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Anatomy of a Rescue

Lona’s Wardlow Station Hits the City Limits

March 24, 2013 By: Nightclub & Bar


THE BAR

Lona bought a 30,000 square foot bar in 1999; at the time Lona’s Wardlow Station was a busy, blue collar bar in split between two cities, Long Beach and Signal Hill, California. The employees of this bar are entirely made up of Lona’s friends and regulars she had encountered throughout her 30 years in the Long Beach bar scene. Business was so good at the beginning of Lona’s ownership that she paid her $160,000 loan off within the first three years. This success was short-lived when Lona’s lack of managerial experience began to catch up with her. Lona’s philosophy for her business was if she could work 80 hours a week for someone else, then she could do it for herself. While her hard work does not go unnoticed, her absence of ownership experience is quite evident. She allows her employees to do the bare minimum and permits her staff to take advantage of her kindness.

Startling two cities, Lona’s has a large market in which she should appeal to. Long Beach is ranked 19th out of 101 for top industrial jobs in the country while Signal Hill has a rich history in oil drilling. Neighboring businesses have embraced changing trends in the area while Lona’s stays stuck in its substandard ways.

However, there is one very bizarre attribute to Lona’s Wardlow Station; Lona bought a lobster tank arcade game in an attempt to attract customers. This lobster tank did, in fact, attract people, just not the type of people Lona had in mind. Animal rights activists began picketing outside the bar claiming animal cruelty. Lona claims that many people like the lobster tank, when in actuality the centerpiece backfired. The tank made people dislike her and drove customers away. Lona’s Wardlow Station does not have mass appeal. Lona has put a total of $250,000 dollars of personal investment into her bar, and she only has 60 days to turn the place around before her bar completely tanks.

THE CHALLENGE

Jon Taffer evaluates the outside of Lona’s Wardlow Station with his team that is made up of Russell Davis, mixologist of the year, and Jason Febres, specialty chef. The first observation they make is the fact that the bar is giving off a very conflicting vibe. Lona’s is supposed to be a sports bar, but the sign has a picture of an old fashion woman in a dress, which clearly has nothing to do with sports. Jon finds the lobster tank distasteful and disturbing, not to mention that it chases away customers. 

When Russell goes in for a recon, the team is not very pleased with what they find. Right when Russell sits down, the entire bar shakes, this is not only unprofessional it is dangerous with a lawsuit waiting to happen. The bar could have been easily fixed; this is an example of the staff’s laziness. When Russell orders one of the 25 beers on tap, he takes a sip and finds it is about 20 degrees warmer than it should be; a good beer should come out of the tap at 32 degrees, Lona’s beers come out 50 degrees. Russell then tries out a margarita, the contents of which were made up of 1/3 alcohol, clearly indicating that the bartenders at Lona’s Wardlow Station need training and guidance. Russell then makes his way to the infamous lobster tank, which he plays for $2 a try. A lobster that size typically costs $8 each, Russell won a lobster after 2 tries. Lona is losing money, potential customers, and is tarnishing her bar’s image with this silly lobster arcade game. After Russell won the lobster, it is brought to the kitchen to be cooked. Jon and Jason are appalled to find that Ali, the cook with no formal training, puts the lobster into a pot of water that is not yet boiled. When lobsters are put into unboiled water it guarantees bacteria to remain on the lobster and it inhumanely kills the animal slowly. Jon then bursts in before Russell has the chance to take a bite of the unsanitary lobster.

Jon sits down with Lona to talk about her situation. Lona comes into her bar at 5:30AM every day and works five shifts behind the bar because she cannot afford to pay another employee. Jon concludes that Lona is working in her business and not working on her business; she is being a bartender and not a manager. Jon then addresses Lona’s beloved lobster tank game; he tells her it is cruel, and customers do not take kindly to animal cruelty. There are countless bars in the Long Beach area, people will find another bar to go to if there is a problem, and the lobster tank is a problem. Not only does the tank cause a problem with animal activists, but it loses her more than just $4 a lobster; one seat at a bar is worth $10,000 a year, and the lobster tank takes up four of them. This lobster tank is costing Lona $40,000 a year.

