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On Location Blog

On Location with "Bar Rescue:" Champs in Burbank, Calif.

June 6, 2011 By: JoAnn Cianciulli

As the culinary producer of Spike TV's "Bar Rescue" who is in charge of all of the food and beverage elements of the show — a bigSpike TV job, to be sure — I’m fortunate to have a unique perspective on the behind-the-scenes process of making the television show AND the bar a success. I work very closely with Jon Taffer and our experts to improve the bar and food programs, including menu development, design, pricing and installation of necessary equipment. I’m thrilled to be part of Jon’s team and eager to share my insider info with you.

“Everyone in this bar overpours, and if they say they don’t — they’re lying.”
– Rachel, bartender, Champs

In business for more than 25 years, Champs Sports Pub is an institution in Burbank, Calif. It should be the place to be for any sports event or game on TV, but instead of being full every night of the week, Champs is limping along, barely able to keep its doors open, according to owner Joe Handy.

When you walk in and pass the rundown stale décor of hodgepodge sports memorabilia and dusty stuffed deer heads, it feels like a time capsule from 1975. The once-popular Champs has become a place known for ridiculously strong drinks, careless bartending and greasy grub. It’s usually empty — only loyal regulars and "old folks" frequent the place.

The laissez-faire attitude and sloppy operation is costing the bar big time.

Helen, Joe’s wife, laments, “In the beginning we were doing $60,000 a month, now we’re doing $20,000. We’ve had to borrow $100,000 this year.”

Enter Jon Taffer (the head of consulting firm Taffer Dynamics and president of the Nightclub & Bar Media Group), who pushes the couple to realize, “If you’re losing that kind of money, it’s walking out the back door!”

Taffer explains his process: “When the bartenders over-pour those super-strong drinks, they’re actually stealing from the owners."

To remedy the situation, Taffer brought in experts: Master Mixologist and Bar Magic Founder Tobin Ellis to revamp the bar program and Brian Hill, a chef who knows how to run a busy food truck, to reinvent the menu. The bar is a mess: The beer coolers are disorganized, the bar top is sticky and the glasses smell like onions and sour milk. And the ovenless kitchen is its own nightmare; it’s tiny — the size of a small food truck — and the cooks stack supplies on top of kegs in the walk-in refrigerator.

The “Rescue” process is downright painful to watch at times, as business owners tend to resist change and want to stick with old bad habits. Part of Taffer’s method involves taking full control of the facility so he can fix it and telling the owners exactly what they're doing wrong.

Taffer’s strategy is to update Champs into a fun, easy-going neighborhood bar, where folks can watch Lakers games, eat from a stadium-inspired menu and enjoy hand-crafted cocktails (accurately poured, of course).

I can’t give away much more than that, but tune into Spike TV this summer to see how the rescue panned out, and check out nightclub.com for exclusive coverage of each episode.


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