Mark Sellers, Founder/Owner
Mark is the founder and owner of BarFly Ventures, which operates the HopCat restaurant family along with Stella’s Lounge, Grand Rapids Brewing Company and the Waldron Public House in Grand Rapids. Following a successful career as a hedge-fund manager (and notably less successful career as a musician), Sellers returned to his hometown in 2007 and opened the first HopCat in the city’s blooming downtown Arena District. His HopCat vision has expanded to 14 locations (and counting) in the Midwest and beyond.
Mark is a graduate of East Kentwood High School. He attended Berklee School of Music in Boston and earned a BA in accounting from Michigan State University and an MBA in finance from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. His favorite beer is Short’s Humu-Lupa-Licious.
Mark Gray, CEO
Mark joined BarFly as COO in 2014 and became CEO two years later. His career of more than 20 years in the restaurant business started after he attended culinary school at the Art Institute of Atlanta and began working in kitchens in the 1990s. Mark soon stepped into a management role with On the Border, then transferred to Chili’s, where he was a general manager and managing partner for five years. He later joined the Yard House family of restaurants and bars and spent nine years in a variety of management roles, including director of operations. Mark has opened more than 25 restaurants and is guiding HopCat’s ongoing expansion.
He splits his time between Grand Rapids and Florida -- where HopCat is planning a new location in his hometown of Port St. Lucie. Mark has been married for 18 years and has three kids, as well as the nicest yard on his block. Mark’s guilty pleasure is Huey Lewis and the News. (Editor's note: That's nothing to feel guilty about!) His favorite beer is the HopCat Red Nymph.
Brian Brennan, VP of Operations
As a veteran of both the restaurant industry and the U.S. Marine Corps., Brian moved more than 30 times around the country and world before landing at BarFly in 2014. He’s recently planted roots by buying his first home and marrying a native Michigander.
Brian began working at restaurants as a teenager, bussing tables and washing dishes, and he eventually became a general manager with Yard House and Darden. He says the experience of working his way up through the ranks of the industry drives him to lead our operators and their teams here at BarFly.
When Brian’s not working, you can find him and his wife, Dani, at the lakeshore or on a hike, taking in as much of Michigan’s natural beauty as they can.
Allison Cestari, VP of Training & Development
Allison’s career at BarFly began in 2010, when she was hired as a server at the original HopCat in Grand Rapids – after submitting at least a dozen resumes. (“No one will ever accuse me of lacking ambition.") She climbed the rungs, holding positions such as bartender, lead trainer and manager, and became Associate General Manager in 2012.
When HopCat began its expansion to other markets in 2014, she was named Training Manager for all of BarFly, and later was promoted to Director of Training & Development. In 2017, Allison became Head HopKitten – a.k.a. VP of Training & Development. She is dedicated to BarFly’s mission of creating a welcoming, inclusive and supportive environment for all current and future employees.
Allison was a student of behavioral science and philosophy. She lives in the metro Detroit area with her husband and two young daughters. She describes herself as a sucker for deep-fried pickles, but also admits to an intense sweet tooth. She likes her beer and coffee the same way: dark and gritty. Odd Side Ales’ Mayan Mocha (bourbon barrel-aged) is among her favorite beers, but the Duchesse de Bourgogne will always have her heart.
Steve Cestari, Director of Talent Acquisition
Steve is a lifelong food-service professional who got his first taste of the business while making pizzas in New Jersey, where he grew up. He did every job possible in a restaurant – dishwasher, line cook, barback, bartender – before joining Yard House in 2008 and making the leap to management. He participated in two high-volume openings in Boston and New York and came to BarFly in 2014, in time to oversee HopCat’s first steps outside of Michigan.
Steve is happily married, and when he’s not working, he’s either chasing around his two daughters or training for his next triathlon. His favorite beer is any bourbon barrel-aged stout, especially KBS from Founders.
Chris Knape, VP of Marketing & Communications
Chris came to BarFly in 2014 after nearly 20 years in journalism and public relations. His 17-year career as a journalist included two years as business editor at the Grand Rapids Press. He left the newspaper industry in 2011 for a position as an account executive with SeyferthPR. Meanwhile, he worked as an outside marketing counsel for BarFly and participated in a campaign for HopCat East Lansing’s opening that was honored by the Public Relations Society of America.
Born and raised on the east side of Michigan, Chris is a graduate of Western Michigan University. He maintains robust Atari and ColecoVision collections, but doesn’t get much time to play. Chris aspires to own a Tesla, but is content with his Chevy Volt. His favorite beers are the Grand Rapids Brewing Company’s Flow and Bell’s Amber Ale.
Kevin Kozak, VP of Development & Construction
Kevin is a native Grand Rapidian, born and raised on the West Side. He joined BarFly in 2015 after more than 20 years of experience in the construction business, with an emphasis on retail and restaurant development around the country. He previously worked as a project manager for firms such as Wolverine Building Group and Houseman Construction Company and has been involved with more than 70 restaurant projects from ground-up construction, interior build-outs, conversions and brand transformations.
He’s married with three daughters and spends as much time outdoors near water as possible. Kevin’s favorite beer is Bell’s Two Hearted.
Ellen Winterburn, VP of Human Resources
Ellen is a human-resources veteran with two decades of experience as a leader in various industries. She joined BarFly in 2014 after five years as HR director for the advertising agency DO MORE GOOD and digital marketing firm MINDSCAPE. During her time guiding BarFly’s HR department, the company has expanded from five locations and 350 employees to 17 locations and 1,500 employees. As the company expands, Ellen works to maintain a “keep BarFly weird” philosophy while growing a smart, efficient workplace full of “people doing people things.”
A proud cheesehead from Waukesha, Wisconsin, Ellen earned a BS in mass communications from the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse, a Masters of Public Administration degree from Grand Valley State University and a professional certification from the Society for Human Resource Management. She has also taught marketing, human resources and management at Davenport University since 2000.
Ellen is the mother of two young adult sons and a newcomer to marathon running and podcast binging. She doesn’t have a favorite beer, but loves a good hefeweizen or sour.