Jon Taffer & Barstool Sports Help a Pizza Place Make Dough on Bar Rescue

Images: Paramount Network

For over 30 years, Jon Taffer has traveled the country saving hundreds of bars from failure and ruin. On the latest episode of Paramount Network’s hit show Bar Rescue, Taffer went to Largo, Florida, in an attempt to fix Gil & Rick’s Sports Bar & Pizzeria. He brought along Dave Portnoy, founder and president of Barstool Sports. Portnoy is also known for reviewing hundreds upon hundreds of pizza places. Barstool Sports producer Frankie Borrelli came with to conduct recon inside the bar.

Co-owner Gil Grim, a former postal employee opened Gil & Rick’s with fellow postal worker Rick Johnson. Gil had dreamt of owning a sports bar for more than 30 years. It didn’t take long for things inside the 2,000-square-foot sports bar to go sideways.

One of the issues was an inexperienced staff. Gil told the Bar Rescue cameras that kitchen manager Taz’s speed and consistency weren’t at the necessary levels. Taz said that he hadn’t received any formal training for his role as kitchen manager.

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Another issue was the personalities and management styles of Gil and Rick, the former described as high-strung but hardworking by bar manager Erika and bartender Kelly. Rick, on the other hand, was described as a “schmoozer” who buys everyone shots. The cameras showed Gil and Rick arguing over why guests preferred the latter to the former: Rick said they liked him better because they disliked listening to Gil, but Gil said they only liked Rick because he bought them drinks.

Gil & Rick's Sports Bar & Pizzeria sign before redesign by Jon Taffer on Bar Rescue

With more than $200,000 invested in the bar, not long from closing for good, and their friendship at serious risk of ending, Gil and Rick decided to pull back the doors, bust open the books, and make the call for help to Jon Taffer and Bar Rescue.

During recon, Taffer, Portnoy and checked out the exterior of Gil & Rick’s. The confusing signage made it appear as though the space was actually three different businesses next to one another. The trio also observed Gil working hard—as described earlier in the episode—and Rick standing around asking for shots. The bar team, including bartender Michael, also appeared to be hard at work.

Exterior of Gil & Rick's in Florida before being renovated on Bar Rescue by Jon Taffer

In the kitchen, however, things didn’t look great. Taz had burned at least one pizza and was instructed to throw it out by Erika. Taffer told Borrelli to go into the bar, order one of every pizza on the menu—11 in total—to slam the kitchen and reveal how handled pressure. During recon it was revealed via narration that the 1,000-square-foot pizza kitchen only had one working oven.

Co-owner Rick appeared much more interested in chatting than serving. Borrelli appeared to have been able to order a pitcher a beer but it seemed to take quite some time for anyone to take his food order. Rick, at one point, was very close to a clearly frustrated and hungry Borrelli—he had a menu in his hands and was looking around for help—and didn’t acknowledge him. Michael eventually took his order, to which he added a stromboli and calzone.

As Portnoy pointed out in his conversation with Taffer during recon, 10 pizzas being ordered in a popular pizza place isn’t uncommon and shouldn’t be a challenge. Co-owner Rick, on the other hand, decided the order was suspicious—granted, it came from a lone guest—and instructed bartender Michael to make Borrelli prepay. But think about this from the guest perspective: the request to prepay coupled with the explanation that they wanted to make sure he didn’t run out is accusatory, suspicious and doesn’t make a guest feel comfortable.

Back in the kitchen, Taz had to read the menu to determine how to make fulfill the order. That was an indication that along with a lack of training, he didn’t know the menu. On top of that, the large order had raised some eyebrows but co-owner Rick hadn’t thought to head into the kitchen to give Taz a hand making the pizzas. He did head back to deliver at least the veggie pizza, but not before mocking Borrelli (in the kitchen, not to his face) for being an “asshole.” (Gil had thrown around the same insult.) His attitude hadn’t pushed him to be hospitable to a guest who had just placed a large order and spent more money than other guests, it had driven him to be disrespectful. Borrelli also gave away his pizzas to the other guests, keeping them in the bar and making them happy, but Rick had decided he was an asshole.

Gil & Rick's bar before renovation by Jon Taffer on Bar Rescue

Portnoy went into Gil & Rick’s after Borrelli delivered his honest assessment to Rick: he didn’t care for their supreme pizza’s crust. The Barstool Sports president agreed with Borrelli and declared the crust “wildly doughy” and “horrible.” When Portnoy pointed out that the beer was flat and Borrelli informed him that another guest had said the same thing, the cameras jumped to Gil saying he wanted to slap Portnoy in the teeth. That caused Taffer to head inside as well. You know what that means: #ConfrontationTime!

Taffer had Rick squeeze one slice of pizza to drive home the fact that it was doughy. When Taffer asked Portnoy what he thought about Gil & Rick’s pizza, the Bartstool president said that Borrelli had almost thrown up. Taffer then turned to the co-owners of the sports bar to ask if they knew who Portnoy was. Gil said no, Rick said yes. Taffer explained that if Portnoy had liked their pizza he could’ve slammed their place with guests on his recommendation the next day. Portnoy said that wouldn’t have happened because it would’ve ruined his credibility.

