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New charity-operated bar to open in Minot

November 26, 2018

MINOT, N.D. (AP) — When the former Blind Duck lounge re-opens under new ownership soon, it will be the second local bar to be operated for the benefit of a nonprofit charity.

A Minot Hockey Boosters subsidiary, Ice Time, holds the license to operate Aces, which will be a sports bar located in the Blind Duck building on Minot’s South Broadway. Hockey Boosters President Kevin Nelson said Ice Time is in the process of getting permits and remodeling to be able to open in a couple of weeks. The Minot City Council on Nov. 5 granted a liquor license transfer from the former Udder Place, owned by Gary Huber and HO Entertainment, to Ice Time.

Nelson said purchasing a bar to support a charitable operation is far from new in North Dakota.

It’s particularly not new for the North Dakota Association for the Disabled, which through its subsidiary HOPR, has been operating the Grain Hopper on Valley Street since September. NDAD also used for-profit subsidiaries to open a bar in Bismarck in 2001 and one in Grand Forks in 2015, the Minot Daily News reported.

The thought of a charity getting into the bar business tends to puzzle a public not used to the concept, said Don Santer, chief executive officer for NDAD. Not everyone is always keen on the idea, and in Grand Forks, some had questioned the legality.

But owning a bar can make sense for some charities that operate gaming, Santer explained. It resolves the competing interests that can exist between bar owners and gaming operators.

“We work a lot better if the two organizations work together, and it can actually benefit the bar and gaming at the same time,” he said. “From our perspective, it works well.”

Nelson said the Minot Hockey Boosters gaming that had taken place at the Blind Duck will remain at Aces. The Hockey Boosters have several gaming sites around Minot that also will remain. Gaming has been a major subsidy to the hockey program, contributing about $225,000 this year, Nelson said.

That’s money parents don’t have to pay to have their children in the program, he said.

“We have the lowest fees of any youth organization in the whole state and our kids get more ice time,” Nelson said.

The Hockey Boosters hope income from Aces will help keep down program fees to families and allow for expansion of facilities. Hockey Boosters contributed nearly $3 million from gaming funds to the $11 million construction of the Pepsi Rink at Maysa Arena, and having another source of revenue could enable Hockey Boosters to do more such projects, Nelson said, noting that more ice and greater opportunities for public skating benefit the entire community.

Nelson added Aces will be a good addition to the community too.

“We are going to have it fully remodeled into a new-styled bar for more people to enjoy,” he said.

Before purchasing the Grain Hopper, NDAD operated gaming there for more than 20 years. In buying the Grain Hopper, NDAD also purchased the right to the name. So although the name of the bar and the staff remain the same, there have been some minor changes inside, Santer said. A new ceiling and a reverse osmosis water filtering system to improve the taste of the products are the most noticeable changes, he said.

“There will be some changes coming down the road as we update the bar,” he said, adding that changes will be gradual to ensure regular customers remain comfortable with their bar.

Santer said bar ownership isn’t for every charity with gaming. The details of operating a bar can be complex, and a charity must be well developed to handle it. A bar operated hands-on by an owner generally is more successful than a bar run by a third-party operator, which is a challenge faced by charities and their subsidiaries, he said.

“It’s not the easiest thing to do. There’s a very, very tight margin,” Santer said. “There’s lots of pitfalls that you have to be ready for.”

Santer admits NDAD nursed a few bruises in the early years. NDAD got into the bar business “in desperation” after losing a gaming site, he said. NDAD determined having its own bar would free it from the volatility associated with gaming sites that come and go at the wishes of bar owners.

Because NDAD’s three alcohol operations in three cities are very different, profit expectations also vary, Santer said. NDAD’s operations range from a bar with a pizza oven to a full restaurant.

“But overall, the idea is that, yes, we make money on the bar side and we make money on the gaming side, but from my perspective, I look at it from a big picture perspective. It’s a symbiotic relationship that helps you to benefit both sides and eke out a little bit more,” Santer said.

He noted the charity bars pay all the same taxes as any other bar. The difference is where the profit goes.

“The owners, in this case, are using that money for their charities,” Santer said. “That’s what funds our services.”

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Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com

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