforms. People in most places make their employees wear an outfit, I just wanted them to be themselves. I wanted a lot of local art work and music related artwork because I love music. I wanted the food to be comfort food that goes well with beer.

Q. What do you think has helped HopCat become such a success?

A. We didn’t really try to do anything by the book, we just crack friesdid what I thought I would want if I were the customer, I just thought about myself as a customer. It turned out to really resonate with people, because it is different than other places. The artwork is different, the music is different, the craft beer thing was different, at that time especially. Then we had this dish called crack fries, which are seasoned French fries, that people seemed to really love almost immediately.

Q. What led you to opening a location in Detroit?

A. I started looking at opening a location in Detroit at least two years before we ended up opening it in 2014. We really wanted to be a part of the renaissance in Detroit. I could see that it was starting to go in the right direction and I wanted to be here early before the resurgence in interest.

We found the location on the corner of Woodward and Canfield, after looking at maybe 30 locations. I bought the building from the Michigan Land Bank and then we spent about $4 million to rehab it.

Q. Rumor has it that employees helped create a recycling program, that has been implemented at each location. Is it true?

A. When I started HopCat we weren’t recycling at first and a lot of the employees came to me and said, we couldSellersCropped be recycling this stuff. I just said to myself, yeah, I really want to develop a program to minimize waste. So, early on with the help of employees, we came up with this program where we would compost and recycle anything that we could and then whatever is left over we would dispose of in the landfill.

We had a couple people on staff who volunteered to help develop that program and led the training materials.

Over the years the training and program has gotten more and more sophisticated, so we have gotten better and better at it – at this point, about 35 percent goes to compost, 55 percent goes to recycling and 10 percent goes to the landfill.

Q. What can we expect next from the HopCat brand?

A. The next location we are opening is in Louisville, Kentucky on July 30. That is actually going to be our biggest location, it is 14,000-square-feet. Detroit is 12,000-square-feet by comparison, so it is even bigger than the Detroit location, so we are really excited about that.

Then Chicago is opening on Sept. 3 on Clark Street, which is a high volume, high traffic and is a north to south artery through the city.

Q. What is next for you as you have made a second career out of the food and brew industry?

A. I am going to keep doing this until it is no longer fun. And what is fun for me is designing each location to look different, that is what I really get excited about. Also, just being creative and coming up with new menu items which I am involved in and managing the bars’ music lists, which is constantly changing. As long as I can do that stuff and have other people run the bars for me, I am going to keep doing this.