Piratz Tavern in Silver Spring, MDJuly 29, 2012 By: JoAnn Cianciulli
Writers Note: As “Bar Rescue’s” culinary producer, 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 resuscitate the bar and food programs, including menu development, design, and installation of equipment. Now in our second season, I’m thrilled to continue as part of Jon’s elite team and eager to share the exclusive inside scoop with you!
“You’re not surviving, you’re sinking!” – Jon Taffer to Piratz Tavern owner Tracy.
After a long career in corporate communications, Tracy Rebelo went out on a limb and opened Piratz Tavern in Silver Spring, Maryland. After hosting a successful pirate-themed Halloween party in 2007, she wanted to bring the pirate-fantasy concept to every day life. But from the beginning, Piratz only attracted a select customer base of Renaissance Fair performers and Saturday afternoon children’s parties.
Tracy’s troubles first surfaced when she foolishly hired the performers as her staff. Once the pirate-gang took over, they made their own rules, having the time of their lives—with a yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! The tight-knit crew treats the workplace as their own Private Idaho and Tracy has been the enabler…and financier.
Her next digression was to entrust her husband, Juciano, to run the kitchen… though he lacks a cooking pedigree. Tracy is a caring, credible woman with a big heart, but often makes all-important business decisions based on emotion. As a result, Piratz is just a few months from going under. Tracy is drowning in $900,000 in debt; forced to sell her house and move her, her husband and 17-year-old daughter into her parents’ basement.
Rescuing this bar was like no other we had worked with. Piratz is not dinner theater; this is an underground community defending their lifestyle choice with vigor. The safe-haven only caters to the regular swashbuckling crowd, whose philosophy is to escape from the ordinary, not embrace it. The pirate staff has open distain for “regular” people and mock any outsider who is not clad in pirate attire. Trouble is, this kitschy concept doesn’t draw the masses, while proudly alienating them at the same time.
With the bar barely staying afloat, Tracy reaches out to Jon Taffer for help, host and executive producer of “Bar Rescue” and Nightclub & Bar Media Group President.
Jon’s first order of business is to disband the costumed sub-culture of outcasts. He asks Tracy a tough, heartfelt question: “Do you want to play pirate, or do you want to send your daughter to college?” Jon reveals his plan: to completely rebrand Piratz into a corporate hotspot where downtown business people can network over lunch and happy hour.
The bustling downtown area boasts about 240,000 people during the day, a combination of locals and workers who toil at “Discovery Communications”, the “National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration”, and other office towers. The population sinks to about 70,000 people once those offices clear out. Taffer points out, “The obvious solution is to cater to those professionals during lunch, happy hour, and the early evening, before they head for home.”
Jon gathers the staff and tells them, “Fixing bars is easy, fixing people is hard. This bar is a business, not a playground.” Jon makes it clear that the employees will need to shape up or ship out.
To help save Piratz from Davy Jones’s locker, Jon brings in experts: Diageo Master Mixologist Elayne Duke to revive the drowning bar program, and Executive Chef Josh Capon to assess the kitchen. At the bar, Elayne discovers the bar is ill equipped and almost every drink is the same variation: sugary-sweet mixer, juice concentrate, and about 4 ounces! of rum; all poured in an oversized pint glass.
Chef Capon jokes that the menu more closely resembles an encyclopedia – over 18 pages long with 150 dishes described in “pirate-speak”. The back-of-the-house problems are enflamed by hot-tempered husband, Juciano. His lack of kitchen chops is magnified by a belligerent attitude and lack of respect for chef Capon, who’s genuinely invested to help.
Tune into Spike TV this summer to see the drama of turning around a failing bar business… in 72 hours and how Jon Taffer’s rescue panned out. Be sure to check out nightclub.com for exclusive coverage of each episode.