Last year, queer Portland chef Jenny Nguyen opened The Sports Bra, the country’s first-ever sports bar to exclusively play women’s sports on its televisions. She had always been obsessed with women’s sports, but she wasn’t sure if enough others felt strongly enough about them to make the venture a success.
It turns out, though, the demand was off the charts. Nguyen has already turned a profit, and in the bar’s first eight months, it has raked in $944,000 in revenue.
“It turns out, it’s pretty universal — that feeling of being a women’s sports fan and going into a public place, like a sports bar, and having a difficult time finding a place to show a [women’s] game, especially when there are other men’s sports playing,” Nguyen told CNBC.
She said she spent her entire life savings to open the bar despite normally being “cautious” and “risk averse.” It was that important to her to ensure women’s sports could center stage.
“Me, personally, I thought the idea was brilliant and that [it was] what the world needs. But I had no idea that the world would want it. I just wanted to give it a shot.”
These days, the bar always draws a crowd and has even been visited by basketball stars like Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who came for a Buick-sponsored event to celebrate women’s sports.
In addition to savings, Nguyen launched the Sports Bra using loans from family and friends as well as funds raised from a Kickstarter campaign that went better than she could have imagined. She set out to raise $48,000 and, in 30 days, had raked in $105,000.
“At that moment,” she said, “when I was looking at that Kickstarter graph, I thought to myself, ‘This might work.”‘
Nguyen is also dedicated to sourcing as much as possible from female producers and craftswomen – from beer and spirits to beef and carpentry. The furniture, for example, was provided by a nonprofit called Girls Build, which teaches girls construction.
In a video tour of the bar with CNBC, Nguyen explained that all of its beers are “owned, operated, or made with women in the brewhouse.” She added that all five of the wineries she works with are women-owned.
“We do sports but we also are about promoting women on and off the field.”
Nguyen is now advising others across the country seeking to create similar establishments (one has already opened in Seattle), which is in keeping with the vision she had all along.
She told Eater last year, “I got to thinking about how the bra could be more than just a place to view women’s sports. It gives people a space to be together and celebrate. It started with the viewing, and then it expanded to how that could grow into a larger movement.”