The Port Bar
Sean Sullivan has been an advocate for the LGBTQ community and the Oakland small business community for 15 years. He and his partner Richard Fuentes saw an opportunity to create a gathering place open seven days per week, specifically focused on serving LGBTQ people and Uptown. From that combination of passion and opportunity, The Port Bar was conceived.
Sean’s first bartending job was working for his mom’s wait staffing company where he learned the tricks of the trade on the job. Over the years, he used this experience to support himself. When the idea of The Port Bar first appeared, Sean’s experience gave them the foundation upon which to build.
To build their business plan, Sean and Richard consulting their community. Focus groups helped them understand what kind of bar/event space was needed, what elements would keep bringing their customers back, and what the space should look and feel like. As proud Oaklanders, they understood that residents have a connection to Oakland and deep respect for The Town’s industrial history, both of which are heavily featured elements of their business.
Sean and Richard worked with the Alameda County Small Business Development Center (SBDC), now hosted by Main Street Launch, to prepare for construction and for launching the business. “Deagon Williams [SBDC consultant] is a tremendous resource for bars and restaurants. She helped us with our financials, with our employee handbook, with best practices for hiring, and generally served as a resource for all the questions we had throughout the process of building our business,” says Sean.
Part of The Port Bar’s development was a construction project to build out their location at 2021 Broadway in Oakland’s Uptown District. “Our Main Street Launch loan helped us finish construction and also provided us with working capital so we can have money aside to support us as our business grows,” says Sean. “Beyond the money, the loan gave us a sense of focus. Scott [Lewis, Main Street Launch’s CFO] was with us the entire two-and-a-half years that it’s taken to make this happen.”
For entrepreneurs considering opening a bar in Oakland, Sean shares some advice: “Negotiate a good lease and plan financially for the unexpected. With money aside, we were able to weather delays that we faced in construction.”
Photo credit: Jeff Kaluzny