Sammy Hagar Rocks with Heart

Longtime Marinite and the lead singer of Van Halen used his restaurant success to fuel his philanthropic pursuits.
Sammy Hagar and his wife Kari. Photo by Leah Steiger.

Sammy Hagar and his wife, Kari, started the Hagar Family Foundation after selling 80 percent of his tequila and restaurants brand, Cabo Wabo, for $80 million in 2007. Hagar owns Caba Wabo Cantina, Sammy’s Beach Bar and Grill and Sammy’s Red Rocker Bar and Grill, and he still earns money performing live. All of these ventures fuel the foundation’s activities, ensuring it continues to make an impact.

Hagar and his wife believe in keeping their support local and are determined to have every dollar make a significant difference. “We look for things that are grassroots, so we know that when we give a dollar to somebody, it goes right into their pocket,” he says. “Children and families in need are our priorities.” The couple donates to food banks in every community where Hagar performs. “Most provide at least three meals for every donated dollar,” he says. “We love those numbers.”

As the youngest of four children raised by a single mother, Hagar grew up with holiday hams and turkeys from food banks, so his philanthropy efforts are personal. As often as possible, he meets with families and staffs of the food banks he helps support. “You shouldn’t just write a check,” he says, but give love, time and connection too. “Love is a weird thing. You feel it when you give it. But it doesn’t work when you’re giving just to get love.”

When a friend of Hagar’s was diagnosed with a brain tumor, he started contributing to the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, where groundbreaking research is helping to reduce trauma and mortality rates for babies born with brain tumors. His foundation has donated $100,000 to underwrite the cost of two research assistants.

But Hagar soon realized he could do even more to support causes by doing what he loves — playing music. So he launched the annual Acoustic-4-A-Cure concert at the Fillmore in 2014, underwriting all expenses. The concert sells out in minutes every year, with 100 percent of ticket sales going to further the foundation’s work. As more fun is had, money is raised: that’s strategic giving.

One of Hagar’s guiding principles is “start in your own backyard.” To that end, the Hagars give generously throughout the Bay Area to concerns including the UCSF Foundation, Kiddo!, Home Away from Homelessness, Homeward Bound of Marin, Marin County Parks, Old Mill School PTA, The Second Opinion, Little Kids Rock, A Touch of Understanding Inc., Throckmorton Theatre, Mill Valley Association of Volunteer Firefighters, Mill Valley Library Foundation, Mill Valley Philharmonic and the John Muir Health Foundation.

Hagar’s giving exudes the meaning of the word philanthropy: “love of humanity.” Hopefully, his example inspires others too.


Susan Noyes

Susan B. Noyes is the Founder & Chief Visionary Officer of Make It Better Media Group, as well as the Founder of Make It Better Foundation’s Philanthropy Awards. A mother of six, former Sidley Austin labor lawyer and U.S. Congressional Aide, passionate philanthropist, and intuitive connector, she has served on boards for the Poetry FoundationHarvard University Graduate School of Education Visiting Committee, American Red CrossLurie Children’s HospitalAnnenberg ChallengeChicago Public Education FundLyric Opera of ChicagoChicago Symphony OrchestraNew Trier High School District 203, and her beloved Kenilworth Union Church. But most of all, she enjoys writing and serving others by creating virtuous circles that amplify social impact.

Categories: People, Philanthropy