For over 30 years, Nightclub & Bar Show chairman Jon Taffer has traveled the country saving hundreds of bars from failure and ruin. For last night’s episode of Paramount Network’s hit show Bar Rescue, he traveled to Tucson, AZ, to rescue RJ’s Replays.
In 2011, Richard McClelland opened RJ’s Replays after running his parents’ nightclub for the 14 years prior. Richard explained his concept as a “sports-bar-craft-beer-bar,” a blend of two of his interests. However, he had to borrow over $700,000 from his parents to open the bar. They apparently loaned their son the money because they perceived him as a hard worker, believing that would translate to a successful operation. Richard put $100,000 of his own money into the bar.
The first few years that RJ’s Replays was open seemed to prove Richard’s parents’ theory right. But this is Bar Rescue and Taffer wouldn’t be called in to save this bar if everything had gone right. Poor management from Richard, including a lack of structure for the employees, took their toll on a bar that had once seemed destined to succeed.
One bartender, Klaryssa, revealed that “from the top down,” the staff at RJ’s Replays drinks on shift and things are “lax” and “lenient.” She also said that Richard and his wife Kristi would drink while were working or otherwise at the bar, get into arguments that resulted in Richard crying, and their personal lives would become the team members’ problem.
To compound issues, Richard carried the burden of losing his parents’ retirement and was nearly $1 million in debt. When Taffer and his team descended on RJ’s Replays, the bar was one month from closing its doors for good. With RJ’s Replays circling the drain and nowhere else to turn, Richard chose to pull back the doors, bust open the books, and make the call for help to Jon Taffer and Bar Rescue.
During recon with GM and mixologist Ashley Clark and Chef Jason Santos, Taffer revealed that RJ’s Replays is situated on a street that boasts 51,000 cars per day. He also mentioned that for the average franchise to succeed, it needs to be located on a road that sees about 21,000 cars each day. Unfortunately, the exterior design didn’t appear to stand out in any way that would make people want to visit the bar. In fact, when asked by Taffer if the exterior was too masculine, Ashley said that it appeared unsafe, noting a lack of well-lit entrances and exits.
As he explained RJ’s Replays to Clark and Chef Santos, Taffer posed a valid question: If Richard’s parents put in $700,000 and Richard put in $100,000 and hasn’t really led the bar to profit, who really owns the bar? As they watched the RJ’s Replays team “at work,” Taffer said that Kristi—who appeared to be drinking—tends to invite her friends to hang out at the bar, which Chef Santos indicated was a mistake.
Nobody would think RJ’s Replays was just a few weeks from closing if they were just watching recon unfold and weren’t in the know. Kristi was drinking, Richard was drinking, the day manager and night manager were both working, and Richard was buying shots for guests in the bar. Of course, Taffer and his team were well aware of the situation and that Richard was buying those shots with his parents’ money.
The recon team watched Roberto, the cook, cross-contaminate the kitchen. He touched burgers as he flipped them, then went on to touch bread, lettuce and other items without getting new gloves or washing his hands. Oh, and he wiped his nose with his hand before touching other food items. Not once did the team see Richard check on his kitchen.
To get an even deeper look into the RJ’s Replays experience, Donna and Aleah Chilleen from Chilleen’s on 17 (Bar Rescue season 3, episode 9) are sent into the bar. Night manager Carlos was pleasant while taking their drink orders but made no attempt to upsell Donna when she ordered a dirty Martini. Aleah’s beer arrived warm and Donna’s Martini wasn’t dirty. It was also made with well vodka. Taffer pointed out that about 60 percent of guests will order a name brand if a staff member asks for one, leading to increased sales.
As the two perused the food menu, they discussed how the bar didn’t appear to be busy but the staff couldn’t find the time to interact with all of their guests. The menu was rather large but a lack of engineering meant that neither Donna’s nor Aleah’s eyes were drawn to any specific items. Klaryssa, who is also a server, seemed to be the only employee doing her job. As Taffer observed, she may have lacked professional polish but she was hustling. She made a food suggestion to Donna and Aleah, dropped an order off at a table, and refused to serve Chip, a guest she determined was intoxicated.
It turned out that Chip had chased out one of Klaryssa’s tables—two women—because of his drunken and presumably creepy behavior. He was about to do the same to Donna and Aleah when Ranesha, another server, intervened. Richard, however, saw no issue with further over-serving his buddy Chip and instructed Klaryssa to do so. To her credit, she said she wasn’t comfortable doing so. It was unclear who served Chip but Richard and his buddy’s toasted him as he clutched a beer, after which Richard very maturely and professionally mocked Klaryssa by saying, “You don’t wanna party? Get the [bleep*] out!”
Richard’s lack of leadership, responsibility and respect for his employees doomed RJ’s Replays. When Klaryssa decided she needed 5 minutes to herself after being disrespected and unsupported, Richard chose to further antagonize her and justify his poor decision. Not only that, he decided to transfer the ticket on which Chip was drinking to another server. If you guessed that Taffer had seen enough once he witnessed this turn of events, you’re correct!
