Extending your hand to receive the sturdy handshake of Mark Berzins, the “Lead Dog” (reads his business card) of the Little Pub Company, racing through your mind is, “Where have I met this guy before?” Berzins is like that, he’s got that friendly expression, that greeting, that look that you must have grown up with him.
Berzins came to this business through a surprising route: pre-med at Stanford. “I was offered a scholarship to Stanford through football, but ended up playing rugby. “I wanted to be a doctor to help people.” After two years, he realized that wasn’t his calling and knew that majoring in Economics would be the best move to go into business.
If you attended Douglas County High School in years past you just might recognize him, but everyone feels as if they know him; this Colorado guy is one of those rare people that knows how to make everyone feel comfortable and at ease. Just ask any of his employees of the nineteen different pubs that he leads throughout the metro Denver area. Back in the beginning at Firehouse Bar & Grill, which they have since sold, “it was a big restaurant operation,” said Berzins. “What I noticed was that everyone wanted to be a bartender. (The traditional restaurant management plan) built discontent. People resented having to tip out or having a lesser position. I figured if everyone wanted to be the bartender then make everyone the bartender. If you’re worried about employee being trustworthy, trust everyone!” So, the dye was cast when they opened Spot Bar & Grill, the first of the Little Pub Company stores, where every employee is everything to every guest.
What a concept! Speaking to one of the ‘everything people,’ Amanda, who greeted me warmly at the Irish Hound, Berzins and she explained that with the exception of the cook, every employee is a bartender/waitperson/busperson/what-else-can-we-do-for-you-person. All the tips are “thrown into the same bucket” and distributed on a prorated basis, making everyone feel great about what they do. Additionally, “we don’t have seating segregation; everyone seats themselves,” said Berzins. Visit one of these nineteen establishments and you can’t help but feel at home.
If you are wondering just which pubs are part of the Little Pub Company, you’ll have to figure that out on your own. “We’re under the radar,” Mark explained. “Our competitors often are strongly branded and they get their name out there. We place zero value on that. I think neighborhood bars are timeless; you can’t say that quality service and value are in a name.”
Little Pub Company keeps their umbrella name to themselves while making neighborhood watering holes a true part of every neighborhood. Berzins and the rest of the crew don’t take their success for granted, nor keep it for themselves. Before building a pub in a neighborhood that lacks a place where the local community can gather for a refreshing drink, good meal and even a game of pool, they visit with the community and work with them so that everyone is happy to have them as new neighbors. Then after promoting the dedicated people that already care about the local community and work within Little Pub Company, they seek to hire others that live in the neighborhood. And finally, the really good stuff, together with their employees, Berzins works with vendors to follow Little Pub Company’s lead in giving generously to charitable organizations and causes.
“We only do business with companies that support our causes. When I discuss doing business with them,” Berzins said, “I tell them that I will call them to donate to groups we support, and are they willing to do this.” This includes those that supply Little Pub Company with insurance, liquor, beer, food and every other vendor with whom they deal. “It makes a huge difference, if more businesses would hold vendors to a higher standard.”
“We don’t advertise,” Berzins explained, “instead we take the money that would normally go to advertising costs and give it to chosen charities. We contribute profits into the Denver Foundation donor advised fund under Little Pub Company fund. Then it can be distributed responsibly and without our needing to hire someone to do that work for us.” Berzins enthusiastically told of the impact generous giving has on the company, employees and communities throughout the Metro Denver area, “It’s been great, employees take pride, customers feel good that through our local establishments they are being good community citizens and the Little Pub Company knows we’re doing the right thing.”
Berzins encourages employees to come up with their own ideas for giving. “For instance, the manager at the College Inn, which they have restored to its original, historic condition, decided to create a pub crawl to raise funds for cancer research. The manager at Don’s Club Tavern asked his crew if they were willing to donate a percentage of their tips that would be matched by Little Pub Company to organizations that are caring for displaced animals from the Boulder fires.
The “Lead Dog” of Little Pub Company hasn’t let the success of nineteen establishments pull him off track. He recognized the dangers of working in this industry, but has been careful to not fall into the party-mode. Berzins knows his priority in life, it is called his family.
He often mentioned his wife, an architect who has been willing to put her career on hold to be the ‘lead dog’ at home, with their four active children and their extremely active fifth child…a four-legged kid named “Axel.” Putting family first, including working with his brother, volunteering to rake leaves for seniors together as a family, and just being together in general is by far the focus of Berzins.
Get to know the Little Pub in your neighborhood!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I live perfect happiness: I have a beautiful wife and family, good health, great friends and a dream job. Not sure what else I could want!
What is your greatest fear?
Anything happening to my kids.
What is your proudest moment?
Becoming a father
What is your dream?
For each of my children to marry as well as I did
What do you admire in others?
Who is your hero?
What is your strongest trait?
I am incredibly loyal
What do you most admire in a person?
The courage to stand up for their beliefs
If you could meet anyone, alive or deceased, who would it be?
What is your most precious possession?
Possessions are really not important to me. I guess I should say my wedding ring, but even that is just a symbol. Truth be told, probably my poker table, since it's one of a kind!
What do you admire in your friends?
What is your greatest regret?
I don't believe in regret. Learn your lesson and move on to better things.
What is your motto?
You're only young once, but you can be immature forever
What kind of books do you enjoy?
I split most of my time between epic fantasy and historic fiction, but I'll read anything that comes highly recommended. I was most recently blown away by The Passage.
What do you do on your day off?
In my company, if you're awake, you're at work...but I do love to get out hiking or snowboarding with my family.
What is luxurious to you?
San Francisco with my wife
What is it about you that you think would surprise people?
I only drink on occasion...and I never drink & drive.