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Anatomy of a Rescue

Turtle Bay Becomes Spirits On Bourbon

February 10, 2013 By: Kristen Santoro


The Bar

After having his portion of Tropical Isle bought out by the other two owners, Brad Bohannan decided to venture out on his own and open Turtle Bay on Bourbon Street in New Orleans directly across from Tropical Isle. With the amount of people that come to Bourbon Street annually looking to have a good time, it’s an owners dream to own a unique and successful venue on this famous street.

New Orleans is only one of four cities in the country where it is legal to drink in the streets and with most of the bars open 24 hours it has become known as the bar hop capital of the world.  Collectively, the bars on this street rank in $52,129,302 annually.  That’s roughly $1 million per bar per year.

In order to take the biggest piece of that pie one can you need to make sure that you stand out from the competition – something that Turtle Bay doesn’t do.  At most bars around the country, length of stay is one of the most important aspects of turning a profit but on Bourbon Street is all about the foot traffic – quick capture and quick sales so that the guest can move on to the next spot.

When Brad branched out on his own he decided to take the manager of Tropical Isle, Steve Smith, with him.  As partners in the business, Steve runs the day to day operations and Brad financially supports those operations. However, since they have opened they have not been able to turn a profit.
 

The Challenge

Opening the bar directly across the street from Tropical Isle wasn’t the best decision but copying the brand, theme and signature drink was definitely a huge mistake. Tropical Isle even sued Turtle Bay for copyright infringement ultimately putting the bar out $100K in legal fees.  Turtle Bay continues to lose $15K a month and is on the verge of bankruptcy.  

For the recon, Jon Taffer brought in Billy (chef) and Natalie (bar manager) from The Public House in Cheviot, Ohio who learned the tricks of the trade on The Black Sheep Episode of Bar Rescue.   On the way to the recon both Billy and Natalie completely missed the bar, walking right by and having to turn around and go back.  Once inside the bar both were pretty shocked at how empty and uninviting the bar was. They were also appalled by the food that was served. Billy, being a chef, also knew right away that the gumbo was not fresh and came from a bag.

Once Taffer had seen enough the Bar Rescue team, comprised of Ricky Gomez, Diageo Ambassador and Executive Chef Ron Duprat, make their move only to point out one issue after another as they go through the venue.   At the bar, there is no to-go station, their signature drink is a complete replica of the hand grenade that is sold across the street, there are no recipes or training standards and they continue to top off the old juice for their Turtle drink. Things get even worse in the kitchen, where Taffer tests the counter top for bacteria and finds that there are four million organisms on its surface.

Taffer berates the owners for ripping off Brad’s old bar and not knowing the businesses numbers.  You cannot run a successful establishment if you do not know what your costs are, especially when you are losing thousands of dollars a month. Brad pushed back stating that Taffer needs to “show him that he not only knows the bar industry but know New Orleans” better than they do to make this bar survive.

However, during the stress test the venue fails miserably.  The bartenders are taking two minutes to make four drinks and the kitchen doesn’t properly heat up the gumbo which physically makes Chef Ron sick. This endangers everyone in the bar that has consumed the gumbo of becoming ill with food poisoning, a serious and potentially deadly illness. When Taffer finds out he is furious and immediately shuts down the kitchen.   

The Turnaround

The very next day the experts and staff get to work.  In the kitchen they 86 all of the bagged gumbo and start fresh with a new recipe and local products.  Chef Ron makes sure to test the temperature of the gumbo and instructs the kitchen staff that once the soup is brought up to temperature you need to hold it at no less than 140 degrees. By doing this you will never have bacteria grow in the soup avoiding any potential food poisoning situations.

Next, Ricky begins to train the staff on proper techniques to not only improve the speed and accuracy of the drinks that they make but small nuances (i.e. facing the label off call brands out to the customer) that will enhance the customer experience and increase check averages.

Taffer also makes it a point to sit with Brad and Steve to go over the monthly numbers.  He advises them to take their beverage cost and divide it by their beverage sales. The percentage that they get should always be under 21. If it’s are over they need to figure out why immediately. Food cost is also a priority and should be under 28%.

Once the staff and owners understand their responsibilities and identify what they were doing wrong. The design team gets underway. They move the bar as close as legally possible to the door in order to service to-go drinks properly.  They also redesign the front of the building in order to draw the eye into the building and add an attraction that customers can see from the street.
 

The Result

Once construction is completed Taffer is proud to reveal their new bar - Spirits on Bourbon. Taffer has taken the history of the building were a barber used to live and his spirit is thought to still remain and weaved it into a new theme. He creates a new signature drink, The Resurrection, in an eye catching class, he re-lit the outside of the bar in order to draw the eye into the venue and used an old fashioned barber chair for giving out shots. Since the re-launch, Spirits on Bourbon’s beverage cost is down 14% and they are bringing in an average of $9,900 a night. 


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