The Olive Pit in Orange, CAAugust 17, 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!
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“At least they used the right word— pit!”– Jon Taffer after seeing the “front” of the strip mall bar
A frequent watering hole for the local blue-collar crowd, The Olive Pit, opened in 1962 in Orange, California (about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles.) Completely concealed behind a strip mall, the bar lacks curb appeal, without signage or any indication it exists from the busy boulevard out front. “You get a lot of the working class guys in here, during the workday we can park our trucks in the back and not be seen from the street,” reveals a young regular.
A retired banker, owner Tim Eyerly bought The Olive Pit in 2001. At first the bar was profitable coasting on its built-in longevity, but as Tim mistreated his business and used it as a personal playground—excessively drinking and flirting with the female bartenders—the bar’s potential and profits began to take a dive. Tim doesn’t really manage anything and allows the staff to run all over him. The bartenders actually boast about how great it is to work at The Olive Pit because “the boss” lets them come in late and openly drink on the job.
Tim’s daughter Tracy has watched her dad drive The Olive Pit into the ground. Now within three months of closing for good, Tracy wants full control of the family business. With the bars 50th anniversary around the corner, the father daughter duo reaches out to Jon Taffer, host and co-executive producer of “Bar Rescue” and Nightclub & Bar Media Group President.
To identify the problems, Jon brings in bar and hospitality specialist Kat Mundy to access the bar and train the female staff, and chef Brian Duffy to overhaul the filthy kitchen and create an approachable menu.
Behind the bar, Kat discovers it’s worse than she thought— clogged beer tap lines, corroded mats stuck to the back bar, and shards of broken glass in the well. On top of that, chef Duffy inspects the kitchen and observes the walk-in cooler is laced with black mold, the inoperable range hood is caked with grease, and the fire-certification ticket has been out of compliance since 2010. This place was downright dangerous and operating under countless illegal conditions! Part of my job as producer is to facilitate repairs for the makeover; I admit I felt unsafe getting down and dirty in that hazardous space. It was really bad.
After identifying the problems and engaging the staff, Jon Taffer tours the bar and points out the holes in the wall, the beer logos slapped onto every surface and the abrasive florescent lighting over the pool tables. Using his proven strategies and tactics developed during his nearly 30-year career and as founder of Taffer Dynamics, Jon’s first order of business is to anoint Tracy manager, giving her the power to make all of the decisions concerning the bar and forcing dad, Tim, into the back seat. “The family dynamic is always difficult,” Taffer says. But “they have to start taking ownership and thinking as business people, not as family members.”
Taffer explains his strategy, “a dive bar isn’t dirty and doesn’t have holes in walls. What a dive bar is… it’s warm, it’s approachable. And if done correctly, can generate a lot of money.” We all had our work cut out for us on this one; the biggest challenges will be improving the business and management side while celebrating what makes this local favorite a favorite.
I can’t give away much more than that, but tune into Spike TV this Sunday 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.