Successful Liquor Bar, Struggling Wine Bar-Input Needed!

October 14, 2012

Hi, everyone!
I haven't been on these forums in a while, and I'm posting here to see if any bar veterans can offer any advice. 5 years ago, my husband and I bought an established bar. No food or wine, just liquor and beer. We cleaned the place up, kicked out the bums and slowly replaced the thieving staff. We now have a nice following and a good sized crowd most nights of the week. We were feeling pretty awesome about our abilities to turn a place around and run a successful establishment.

Two years ago a local hot spot wine shop/bar came for sale. We hemmed and hawed and the place was bought out from underneath us. You snooze you lose, right? At any rate, the new owner destroyed it. Took all the money, drove away the nice client base, and diminished the inventory. We heard through the grapevine (har har) that the new owner was looking to sell. We scoped the place out numerous times and witnessed blatant thievery, customers pouring their own beers, employees canoodling with one another behind the bar, and many other unsavory things. The once classy place had turned into a PBR drinking hipster hangout.

Feeling good about our abilities to run out the riff raff and get the place rocking again, we decided to buy the struggling bar. After unsuccessful negotiations with this crazy woman, we gave up and went to the original owners who were carrying the new owners note. Turns out she had not been paying them, and they were in the process of repossessing it. Several people were interested in buying the place, and the original owners chose us as the new proprietors.

We closed down for two weeks to clean the place up, and rehire an entirely new staff. Upon reopening we were featured in the local newspaper, and the feedback was generally positive. We joined the Chamber of Commerce and the local downtown development group. Things slowly picked up....just a little bit. We ran out the riff raff crowd, and brought back the ambiance of the original place. When we bought it, there were 40 bottles of wine on the shelves. We now have over 700 different wines, 150 imported and craft beers, and rotating tap handles. We have a small tapas food menu, and everything is prepared in house from scratch. We do live music on the weekends, and bring in artists traveling through the area.

I feel like we are doing everything right: we have a great selection, an awesome and attentive staff, and good food. We are located downtown in a 50k population city, across from the local performing arts theater. We are the only bar in town that does what we do.

I have been beating my head against the wall for months, trying to figure out why we are so dead. We are absolutely embraced by people travelling through. Out of towners come in, and they love the place. We are rated very highly on various review sites, mostly by out of towners. On a weekly basis, I hear people say "If this place were back home, it would be packed!"

We are barely breaking even most months, and I am sick to death of stressing and wondering and worrying. How can we get the locals to embrace us? The previous owner did far more damage than we had ever thought. We've been courting the high end buyers, and some of them have come back to support us, but the vast majority have vanished.

I am obviously missing a piece to the puzzle-can anyone offer any insite?

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