Jon addresses his concerns with all the employees of Lona’s Wardlow Station and most of them took his advice as constructive criticism, one however did not. Bill, the manager, took offense to the fact that Jon called him out on his lack of management throughout the recon. Everyone, aside from Bill, stayed late cleaning the bar and the kitchen in order to get ready for the days to come. The come morning, the lobster tank game was gone, the bar was fixed, and a system that weighs bottles before shifts and after shifts was put in to measure losses. Jon reveals that on Sunday night (recon) $600 of liquor was given away with no sales attached to it. More liquor was given away than sold; those numbers do not add up, which means someone is stealing from Lona. Jon busts Bill and Lona eho are oblivious.

TURNAROUND TACTICS

Russell Davis begins his work with the bartenders, Coach, Chad, and Mikey. Judging from the margarita Coach made him during the recon, the margarita seems like a great place to get started. Russell teaches them how to make simple yet delicious drinks that will keep customers coming back for more. In the kitchen, Jason Febres teaches Ali the basics of cooking. The food Lona gets for Ali to cook with comes from a can which Febres compares to catfood. Customers are willing to pay 40% more for higher quality food products, so Jason teaches Ali to make simple, Mexican dishes from fresh produce.

During the stress test, Coach was really slow behind the bar and ended up falling back and only pouring beers. Jon gets on Bill to manage Coach and be a manger; in the end Bill proved to be an ineffective manager and staff member. Mikey, the youngest and most inexperienced member of the team, really stepped it up, he was moved from bar back to head bartender.

Lona and Ali do not communicate effectively, the ticket times were high, and Ali seems to have no structure or guidance in the kitchen. While all these problems were going on, Lona remained oblivious and believed everything was going smoothly. At the end of the stress test, Bill was fired and Jon decided Lona’s Wardlow Station needed a new concept that will make Lona money automatically.

Russell created a drink menu that focuses on tequilas and teaches the bartenders to make very simple cocktails that only exist in this area. As for the kitchen, another cook is brought in and Ali will take charge as the manager. There will be absolutely no canned meat in the Mexican food served at Lona’s.

Jon Taffer created a whole new look for the bar; Lona’s Wardlow Station is now Lona’s City Limits Cantina. It was important to Jon to keep Lona’s name on the sign because Lona is important to this bar, it will assure regular customers that she is still there. The creative thread in the new name on the bar is the “City Limits” because the bar lies on the town lines of Long Beach and Signal Hill. The side of the building actually looks like a cantina with a large sign that reads “Fajitas” so that people know that food is significant at this bar.

When walking into Lona’s new and improved business, there is the same bar top, because cantinas have a rustic feel. There is a stenciled design on the bar to give it an authentic Mexican feel. A ChillRight 32 Draft Beer System was placed behind the bar; every pour is a perfect 32 degree temperature every time; no one will complain about warm beer at Lona’s ever again. To replace the epic flop of a lobster game as the centerpiece of Lona’s, Taffer had Sean Duggan, local sculptor, create a lime squeezer to have fresh fruit squeezed into drinks. It costs the business 20 cents more but allows them to charge the customer $2 more; people are willing to pay because the fresh fruit truthfully makes a difference. There is new kitchen equipment for Ali to work with and a POS system in which the bartenders order food and it prints out in the kitchen with the table number, time, and server making it easier for Ali to keep control of the kitchen.

One half of the bar exudes a very different vibe from the other because it is in a different town; there are “city limits.” In the room where the lobster tank used to reside is Signal Hills, it has different furniture and a different color palette with an industrial feel. With the change of interior from the Long Beach area of the bar to the Signal Hills, Lona’s City Limits Cantina now has an established theme.

THE RESULT

During the relaunch, customers were satisfied with the drinks with the fresh fruit, especially the margaritas. The food was good; however they did get a little behind on their orders. This is where Lona shows that she can be a manager and she steps in to keep everyone on track and to help out where needed and not only behind the bar. Jon taught Lona how to be a boss and gave her a fighting chance to keep her Cantina going.

Three months after the relaunch, food sales at Lona’s City Limits Cantina went up 25% and the bar sales went up 35%. Bartender, Mikey, says that things have been going well since Jon left and he is glad the lobster tank is gone. New people have been coming into the Cantina and old people back been coming back. Lona’s has a whole new look and now stands an infinitely better chance of succeeding.


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