Artful Dodger Learns to Mind it's P's and Q's
In 2006 after losing his job in sales, Mike Conforti, used all of his savings to buy Artful Dodger, a nightclub in Huntington, NY. Artful Dodger became one of the first bars in the area to feature DJs and dancing; thriving for the first 5 years. At one point sales reached $50,000 a month but as the local Huntington bar scene grew, Conforti’s lack of standards to maintain the bar sent customers to the competition.
In 2011 when Artful Dodgers profits began to decline, Conforti hired nightclub promoter Brian Gordon to help with sales. Gordon made some immediate changes once brought onboard including changing the name from Artful Dodger to Radio and used promotions to attract a younger clientele including a college night. But the 18 and over promotional gimmick and conflicting signage didn’t work. As sales began to plummet Conforti and Gordon disagreed on how to turn the bar around.
At odds with Gordon on his promotions, blaming each other for the businesses failure and an underage crowd alienating customers over 21, Conforti struggles to stay afloat. He owes approximately $150,000 and only has two months before the 18 and over crowds destroys his club.
On the North Shore of Long Island sits Huntington, one of NY’s most affluent areas with an average income of $116,000, more than double the national average ($53,000). Twenty-nine percent of the market is 25-35 years old and 40% of the market is single. Young, affluent, single. You can’t get a better build in demographic for a nightclub. However, despite the great market, Artful Dodger is so tired and rundown that it fails to attract these young wealthy locals.
Nightclubs are supposed to have energetic outsides to attract revelers especially in areas with intense competition. There are 12 bars within two blocks of the Artful Dodger and 5 of them are nightclubs. Jon Taffer and his team decide to scope out the local competition and head over to Christopher’s owned by Jack Palladino with annual sales of $550,000. Acacia, their next stop, has been open for 8 months and is owned by Mike Cassano with annual sales of $1.3 Million. The area is an entertainment hub and none of competition has had to resort to an 18 and over night.
In order to test the skill and drive of the Artful Dodger staff and ownership, Taffer send in approximately 100 people to see if the Artful Dodger staff can cease an unusual opportunity or if they’ll completely blow it. When the two young recon customers enter Artful Dodger they report back some horrifying feedback.
Everything is ripped apart and there is gum stuck to the seats, everything is filthy and there is a rancid smell of piss. Customers are swatting flies away as well as being served them in their cocktails. They needed to remake a customer’s drink three times because there were fruit flies in it.
Fruit flies come into a bar in search of fermenting fruit to lay their eggs in. It only takes 8 days for fruit flies to mature from egg to adult and only another 24 hours before they are ready to mate and begin the process all over again. Due to this quick reproductive cycle and an ample food supply within the bar one female fruit fly can lead to an infestation of hundreds in a matter of days.
How does a business go from successful to this, asks Taffer. Pure neglect! But the neglect isn’t just with the venues but with the staff as well. The bartender skills are not up to bartending standards. They are not able make multiple drinks at a time and the technical aspect of drink making is nowhere close to where it should be. During the stress test Taffer has a 23 year old enter the bar using an underage ID. She immediately goes into the bathroom and removes the X’s on her hands that indicates that she is underage. She then proceeds to the bar where she orders a drink that she proceeds to hold for the next 30 minutes with no one realizing that she should not have the drink. An epic failure by the staff and the owners demonstrating the liability issues surrounding over 18 nights.
In order to get started on turning the bar around, Taffer’s crew worked all night long cleaning and sanitizing to bring the bar back up to safety standards. In order to demonstrate the efforts of the owner’s professional career, Taffer pulls out a chunk of ice from the freezer that is infested with bugs and bacteria.
Now that the bar is clean and the owners understand their lack of responsibility, Taffer brings in two experts to help turn the staff around.
For the bar, Taffer has brought in expert mixologist Phil Wills. With a talent for speed and flair Phil’s expertise behind the bar can whip any bar staff into shape. Phil immediately gets to work demonstrating a true shake in order to bind the ingredients of a drink together instead of rolling or dumping.
When you ‘really’ shake a cocktail properly you bring life to it. Anytime you use anything that’s citrus (sour, lemon or lime) you need to dilute that in the cocktails with the shake. Visually you can see the different in the drink when this is done correctly. In addition to shaking a cocktail properly bartenders need to make sure that they make the entire order at once. It takes a drink two minutes to ‘die’ or start to dilute. Therefore, you don’t want to make a simple drink first when you still have other drinks in the order to make. You want to make sure you knock out all of the drinks out at the same time giving the customer the freshest possible drink.
To work the floor, service expert Jessie Barns, who works at The Park at 14th, a successful DC nightclub that brings in $10 million dollars a year, works with the staff to increase their skills. Jessie’s hospitality experience will give this staff the high-end polish they need. The bartenders cannot multitask so Jessie challenges them to make cocktails while facing a slew of issue that they might face on a typical night behind the bar while still giving good service. In addition, Taffer provides tough love to in order to get them angry enough to change their ways in a short period of time.
Artful Dodger is a 1700 square foot space featuring a long bar with three speed wells, booths along the wall and a larger dance floor in the middle. Taffer wants to create a totally unique venue to replace Artful Dodger – a speakeasy.
Speakeasies came about during prohibition (1920 to 1933) with the passing of the 18th amendment which banned the production, transport and sale of alcohol. During this time illegal saloon popped up and began selling alcohol. When giving the saloons name, the need to whisper or speakeasy was necessary to avoid suspicion. Speakeasies often featured hidden doors and secret passageways for entry as not to be found by the police.
With the new concept and the implementations of good service standards, good brands, quality recipes and a quality experience the new venue is sure to succeed.
P’s & Q’s Auto Body is mysterious and cool; it intrigues the customer who wants to know what is inside. Since a speakeasy never looked like a bar and always had a false front with the bar hidden in the back, Taffer adds a secret passage way from the makeshift store front for customers to enter through. Once inside customers will find a classy and sophisticated bar modeled after throwback flare of the 1920’s.
Six weeks after the relaunch they implemented a password to get into the bar, playing on the speakeasy tradition, in addition to increased sales of 30%. Gordon has begun promoting to a more mature audience and has been on the same page as Conforti since Taffer left. They finally realized that they have the tools and the drive to make the bar a success.