Bar puts lid on annual chili cook-off
Citing “excessive regulations” and fees, a downtown bar owner has canceled his longtime annual charity fundraiser.
Dan Verhil — owner of The Cottage Bar & Restaurant at 18 La Grave Ave. SE in downtown Grand Rapids — said Tuesday his establishment will not host the Cottage Bar Chili Cook-Off this September as planned.
The event was held for 36 years and generated “more than $400,000” for local charities, Verhil said.
Past beneficiaries included Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids, the American Red Cross and the National Kidney Foundation.
“For most of the years, the city was cooperative and the fees reasonable, but the past two to three years, the fees, requirements, inspections and review boards have gotten ridiculous, and there is no money left to benefit a charity, which was the whole point of the event,” Verhil said.
“Last year, I paid over $2,600 in fees to city, county and state to stage the event and only raised $1,000 to the charity after all was paid for.”
Verhil said the county fee was for a health department license, and the state fee was for licensing the sale of alcohol outdoors.
Evette Pittman, city of Grand Rapids special events supervisor, said Verhil’s fees are the same as what other street parties, downtown events and festivals would pay the city: a permit fee, a road closing fee, a fee for hooding the parking meters and an inspection fee.
“We want to make sure people are safe and have fun,” she said.
Pittman also noted due to a “restructuring” last year, Verhil’s fees for this year were set to decrease by a third, to a total of $575.
“The special event fees cover costs and don’t generate revenue for the city,” Pittman said. “We have 40 new events coming to the city of Grand Rapids, and everyone goes through the same process to obtain a permit.”
Verhil said the city “never gave him a reason” why the fees and “excessive regulations” were in place.
Pittman said the city plans to reach out to Verhil to ensure the event can go forward in the future.
“The city is excited to work with event planners to make sure these events happen,” she said. “We want to be a vibrant city.”
Founded as a sandwich shop in 1927 by Earl and Marie Coons, The Cottage Bar & Restaurant says it is “the oldest bar in downtown Grand Rapids” and was the first to get a liquor license after Prohibition ended on Dec. 5, 1933.
The establishment has been in business 91 years, and 2018 is its 51st year of ownership by the Verhil family.