Hugh’s Room was a haven and a home for Toronto’s folk scene—a relaxed 270-person venue with a stage that’s welcomed too many first-rate acoustic songwriters and musicians to name.
In recent years, Toronto has been swept with a fast changing nightlife scene. Community staples have come and gone. When it was finally announced that Hugh’s Room was the latest music venue in Toronto to close, it hit the folk community hard.
Although that it was brought back as Hugh’s Room Live has received some media coverage, a local CPAs large role in its reopening is a far less known. This is the story of how Brian Litvin, a CPA, helped save a beloved Toronto Jazz Bar.
Within about a week after the venue announced it was closing, Brian Iler (a lawyer connected to the Hugh’s Room scene) pushed an email newsletter out to spearhead a meeting to save the venue. The gathering was small, but the skillset was vast. It included one or two Hugh’s Room employees, a music promoter, a lawyer, and Brian Litvin, a CPA who also writes songs and plays guitar.
“Everyone there had some connection or affiliation to Hugh’s Room” Litvin tells Luminari.
Everyone at the meeting came together under a single goal: to save Hugh’s Room. Perhaps there was a solution in reinventing the model while keeping the heart of the acoustic music dinner club.
Together, Litvin and Iler volunteered to make a business plan to see if the concept of a non-profit could work. This is where things became difficult. Litvin analyzed what financial information he had available. He quickly learned that the club’s liabilities exceeded any assets, which weren’t liquid. It was a big problem. Hugh’s Room was insolvent.
More, the club’s books barely existed. They gathered what financial data they could from the owner, Richard Carson, but there were no proper books to analyze. Litvin took what scraps of information he could, mostly from the past two years of sales from tickets, and from the bar and restaurant—which really fronts the music operation. Making the most out of the fragments was tough.
The philosophy for Hugh’s Room was always about paying the musicians as much as they could. To put it lightly, Hugh’s Room was driven by music and community, not profit.
Unfortunately for Hugh’s Room this meant that the books were neglected. Ultimately, a financial reckoning took place.
The group, lead by the efforts of Litvin, the accountant, and Iler, the lawyer, decided the solution was to set up a brand new legal entity. With the books finally in order and the financials pieced together, Hugh’s Room Live was born. Now a non-profit with the same essence of the original venue but important changes behind the scenes. The owner and artistic director are now different, but the vital concept of an acoustic dinner club remains. Brian Litvin and Iler were far from the only people who helped get Hugh’s Room Live up and running. There were musicians, fans, employees and others who contributed their time, expertise and even money. But it just goes to show the power of the CPA community. They are far from just number crunchers. CPAs can be a strategic force, ready to step into any business and make a difference.
It would be fitting for chartered accountants like Brian and everybody who helped save the venue played a gig together at Hugh’s Room Live. It’d be fitting.
It may just be the best acoustic music you’ll ever hear any CPA play.