February 27, 2012
Nice guys sometimes finish first. Just ask Freddy Shelley.
Shelley is the brains and heart behind Tabu Lounge & Sports Bar, located in the Gayborhood section of Philadelphia. In an innovative twist on the typical business model, Tabu eschews traditional advertising and instead allocates a majority of that budget on philanthropy within the community. Since opening nearly two years ago, Tabu has donated significant dollars by way of spearheading over 100 fundraisers for Philadelphia's non-profit organizations.
Shelley, 38, credits his upbringing for such a passion for giving back: "I was brought up with the message that everyone gives what they can to the people around them. It was instilled in me to be independent and still know that everyone is interdependent. Everything you give comes back to you in some way."
Over fifty organizations, most of which have a local presence in Philadelphia, have benefited from Tabu’s involvement with many varied segments of the community. More importantly, their customers aren't feeling the pinch.
"Our main concern was turning off people who don’t constantly want a message in their face," Shelley declares. "By making sure that a percentage of what everyone purchases go toward a particular organization, we created a way to do good without being so in-your-face about it. It also doesn’t hurt that our prices are affordable."
This approach has proven to be a winning formula felt throughout the city. "Tabu has always been there for us, and has enabled us to reach a crowd that might otherwise not know about our organization," says Rich Rubin, Producing Artistic Director of Quince Productions. "As bars in Philadelphia go, I've found Tabu hands down the most helpful, generous, and supportive."
Although the staff at Tabu are visibly proud of what they’ve been able to achieve in such a short time, Shelley credits the neighborhood for the success.
"The chalkboard on our back wall pretty much sums up why we’re still here almost two years later," Shelley declares. "It says, ‘whoever you are, you belong here.’ It’s an idea the people in our neighborhood fully support – an idea, I think, that’s long overdue."
Located in the Midtown Village neighborhood, known to locals as the "Gayborhood," Tabu Lounge and Sports Bar caters to an eclectic set of sports fans – straight, gay, black, white, male, female, metro, hipster. On one floor, there are diehard sports fans cheering on the Phillies while the upstairs lounge hosts fundraising events and a variety of performance, from comedians and songwriters to fashion shows and drag queens.
When asked about how Tabu will evolve moving forward, Shelley appears confident.
"I’ve always had the opinion that the success of any business stems from the relationships you’re able to make. It’s not about who can sell something the cheapest or what place has the coolest scene. It’s about your ability to connect. I’m glad we’ve been able to do that, and I’m excited about how much more we’ll be able to do for our city."