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Anatomy of a Rescue

Creating New Grub for a Houston Sports Hub

May 11, 2014 By: Kristen Santoro


The End Zone THE BAR

In 2005 former male stripper and body builder Justin Whitfield left the exotic dance scene and opened The End Zone Sports Bar and Grill. Justin loved dancing but he was presented with the opportunity to open The End Zone relatively reasonable price. Curious local sports fans came to check out the new spot and the business scored rave reviews. Back in its heyday, The End Zone was consistently breaking $100,000 a month.

As sole owner, Justin found himself stretched too thin to keep up with the flourishing business. Therefore, he brought in his friend of 15 year, Shawn Machado, also a former stripper and MMA fighter to be a co-owner of the bar.

Despite their long term friendship they didn’t see eye to eye on running the business. Justin believes that Shawn thinks it’s more about a popularity contest than running the bar and lets bartenders drink during shifts. Further aggravating the problem, the owner’s issues have trickled down to the staff. With all the fighting the bar is decaying and customers a fleeing from all the ciaos.

Katy, Texas sits 9 miles west of downtown Houston and is known for having a rich sports culture. This vast growing suburb is located with 20 miles of over 10 professional and college stadiums. Katy’s over 109,000 residents with and average median income of $54,000 are enthusiastic sports fans. The End Zone fails to catch this fertile crowd.

The stresses of the business have put the owners in a chokehold, ruined their friendship and the bar is near a knockout. If Justin and Sean can’t iron out their differences they stand to lose everything.

THE CHALLENGE

Every rookie that enters the bar business, and doesn’t know what to do, puts a TV on the wall and calls it a sports bar. That is a bar the shows sports. A sports bar connects you to the game and there is no connection in this bar.

There are 1,400 sports bars in America named The End Zone. Therefore, if you’re going to open a sports bar that’s probably one name that you might want to reconsider. Instead you should want to give the bar an original name that reflects culture of the target demographic.

There is nothing from the outside that draws you to the bar.  When you think of sports you think of cheering, energy and excitement but it looks like a mortuary. The doors look like they lead into an apartment building and the entire building blends in with the other business in the strip mall where it resides. It doesn’t pull your eye in any way to its entrance.

The interior of the space is even more of a disaster. The End Zone is a 4,200 square foot space featuring a u-shape bar, with 16 beers on tap, two service wells and an empty stage. There is no design, theme or flow to create interaction between the customers and the draft beer system is hidden from customer view; one of the most important elements of a sports bar. Their draft beer system is not regulated properly and is pouring sour beer.  Tap lines get stiff when they begin to break down creating bitterness in the beer. If you don’t have great beer in a sports environment then you have nothing.

The place is so dirty that you can hear the squeak and clinking of the bartenders sloshing thought the dirt, stale beer and bottle caps on the floor. Kiana, one of the bartenders, is drinking behind the bar. At one point she is so drink that she puts her foot up on the bar and can barely stand, falling all over the place. There is no excuse there should be no drinking on the job. They are responsible for their safety the guests safety and the money that is coming through the bar to support the business.

In the kitchen things don’t get much better. It’s a mess and violates a series of health code violations. Kevin the cook doesn’t use gloves when handling raw meat and continuously cross contaminates ingredients.  In addition, it’s blatantly obvious that the oil in the fryer hasn’t been changed in a month.

During Jon Taffer’s recon a male strip tease begins on the main stage, turning the bar into a strip club.  Imagine sitting in a sports bar watching the game and out of nowhere a man starts dancing around in his underwear.  When this happens at a bar and it is not the intent portrayed guest immediately feel awkward and leave.  Making sure to tell everyone they know how uncomfortable they were. By conducting unnecessary antics like this they are completely alienating their target clientele.

To make matters worse, in addition to the feud between Shawn and Justin, Stephanie, Shawn’s wife and bartender and Dana, Justin’s wife and bartender, also work at the bar. With all four of them working at the bar tension and friction has grown over conflicting ideas on what is best for the business.

