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Anatomy of a Rescue

Headhunters Becomes Metal And Lace

February 17, 2013 By: Kristen Santoro


 

The Bar
In 2003, Steve Richie left the field of engineering and opened Headhunters, a no rules tiki bar and live music venue in the red river district of Austin, TX. In the beginning, the bar catered to Austin’s offbeat personality and was one of the only live music venues in the area. In its heyday, the bar would bring in approximately $67K a month. Overtime, Austin became saturates with live music venues that pulled clientele away from Headhunters. Profits began to nose dive and so did the bars cleanliness when owners Steve refused to repair or update the venue.  

The bar has now taken on a punk porn theme and used to showcase grotesque performances that terrify patrons. As a result, the bar is losing $3-4K a month. In order to keep the cash flowing, Steve has invested $250K into the bar with loans and loaded up credit cards, in addition to his retirement savings.  So before the bar goes up in flames Steve agrees to let world-renowned bar consultant Jon Taffer help him stomp out the infernos.    

During the recon Taffer feels so uncomfortable sending Nicole, his wife, in alone that he decides to go with her to check out the venue.  Nicole is overwhelmed with the smell of cat piss upon entering the venue. She is also repulsed by the sleazy go-go dancers and display that is taking place on the stage. However, it only gets worse when Nicole spots a cockroach in the liquor bottle that the bartender is using to make her drink. In utter disrepair, the bar is crawling with filth, mold and bugs.

The Challenge
Austin is known as the music capital of the world. With 200 music venues in 298 square miles – there are more music venues per square mile than any other city in the country, beating out Nashville, Los Angeles and New York. The low living costs of the 800 thousand residents and higher than average income provides ample opportunity for venues to cash in on the disposable salary that the residents have to burn. However, this venue needs a unique distinction that sets it apart from the hundreds of other venues in the area.

Taffer brings in experts, Jesse Barns who works for Park at 14th, a venue that brings in an average of six million a year and Joe Brooke, head of the beverage program at Mixology 101 and one of LA’s Best Bartenders, to go through the bar. Jesse and Joe immediately notice several health hazards that are endangering the staff and patron’s that frequent the bar.  The filth, animal feces, mold on the ceiling and roach infestation sends Taffer over the edge and he immediately calls to have the venue fumigated.   

Steve seems to be in complete denial that there is a problem. He is laughing and joking that, “this is a college town. They don’t want clean, it’s not the culture,” he states. “We are not in the sterile cleaning business.” Steve completely holds himself unaccountable for everything and blames the state of the venue on the staff.

The next day when the fumigation report comes back it states that this is what a Class A Infestation looks like and it would take four and a half years of neglect for this to occur. The thousands of cockroaches that were expelled from the bar don’t just seem dirty they are. They carry up to 30 different diseases that are transferred to glassware and countertops leaving no sign of infection. Once inside the bar, fury breaks out between the staff and owners. Therefore, Taffer decides to hold a safe room meeting.

Finally, it comes out that Steve hasn’t been paying any of his employees and Taffer is furious. But true to his nature, Steve spits out more bs about how the employees refused to fill out the proper paperwork. Taffer states that “you are either a man of integrity or you’re not” and begins to question the thought of walking out and not helping at all. 

The Turnaround
Taffer leaves the decision of not finishing the rescue up to the staff. When they decided that they want to continue despite the owner the training and turnaround can finally begin. Joe and Jesse get to work with the staff testing their skills.  The best way to do this is by giving them a shake drink, a rocks drink and a build drink.  Joe states that “every bartender should have these in their repertoire.” Jesse adds to this by explaining to the staff that since you are in a fast environment they need to be able to get drinks to customers within 30 seconds or they start to lose energy and the experience is ruined.

Taffer also take the time to sit down with Steve and see if he can turn a savage into a salvageable business man by going over the P&L reports. During the conversation, Steve has a breakthrough and doesn’t want to be a failure. Taffer motivates him by telling him that a great team needs a great leader in order to succeed. Taffer hopes that this breakthrough isn’t just a moment in time and that it continues.

Normally, Taffer goes over the blue prints and positioning of the new venue with just the owner.  However, in this case he decides to include the staff because he believes that the only way to ensure survival is to empower the employees to keep the bar going in the right direction. Once the staff understands the reasons behind the new direction, Taffer and his team get to work on demolition and redesign.

The Result
“This looks badass” yells one of the employees as they see their new bar for the first time.  Taffer has taken their cockroach infested bar and turned it into Metal and Lace a current yet approachable steampunk lounge. The first thing that the staff notices upon entering the new bar is that it no longer smells like cat piss. Taffer and his team have provided all new sound processing equipment and lighting for the bands and other live entertainment for the venue.  They’ve added two new POS systems where the employees will now punch in and out, keeping track of their hours. New Victorian themed uniforms for the staff were also in order to coincide with the new theme. 

During the re-launch, the staff starts out a little shaky but they quickly get their bearings and doesn’t let the crowd see them waiver. However, it is obvious that Taffer has no faith in owner Steve to help the bar succeed. As Steve reverts back to his old ways, drinking at the bar with guests, Jon says goodbye to Chloe because he believe that she is the leader and the only one that will make the bar survive. 

Taffer knows that he fixed the bar but he couldn’t fix Steve.  Therefore, six weeks later Chloe and Jewel are acting managers of the bar and Steve still hasn’t paid any of his employees. Chloe, Jewel and Looney are all looking for new jobs.


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