Bar Rescue: On Location with Chef Duffy
As I headed to Garner NC to help save another failing bar I had an odd feeling that this would be a tough one. Jon Taffer has mentioned that the entire family worked at the bar when he asked me to come down and help out. That’s all he said but I knew from his tone that this would be more difficult than I anticipated.
It was odd as we pulled up in front of the bar, as I immediately thought that it was a kids place. It was whimsical and colorful and completely out of place for a southern bar. Only to make matters worse I found out that the owners were Yankees and blatantly throwing it in the faces of their guests. It was their way or the highway and the majority of patrons decided to take the highway to different bar.
I sat with Taffer and Russell Davis to analyze the service during the recon. We immediately noticed the tension was as thick as a northern BBQ sauce. As we watched, Alex, the daughter approached the table in one of the most unprofessional attempts at service that I have ever witnessed. She didn’t know anything about the menu and stuttered as she sat down next to the guest to read.
Alex made another rookie mistake when she didn’t know the rib-eye had been 86ed. However, the more important detail that you need to pay attention to is the fact that the guest was going to order a $20 entrée but decided to settle for a $9 hot dog. The service continued to falter and Guy began lashing out at his sister in front of guests. Taffer finally became so uncomfortable with the situation he decided to make his way into the bar to see what the real problem was.
I ended up in the kitchen as I always do. And I have to say it was a very nice size kitchen especially for a place that doesn’t do huge volume. However, a big kitchen has more problems to offer. One problem was the fact that product everywhere; old product, new product and spoiled product.
One of the first things that I do with my clients is to thoroughly go through the kitchen, starting with all the old equipment and small ware. We wash them all and discuss how often it’s used. If it has been three months or more it gets washed, sanitized, wrapped with plastic and placed in storage. Once this task was completed I made my way through the reach-ins and finally to the walk-in. Here is where my fear came true... improper storage. They had product after product uncovered, freezer burned and outdated. Simply put...wasted money. Taffer and I both lost our cool after realizing the magnitude of the situation.
The next day I asked the owner Guy to pull the P-Mix (product mix) so that we could get a better idea of what products they are using. The P-Mix is a great tool that is very rarely used in the proper manner. It tells you what the guests are buying. In this case they had 55 items on their menu and 60% of the sales came from burgers. The guests were telling us exactly what they wanted. If we cut the menu down and focused on the items that were selling we could lower their food cost by almost 20%!
I tried to say away from the family dynamic (leaving it to Taffer to handle) and focus on getting the kitchen running smoothly however there were instances that were unavoidable. At one point Alex comes into the kitchen (this was off camera) and breaks down. I sat down with her and she divulged some of the family issues that she had put her family through. After it was easier to see where all the frustration on Guy’s part was coming from. He was afraid to let her be her own person and in turn held her back. The relationship spiraled out of control and ultimately hurt the business.
After getting back to business in the kitchen I realized that I needed to start with the basics. Number one – Seasoning. You should season meat prior to cooking and one or two more times in the middle of cooking. Now, I’m not talking about over salting. I’m talking about seasoning to create a true flavor profile through signature blends.
Once we mastered the art of seasoning we moved on to the basics of NC BBQ! A great mix of vinegary slightly sweet sauces that’s not too sweet for the slick tongues of the south. Plus we needed to discuss the art of making the ribs. Instead of taking the time to cook great ribs and simply finishing them off prior to service they were rushing the process and overcooking them on the grill.
I always start cooking ribs with my presentation side down and then sauce the underside of the ribs; after 2-3 minutes flip them over. Now, you have a great crust or "bark” on the show side (meat side) and then you can slather your signature sauce, creating a nice glaze.
After teaching the kitchen staff so more simple tricks to keep them efficient and pumping out delicious food it was time to put them to the test at the relaunch. And they did an amazing job!
I want to leave you with one last thought. I love what I do and how far I have come however no matter what I do my family is my support unit. It can be tough working with family but at the end of the day your family is always there and make sure that they know how you feel. I am happy to see the progress that this family of owners has made.