The animosity has trickled down into the staff. Things get so bad on the night of the recon a female bartender and Stephanie get into a physical confrontation. This fight prompts a second physical confrontation between owners Justin and Shawn.  

Taffer decides that it is best to let these hotheads cool down and check back on the second day to see if he can save the bar.

Houston Sports HubTHE TURNAROUND

For the kitchen, Taffer bring in Culinary Expert Vic Vegas, known for his creative twists on traditional recipes his diverse culinary background is the perfect fit to tackle any lackluster menu. Taffer, also brings in Expert Mixologist, Kate Gerwin, known for her speed and accuracy she can take any bar staff and whip them into fighting shape.

Once the bar is clean, after the second time, Taffer determines that they can finally get to work in a safe environment.

Simple techniques are given in the kitchen to ensure consistency and keep costs in line.  Weighing and portioning out meat and other products prior to a shift will speed up production and avoid over use of products. Vegas also times the cook to help with time management skills. Vegas advise that they should always strive for 9 minute ticket times as an average, 12 minutes max.

In addition, Vegas conveys some simple methods to help speed productivity and consistency. Believe it or not there is a science when it comes to cooking things properly including a mozzarella sticks. Mozzarella sticks are designed to be frozen before they are fried. Thawing a mozzarella stick before it is fried results in the cheese oozing out from the inside making it hollow.

With issues in the kitchen being ironed out, Taffer implements a three hour menu. This allows for servers to encourage customers to order an extra food item towards the end of the game in order to keep them there and encourage them to order another drink. This type of menu should include unique twists on classic foods.  In order to fit their new concept they add grilled poblanos to a burger and create a signature dessert, Powder Puffs, to bring customers back time and again.  

Speed and efficiency is not about being really fast it’s about being smart in the kitchen and behind the bar.

Gerwin stresses the fact that the bartenders need to be using both hands when creating cocktails. A study conducted by Angus Winchester, a famous brand ambassador for Tanqueray, went all over the country and conducted speed and efficiency tests. The Study concluded that every bartender should average approximately 12 cents every second. That is what high-volume bartenders need to be generating in order to be successful. You can’t do that when you are only using one hand to bartend.   

A second technique that Gerwin stresses is to keep your head up. The more you look down the more you miss customers’ needs and wants in order to stay ahead. To help the bartenders get use to looking up she makes them balance a straw between their chest and chin forcing them to look up.  As a bartender you need to make sure that you formulate a plan and get your first and second line in order.  Therefore, you are making sure that the first person at the bar gets served first and so on and so forth.

In addition, the bar stations were reset in an organized manner allowing the bartenders to quickly make cocktails at every station because, now, they will know where things are.  

With staff training well underway, Taffer identifies the need to create an immersive sports bar the really replicates being in park or arena. In terms of food they need to add a twist to classic ballpark food and at the bar a balanced cocktail menu that appeals to both men and women. These elements along with communal elements and decorative theming will create an interactive sports experience for customers.  

They needed something with a point of difference including powerful outside treatments that draw in a by passers eye. The more people that see the bar the more that will pull into the parking lot. Murals and theming can make guests fell like they are sitting at the stadium. Taffer creates a new flow eliminating structures and decor that is obstructing sight lines to TVs. He also adds comfortable stools with backs and 36 inch square tables. Before, the bar had 30 inch round tables where four people could not eat comfortably.  

These new adjustments will keep customers for the duration of the game instead of heading home for a more comfortable seat. Small details like baseball bat handles show purpose and thought, making the customer feel that you care.

Houston Sports HubTHE RESULT

Taffer transforms The End Zone into Houston Sports Hub and for the first time everyone is getting along and the customers love the new products. On the night of the relaunch the staff generated $2,210.72 in one hour. That is what good production and training does. Two months after the relaunch, Houston Sports Hub sales have risen by 30% and they continue to bring in 100 new patrons per week. Shawn and Justin continue to work as a team and the fighting has ceased. 


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