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Anatomy of a Rescue

The Black Sheep

August 26, 2012 By: Erica Mercke


The Bar

The Black Sheep in Cheviot, Ohio was out of money and out of options.  $700,000 in debt, this local bar was losing thousands every month.  Owners Scott, Greg and Tommy were in serious trouble.  Jon Taffer and his team of experts were called on by Scott to help turnaround this struggling bar!

The Challenge:

The Filthy Sheep: The Black Sheep was downright filthy.  Behind the bar, in the kitchen, and even on the back patio, the establishment’s hygiene had been severely neglected.  Grease, dirt, and grime had built up everywhere leaving the bar in a terrible physical state.

Everything to Everyone: Not only was the Black Sheep one of two dozen bars in a town home to only 8,500 people, it also had nothing to make the bar stand out from the rest.  With what Taffer termed ‘sameness’, the Black Sheep had no concept or uniqueness to draw in customers.  “Bars can’t be something to everyone, they need to be everything to someone,” says Taffer.

The Stupidvisor:  A bar simply cannot be successful without proper management.  While owner Scott juggled three other jobs, management fell by the wayside.  “When there’s no management present, standards fall apart, and the customer loses every time,” Taffer explains. Instead of true management, the Black Sheep had what Taffer called a Stupidvisor; a term for when someone has a job to do without having the authority to do it.  “If you don’t give an employee the authority to do the job, how can you expect them to improve your business?” retorts Taffer.

Thousand Dollar Burger:  Finally, one of the biggest problems Taffer encountered at the Black Sheep was an incorrectly priced menu.  Every menu can be broken down into constituent parts and be analyzed for its cost percentage.  To find the cost percentage of an item, ingredient costs are added together and divided into the sale price.   They should account for 30% of the sale price. If they are higher it eats into the potential profits.  In the case of The Black Sheep’s famous burger, the cost percentage was higher than the actual price of the burger, costing them approximately $2 every time they sold a burger.  This quickly adds up to thousands of dollars every year.

Cost Percentage: Add up ingredient costs (Divided by) Sale price = Cost Percentage

Turnaround Tactics

Jon Taffer and his team of experts take on the Black Sheep, determined to bring some uniqueness to this failing bar.  Taffer hones in on the ethnicity of the surrounding area, predominately German and Irish, to build a new reputation in the town of Cheviot.  “Pick your audience and build a concept around it.  Target the audience that is here.” says Taffer.

Master of Whiskey at Diageo, expert Peter O’Connor is called in to create a new cocktail menu with signature items.  The new menu introduces specialty whiskey cocktails and items that pay homage to the Irish and German ethnicity.  “Whiskey has grown 25-30% in the U.S. last year,” says O’Connor as he shares new and enticing cocktails to the staff.  Peter also introduces new specialty drinks including the German Chocolate Cake:

German Chocolate Cake Recipe:
1.5 oz Smirnoff Vodka
2.0 oz Chocolate Syrup
4.0 oz Coconut Milk
Coconut Sprinkles

Renowned Chef Brian Duffy introduces new menu items and signature items to keep customers interested.  He also introduces the staff to new products like the mandolin slicer. Together with Taffer, they also price the menu for optimal cost percentage. 

New menu items include:
Guiness Burger with stout cheddar and caramelize onions; Food cost: 27.8%
Bratwurst Rueben; Food cost: 21.0%

“Make sure we had some signature items we could be famous for. Something you can get here that you can’t get anywhere else,” says Taffer as he introduced the new items to the staff. 

Finally, Taffer decides to turn the Black Sheep to be the only bar in in Cheviot with Certified Guiness Pourers.  “Everybody has Guines, but no one has the perfect Guiness.”  Taffer changes that as he flies three members of the staff to be trained in pouring the perfect Guiness.

The Result

Taffer turned The Black Sheep from a sameness bar with no concept to The Public House.  The new bar connects with the German and Irish heritage complete with a beer garden out back.  Up 21% in profits, Taffer has lead these owners on a path to success.


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