Rubin: A $3,000 tab – and bar owner wanted to pay it

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Calvin Johnson’s fumble Monday night in Seattle saved Steve Mallie $3,000.

Honest, Mallie says: He’d have rather spent the money.

First off, the owner of Mallie’s Sports Grill & Bar in Southgate is a fan. He wants the Detroit Lions to win, not give away the game in the last two minutes.

More important, he’s a promoter. His restaurant, at the corner of Northline and Allen roads, has lasted 10 years in a precarious business, and it’s because he never stops dreaming, laughing and hustling.

His tools over the years have included junkyard cars, 338-pound hamburgers and a two-headed turtle, and he’s amazed when other operators just retreat into their shells.

Vanilla is a flavor, not a business model. “If you don’t have new furniture,” he says, “move it around.”

For the Lions’ tussle with the Seahawks, he made a simple offer. If Detroit won, he would pick up the tab for everyone still in the building at the end of the game.

Diehards, fair-weathers, opportunists, even the guy at the bar who kept buying $30 shots of Ciroc vodka for his friends and ran up a $700 bill. All free. Mallie’s treat ...

Except Detroit lost, again.

Mallie won, sort of. Business had been faltering for Lions games. Buoyed by mentions in The Detroit News and on a few radio stations Monday, he filled all 280 of his seats.

But imagine if the Lions had won instead of duffing their way to an 0-4 start. That $3,000, which is only $1,500 at his cost anyway, “would probably have gotten me $30,000 in free publicity.”

Now it’s on to the next promotion, which will be very much like the last one. The Lions have to win eventually — and Mallie has to put rumps in seats.

Creating lifetime memories

“It’s hard being different,” says Mallie, 47, and hard being small.

The big chains have advertising budgets and entire departments devoted to promotion, not that they’ve ever built a world-record 338-pound burger or landed themselves on the Food Network and the Travel Channel for it.

He can’t let himself relax, or won’t. The ideas keep churning; he was on his sofa in Trenton on Sunday night when the Lions inspiration hit.

At least a dozen times a week, a Mallie’s customer orders the 10-pound, $39.99 Monster Burger, either to share or to try to win $100 and a T-shirt by knocking it back in two hours. No one has mastered the Hellfire Hat Trick, finishing six wings, a burger and a bowl of chili, all ludicrously hot, in 30 minutes.

Mallie has the local welders’ union working on the framework for a 3,000-pound burger so massive it will need to be cooked outside.

It all harkens to long-ago birthdays at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour, where Mallie would stand on his chair and get saluted by the waitstaff for finishing a double banana split called a Pig’s Trough.

“I want to make lifetime memories,” he says. Maybe you don’t attempt a 10-pounder yourself, but you sure as heck take photos as it’s carried past your table.

Just stay til the end...

Ergo: the junk cars, bashable with sledgehammers out of frustration when Lions couldn’t sell out their home games and weren’t on TV.

And the two-headed turtle, purchased online for $800; it survived for two years and now reposes in a jar in Mallie’s office. He keeps a tank of small turtles in a display cabinet beneath a signed O.J. Simpson football, the better to keep children occupied while their parents eat.

And so on. Tuesdays from 4-9 p.m., kids get a free 6-inch cookie to decorate with frosting, sprinkles and every other form of sugar rush.

At an indoor water park resort with his three kids, “I watched ‘em line up for that,” he says. “Adults and kids both, going crazy for a free cookie.”

Make it fun. Make it resonate.

“It’s the best part of my job,” he says — a shade more glamorous than sweating in the kitchen and going home smelling like onions.

The Lions play Arizona at Ford Field on Sunday. It’s the same deal as last game, he says, and it will be until they win.

Check in with him by the end of the first quarter, stay till the end, and a victory means no charge. After that, the same rules apply, and any win will be worth a 50-percent discount.

Hey, it’s a good time. And he’s betting you’ll be back.