When confronted—about a great many things—Richard revealed he had already lost $20,000. Taffer had Richard explain to Klaryssa how deep he was in debt. That revelation made—one million dollars— Klaryssa was instructed to get the guests out of the bar. Interestingly, as Taffer spoke with the staff, Kristi didn’t mention right away that she was married to Richard. With a smirk (or two) and a shrug (several) she attempted to excuse herself of any ownership responsibility by stating she was a bartender, never wanted to own a bar, and she married into the business.
Richard, on Taffer’s prompting, explained to his staff that not only was he $1 million in debt, he didn’t have the money for payroll. They had been working the week, without knowing it, for free. Sobbing, he said he didn’t know what sort of future was in store for the bar or his family. Kristi didn’t console him. To say the confrontation was difficult to watch doesn’t do it justice. We’d hesitate to say it’s cruel but it’s not pretty. Tough love at its toughest. Taffer instructed Richard to call his mother and tell her to be at the bar in the morning, told the staff to clean the bar, and said that everybody was to ignore Richard rather than coddle him.
In front of his parents, wife and Taffer, Richard admitted that he felt defeated by RJ’s Replays. It was also revealed that he had been successful with other venues, turning one into a $3 million per year operation. Taffer attempted to boost Richard by explaining that if he could lead a business to success in the past, he could do so again. He also implored Kristi to support and help her husband.
Staff bar training from Ashley consisted of teaching speed and efficiency. She said the bar had “so much potential,” which was a promising sign. Ashley taught the team the Prickly Pear Bomb, a cocktail made for speed. It consisted of 1.5 ounces of orange vodka and a half-ounce of prickly pear liqueur built in a pint glass, shaken with ice, strained into a shot glass (though a more unique vessel was suggested), and dropped into a pint glass filled with a half-can of energy drink.
Unlike in the previous episode, Richard held the door open for the guests invited to the bar for the stress test. He told Taffer he was ready to fight and was focused, and that gesture was a good start. The staff seemed nervous and had to be told by Ashley that they should be talking to every guest as they entered the bar. Kitchen tickets piled up, some guests hadn’t even seen a server to add to the pile, and Klaryssa in particular seemed to be having a difficult time with building and serving drinks. However, she and Kristi became more comfortable, recovered, and got a handle on drink orders. Taffer noticed that the bar staff had great potential—it was the kitchen that was failing during the stress test. Food was dying in the window yet not a single table had been served in 28 minutes. Management was no better, with Richard and the other managers disorganized and not really managing. The plug was pulled on the stress test with Richard announcing to the guests that they’d work hard to improve service.
The plan for the rescue was to simplify and understand the community. With a median income of $38,000, no food item could rise higher than $9.95 and no drink could be priced above seven dollars. The silver lining was that the bar was located in an area surrounded by homes. Value and easy prep were the name of the game, and chicken—a simple protein—that was elevated would be the food star.
Another cocktail was introduced because while Ashley was hesitant to offer up anything too unique, she had confidence in the bar team. El Diablo is built in a tall glass (think highball) filled with ice. Pour in 1.5 ounces of tequila, a half-ounce of lime juice, and a quarter-ounce of simple syrup, and add three dashes of spicy bitters, three ounces of ginger beer, and float a half-ounce of raspberry liqueur. Garnish with a trio of skewered peppers.
Before the renovation was executed, Taffer sat down with Richard to attempt to give him back his confidence. Part of that was dependent on the support of his wife, so Kristi joined and they talked it out. As Taffer said, the bar would be irrelevant without Richard feeling that his wife had his back.
The first reveal of the renovation was the new bar name: Frozen Cactus. The venue was more open and brighter, and hues of red and blue—fire and ice—were used to create separation in the space. Taffer got the bar Bevchek, a leader in draft beverage technology. Flow meters on each tap measure every ounce sold and track waste, protecting profits generated by beer. He also installed three Harbortouch POS systems. Upon opening the doors after the reno reveal, the bar and kitchen teams were dialed in and on point, and Richard was truly acting like an owner.
Six weeks after the relaunch, sales rose 30 percent and Richard was more confident. While things looked rocky between them during this episode, Richard and Kristi have planned a wedding anniversary trip to Hawaii.
If you missed this episode when it first aired or would like to watch it again, be sure to visit the Paramount Network, download the network's , or search for it on demand via your provider.
Taffer’s Cut the BS Excuses that Hold you Back” during Questex’s at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Tuesday, March 26 from 11 to 11:45 a.m. Based upon the New York Times Bestseller, Don’t BS Yourself!: Crush the Excuses That Are Holding You Back, Taffer’s keynote, sponsored by Paramount Network, will offer methods on how to increase productivity and revenue through challenging the habits and processes business owners use to justify failure. Don’t miss out on this lifechanging keynote!, entrepreneur, CEO and hospitality trailblazer, will deliver the keynote “
If you missed this episode when it first aired or would like to watch it again, be sure to visit the Paramount Network website, download the network's app, or search for it on demand via your provider.
*We think Richard said the dreaded F-word here but it was censored and damn it, we don’t like to make assumptions about people cursing.