Weber’s Transforms into an Island Oasis Rum BarSeptember 9, 2012 By: Nancy Hadley
Like many bars, Weber’s Place opened with a perfect formula for failure. Located in Reseda, a suburb of Los Angeles, Weber’s Place was purchased four years ago by Kervin Cinton.
He bought a failed strip club, with the idea of reopening it as a live music venue, catering to punk rock clientele. When the punk rockers failed to fill his coffers, he identified the problem as being the limitation of the musical style, and began hosting nights for other music types – rockabilly, metal, reggae – trying as hard as he could to be something for everybody, instead of everything for someone.
Kervin never redecorated when he opened Weber’s as a live music venue –he hung a sign that advertised the bands, and kept everything else – that had just failed – the same. In essence, he decided the problem with the bar was that it had too many naked women and not enough loud music, and if he made that single change, he would be successful. Yikes.
Even after the change, Weber’s Place was plagued with the same problems that had already caused its failure as a strip club. The food, on its best day, was mediocre. Yelp reviews battered it, and the same comments were repeated – food and beverage service best measured in geologic time.
Inside, the place showed promise - high ceilings, nice loft, and huge bar, but everywhere else was the mark of the Failed Strip Club. The window to the kitchen was framed by a giant set of fiberglass lips. Food goes in a mouth…it does not come out of one.
The truly sad part is that Reseda is home to a young, free-spending crowd; there is a large population of 21-25 year old singles within its immediate surroundings. It is the place where people sometimes end up at the end of a night and the next day ask themselves “What were you thinking?”
Even when Weber’s bounced around themes that didn’t stick; the community showed the venue signs of hope. When Kervin opened Weber’s, the bar pulled in $75,000 per month. People came, and they spent. Sadly, the failure to make a change, to put a stamp on the bar that marks it as a new and different – and cool – place to go, coupled with the failure of identity, has put Weber’s in dire straits. Currently, Weber’s is losing $12,000 per month, money that Kervin does not have. The problems of a broke bar trail him. Credit is extended, bands that once drew crowds will not play, and the customers have stopped coming. To compensate, the bartenders over-pour drinks trying to lure people in and boost tips. Morale is low; the staff is uninspired by the mediocre turnout, so their service is subpar, and the customer experience is negative. The pattern has become a death spiral, and Weber’s needs a change.
The first step is to stop trying to be all things to all people. Jon Taffer brings his expertise to bear right away; in order to breathe life into a bar, you must find its identity. Committing to an audience may seem counterintuitive to someone like Kervin, but in fact, it is the first step on the path to success. A bar that knows what it is can begin to create a lively community.
Having worked with Jon Taffer for two seasons and many, many bars, I know his central goal is to focus on a theme, products, and delivery that Kervin and his staff can be proud of. One of Jon’s strengths is knowing that sometimes this calls for experts; he calls in Mixologist Michael Tipps and Chef Keith Jones to correct the overpouring and create an exciting new drink and food menu. Jon chooses to change the tagline “sports bar” and replace it with something more festive and specific, a Caribbean “rum bar”. This change is not arbitrary.
Because this rescue is all about finding a compelling identity, Jon steers his experts into embracing Kervin’s heritage. Once Jon discovers that Kervin hails from Dominica, an island nation in the Lesser Antilles chain in the Caribbean, he knows he has found Weber’s new identity. By changing the tagline, Jon begins building excitement around the new identity and pinpoints the specialty experience he wants Kervin to embrace.
As I said, Jon relies on experts to help his vision become reality, and that is where I come in. This transformation will require substantial change to the appearance of the bar outside and in. Turning a Reseda ex-strip club, ex-punk rock club into an island oasis, in less than 36 hours, is not for the faint of heart. As Jon’s Production Designer, my team and I have to effect one of the largest transformations we have ever done on Bar Rescue, by taking this run down strip club and injecting it with the romantic flair of a Caribbean bar patio.
We begin by introducing outdoor elements and filling an empty stage with valuable tables, which, apart from the decorative element, means we will increase seating and provide a more intimate set of communities for the customers. The classic wooden bar gets an incredible facelift from Mike Dale of Kitsap Fine Finishes. Hilariously, we discovered that Weber’s was using a beautiful upstairs balcony to store a useless clutter of old broken furniture and boxes; with a couple of hours of hard work, some fresh paint, and a better footprint, we transformed it into usable – and attractive – real estate. The exterior colors were inspired by the palette of some of the buildings from Kervin’s home town. Live plants, outdoor lighting, and colorful accents inside created an authentic Caribbean atmosphere. With a new fresh fruit drink menu and delicious Caribbean food, the bar will be a destination for singles and couples.
Outside, Weber’s also has a new look. The old worn-out signage on the building face is replaced with a bright new one, while the classic signs – five signs all together - are freshened up with the new tagline “Rum Bar”. The exterior goes from faded brick red to a slate gray with popping accents of tropical lime, framed with lush planter boxes. Inside, the wall of mirrors, so essential to a strip club, are gone, revealing a beautiful brick wall. Jon himself suggested backlit window boxes to create the illusion of windows overlooking a patio. We installed these on the new brick wall and supplemented them with awnings, and the transformation is magical.
We had some other help too. Bevintel and a new beer tap system were installed to monitor the drink portions so the over-pouring problem could be corrected. The addition of more seats on the stage will translate to a significant increase in profits – Jon’s math indicates each extra seat can mean up to $10,000 in profit per year. The once empty stage is now convertible. When a live show is booked, the excess tables and chairs can be pulled off for the 2-3 hours, but the rest of the shift these tables can be full of paying customers. Jon aims to provide a dynamic new place in Reseda that offers an experience Kervin knows very well: the fresh juices, cuisine, and celebration of the beautiful island life that he knows in Dominica.
Weber’s Place Sports Bar had neither history nor focus; no one who came there knew what they were going there to experience. You could show up for a punk rock show and arrive instead to see amateur comedy night.
Now, the beverages and food provide a personal experience of Dominica for Kervin and his staff to share with their customers. The new theme rejuvenates the space and the staff; the transformation of the bar, coupled with the authenticity that Kervin brings as a native of Dominica, has created the identity Jon sought. They know what they are and can deliver service and products with great pride. Right away, Kervin embraced the new color palette and décor. While waiting for the relaunch, he told me that it looked as if I had been to Dominica; his new bar reminded him of his old home. The food is cooked to order and delicious, and the fresh fruit cocktails are like a vacation in a glass.
Now, Weber’s Rum Bar and Grill truly sets itself apart from the thousands of bars in Los Angeles; it can offer an experience like nothing else for all those twenty somethings seeking a little break from the daily grind. Kervin’s first night with its new direction was a success and he continues to share a little bit of his Caribbean home with everyone who enters.