Repairing the Brokedown Palace
This year, 6,500 failing bars nationwide will close their doors for good. If things don’t change soon, The Palace in Upland, California will become just another statistic. In 2013, Ghazi Ashkar convinced brother-in-law Sam Khalil to purchase The Palace and transform it into a Moroccan bar. Sam agreed to go along with Ghazi’s plan, but being rookie owners they both soon realized they were in over their heads. Since opening for business, The Palace has never managed to turn a profit. So in an effort to attract customers, Ghazi began giving the house away despite Sam’s disapproval. As a result of the owners’ constant feuding, their staff began to suffer. Two years after opening, Sam and Ghazi hold each other responsible for the failing bar. Their inability to agree on how to run the business has resulted in a confusing theme, an untrained staff and frustrated owners. Now, losing $10,000 a month and $650,000 in total debt, Sam and Ghazi’s relationship is at a boiling point. Out of desperation they have agreed to pull back the doors, bust open the books and make the call for help to Bar Rescue.
For the bar, Jon has brought in expert mixologist Mia Mastroianni. With her unique ingredients and original cocktail recipes, Mia really nows how to stir up a crowd. For the kitchen, Jon has brought in executive chef Penny Davidi. Her innovative spin on Mediterranean dishes is exactly what this bar needs to infuse a flavor of Morocco into its menu. Located in northwestern Africa, Morocco is situated on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Known for its colorful spices and lavish décor, Morocco’s prime location has made it essential trading post for both Europe and the Middle East. The Palace is a vast 7,000 square-foot space housing a performance area, a large bar and banquet-like seating. Unfortunately, nothing about the bar indicates a Moroccan theme. The décor, the food menu, the drinks, even the belly dancers – outfitted for some reason with scarves adorned with LED lights – none of it is indicative of Morocco. Add to that two quarreling bar owners and the worst bar staff ever featured on Bar Rescue in terms of training and you have a recipe for disaster.
Consistency will not only benefit a bar’s bottom line, it ensures that guests are being treated fairly. Nobody wants to shell out their cash and be shortchanged. The staff of The Palace was instantly called out by Bar Rescue expert Mia Mastroianni for short pouring cocktails. What Mia noticed immediately while watching a bartender build a martini (woefully incorrectly) was a wash line that was far too large. A martini wash line should be one centimeter. That is to say, the space between the top of the glass and the top of the liquid should measure no more than one centimeter or the cocktail has been poured short. An easy way to test a bar staff’s consistency is to have them produce the same cocktails, line them up and look at the wash lines. If they’re all different, something is wrong. A simple solution? The use of jiggers by all bartenders.
As was mentioned before, The Palace was having an identity crisis. While owners Ghazi and Sam may have declared the venue a Moroccan bar, nothing told guests that was the case. Not only was the décor not Moroccan, the food on the menu was lacking. In fact, some of the servers working there weren’t even familiar with traditional Moroccan dishes. A well-themed bar isn’t just more attractive or more fun, it’s profitable. Guests will spend 60% more in a bar that communicates its theme well.
To tie The Palace’s cuisine into the Moroccan theme, executive chef Penny Davidi of PUMP Restaurant & Lounge in West Hollywood, CA introduced the kitchen staff to harissa. Harissa is a dry rub for meats and fishes consisting of hot Tunisian chili peppers, roasted red peppers and serrano peppers blended with garlic and a variety of herbs and spices. It can also be blended with olive oil to make a paste for traditional recipes. This ingredient is one of the most popular in Moroccan cuisine and can be served up with pita bread for a great appetizer.
The Palace, being such a massive venue, took several days to be renovated. In fact, the stress test had to be conducted at a bar just a few miles away: Stein Haus Brau & Brats (formerly Friar Tuck’s), also featured on Bar Rescue. The bar was rebranded as Menara and received a far more cohesive Moroccan theme. Just six weeks after their relaunch, Menara has generated $72,356, Ghazi is no longer giving away free drinks and he and Sam are no longer fighting with one another.