During the Great Recession, too many bars, nightclubs and restaurants fell victim to the spiraling economy, struggling to pay their mortgages and eventually shutting their doors for good. But for Taylor Mills, the economic turmoil meant a chance for renewal: revamping his midscale restaurant in Cherry Hill, N.J., into a self-serve hotspot for “cheap eats and a rockin’ good time.” Mills reopened Taylors Bar & Grill as Top Dog on April 15 (Tax Day does burn a hole in wallets, after all), offering items like half-pound hamburgers, hot dogs and homemade bratwurst for just 99 cents each. Other food items run the gamut in low prices — from shrimp for 29 cents each to Pork on a Stick at $1.99, even Steak on a Stick at $2.99. In fact, the value-minded offerings don’t stop with cheap eats; drink prices start at $2 beers and $3.75 mixed drinks; some bottled beers cost $4, Mills explains.
“Instead of us having giant happy hour promotions with $1 giveaways, we’ve eliminated all those happy hour promotions and we’re priced for happy hour every minute, every hour, every day,” he says.
The 20,000-square-foot venue, which includes a large outdoor deck, formerly operated as Taylors Bar & Grill, a midscale restaurant with prices and offerings on par with Bennigan’s and T.G.I. Friday’s, Mills explains. But with so many restaurants in the area operating at a similar price point, Taylors faced intense competition and the business wasn’t doing as well as Mills would have liked. So he did something about it.
“I just decided to do something different that nobody else was doing. This holds 1,000 people, so we need to fill it up to make money. I thought this would be something good for the economy and good for the customer to be able to come and have a half-pound burger for 99 cents instead of $6-10,” he says.
For patrons, its accessible atmosphere makes enjoying food and drink easy. Guests order at a counter and wait until their number is called to pick up their meal from the open kitchen—added during the mostly cosmetic renovations that were part of the restaurant’s transformation.
By offering the food basically at cost, Mills’ business strategy banks on making a profit on his beverage menu. And by giving guests cheaper options, Mills hopes it will attract groups who will share a few plates and linger while sipping on those inexpensive drinks.
To keep guests staying longer and later into the evening, the venue features 30 TVs and will host weekly radio broadcasts from stations like ESPN Live and local rock and country stations. It makes sense for Mills to place a heavy focus on music at the venue, with live performances Thursday through Sunday nights and during the day on weekends.
With cheap food and drink as well as an emphasis on live entertainment, Top Dog also boasts a nightclub upstairs, which operates from 10 p.m.-3 a.m. on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights and charges a $5-10 cover; there is never a cover downstairs. Drink prices at the nightclub run the same as at its downstairs counterpart, Mills says.
As for future plans, Mills says if this strategy is successful, he’d like to implement it at his other Taylors Bar & Grill location in nearby Williamstown, N.J. But for now, Mills’ focus is on making the “happy hour all day, every day” formula work, and that’s something his customers undoubtedly appreciate.