- Matthew Thorsen
- Olde Northender Pub
Bob Beauvais operates his nonprofit from behind the bar of the Olde Northender Pub, his dimly lit neighborhood watering hole on lower North Street in Burlington.
The 501c3, called Old North End Charities, is the entity through which Beauvais collects and distributes proceeds from the break-open tickets sold at his tavern.
- Photo Illustration: Don Eggert
Most bars that offer the $1 or $2 tickets do so as agents of an area nonprofit such as a local foundation or sports boosters group. But Beauvais puts the cash earned from the tickets into the not-for-profit he founded and runs.
Old North End Charities divvies up the money between a dozen area and national nonprofits, Beauvais said one Thursday morning as three customers sipped beers and watched golf on flat-screen TVs overhead. He listed some of them: Special Olympics Vermont, a wounded veterans association, a war vets assistance group, a program for junior golfers, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the American Cancer Society and Smile Train.
"We're inundated with requests for money," Beauvais said.
But Sue Minter, president and CEO of Special Olympics Vermont, said she was not able to find Beauvais or Old North End Charities in her organization's donor database.
Beauvais said he founded his charity in 2008 to keep the break-open proceeds separate from those of his for-profit pub. He said that other bar owners have been known to pocket the ticket sale money; by creating Old North End Charities, he aimed to make the accounting more transparent, "for the legalities of the thing."
Bartender Doug Jewett is one of the charity's three board members, according to Internal Revenue Service filings, but he said he couldn't explain how the organization works, where the money goes or how Beauvais selects the nonprofit recipients.
"We don't meet as a board," Jewett said last week. "I just work a couple days a week and then go home." He said he does sell break-open tickets to customers and occasionally gets a tip after a payout. He added, "There aren't that many winners."
Last year, Old North End Charities netted $45,505 and gave away $31,385, according to its 2017 IRS filings. The group reported spending more than $3,000 to buy the tickets, as well as an additional $2,700 in unspecified other expenses.
Beauvais hasn't always distributed the money expeditiously. Between 2013 and 2017, the pub's nonprofit arm made more than $155,000 from selling the tickets. At the end of last year, it had about $112,000 in its coffers. Beauvais said that he now has about "$70,000 or $80,000" on hand but didn't explain why it hadn't been transferred to other nonprofits.
He originally planned to use the money to finance drug rehab treatment for recovering addicts, he said. About seven years ago, he said, he paid $20,000 for a local addict to attend Narconon, a rehabilitation center in California affiliated with the church of Scientology. He wouldn't identify the person.
Beauvais said he hasn't been able to find any suitable rehab candidates since. Instead, the money he's given away has gone to other nonprofits.
Gary Kessler, deputy commissioner of the Department of Liquor Control, said he'd never heard of a bar creating its own nonprofit and was concerned that such an arrangement could allow an owner to funnel the money back into his own pocket. He noted that Beauvais has not filed a required Schedule O tax form that specifies which charities received money and how much.
"This is potentially a worst-case scenario," he said.
Beauvais may mean well, Kessler allowed, but what his pub is doing is exactly why Kessler advocated for stricter regulation of break-open tickets in 2017. Lawmakers didn't enact any new controls that would affect this particular situation.
Back at the Olde Northender, Beauvais offered only brusque answers to a reporter's questions. As she headed out the door he offered a final admonition: "Don't call us a dive bar."
"We don't even have a pool," a middle-aged drinker chimed in, to the delight of his barstool buddies.