When Taffer asked how much the sports bar was losing each month Rick said $2,000. Instead of being grateful to the best guest of the evening, Taffer pointed out, both co-owners and the kitchen manager acted like petulant children. Not the wisest, most hospitable or most respectful behavior from a business losing money—it was an indicator of why they were losing that money.

Likely the biggest reason for the sports bar’s failure was the divide between the owners. Pushed by Taffer, Gil admitted that he didn’t think Rick pulled his weight in the business. The Bar Rescue host explained that their inability to unify as owners was impacting their guests negatively. Taffer delivered an interesting ultimatum: he wouldn’t respect Gil until he respected his guests; Rick was not to consume another drink in the bar while it was being rescued; and both co-owners needed to apologize to and thank Borrelli.

Taffer took Taz to task the following day. Taz said that he used to have a passion for all things food and wanted to work. After being asked if his process could’ve been streamlined, Taz said yes but he faced a time issue. Taffer stopped him right there—Taz had hours each day to organize the kitchen and do prep. He hadn’t been making mistakes, Taz had been making bad choices and wasting time. Taffer let him know that he would have been fired if he owned the bar.

After tearing into Gil and Rick for making Borrelli feel like an idiot for placing a large order, Taffer turned his attention to Rick’s drinking. Kelly revealed that Rick gave away 15 drinks a night “easily.” To illustrate the damage his drinking was doing to the business, Taffer showed them all the Sculpture Hospitality system numbers he had collected. The weekend of Taffer’s visit, Gil & Rick’s should’ve sold $3,880.40 in liquor based on what had been consumed. The bar actually sold just $2,475, a difference of $1,405.40. Were that to continue for a year, the bar would lose $73,080.80. Gil refused to accept the data as fact and told Taffer he was exaggerating. Taffer fired back that he and Rick may have been the worst bar managers he had ever encountered.

Numbers shared and rejected, Taffer introduced the staff to the two experts who would be assisting him on the rescue: New York City chef and pizza expert Frank Pinello, and innovative mixologist Rob Floyd. Taffer informed Floyd that Gil & Rick’s liquor shrinkage was a staggering 49 percent, a number the mixologist said was “unheard of.” For Taffer, the insanely high number indicated one thing: theft.

Theft was, at this point, just another issue. When Floyd and Taffer went behind the bar to assess the situation they found that it was just filthy. Dead bugs, feces, bacteria… It was a mess. When #ConfrontationTime happened again, Gil didn’t take it well. He replied condescendingly and angrily with, “Yea, we get it John!” multiple times. Taffer told Gil to get back there and clean his bar.

One intriguing aspect of the time between recon and the stress test was Rick’s attitude. Unlike Gil, he appeared to be absorbing Taffer’s feedback, whether delivered calmly or aggressively. He didn’t seem indignant. Rather, he found the shrinkage alarming, said he, Gil and the staff needed the problems to be identified, and appeared to be motivated to turn things around.

Floyd was also alarmed by the shrinkage, of course. He decided to take the team back to basics. If they were going to fix the problems, they would need to focus on service, speed and consistency. Pinello did the same in the kitchen, focusing on the basics of pizza-making along with speed and consistency. He also shared a valuable piece of information: it should only cost $3 to make a pizza. That means pizza can provide excellent margins for operators, particularly if they can sell pizzas for $18 or more.

The goal for the stress test was focused on the bar’s ability to deliver pizzas in a timely manner. Taffer pulled out a timer (each table would have one) and said he wanted Gil & Rick’s to make and serve 20 pizzas in as close to 20 minutes as possible. If a timer went off, that table’s pizza had gone past the 20-minute mark. Taffer had Rick take front of house and Gil take back of house so they’d learn how to solve problems together.

And they nailed the stress test! It went so well that there’s nothing more to say about it.

Not really. The bar had an incredibly difficult time putting three-ingredient Margaritas, Bloody Marys and Sours over the bar. The kitchen had fallen behind by 8 pizza orders before ever getting one out to the floor. Eventually, the kitchen was more than hour behind. But to his credit, Pinello said that Taz had heart. Taffer went into the kitchen and told Taz that he had won him over. Sadly, Taz took the failed stress test hard but he did say he knew he could do the job.

After Rick told the crowd that they needed to #ShutItDown, he told the cameras that they had failed the stress test miserably but it showed him that he and Gil needed to put the proper systems in place and give their team the tools necessary to succeed.

Taffer revealed the plan for Gil & Rick’s next. He explained that the marketplace was largely made up of an older, more mainstream demographic. While younger guests want to experience the new, older guests tend to favor the familiar and predictable. However, that doesn’t mean that older guests aren’t interested in innovative food and beverage—it just needs to have familiar elements to it.

Rick's Mule cocktail at Sauced by Rob Floyd on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer

Keeping Taffer’s plan in mind, Floyd introduced the team to Rick’s Mule. Add two slices of fresh ginger and three yellow cherry tomatoes to a mixing glass and muddle them. Combine lime juice, simple syrup and vodka. Add two dashes of bitters and ice and shake. Pour ginger beer into a Collins glass and strain the cocktail into it. Garnish with a lime wheel and cherry tomato.

Recognizable but creative new drinks and food would only take the bar so far. Taffer explained that he had seen Gil softening and becoming more accepting that changes needed to be made during the stress test. The two co-owners needed to repair their friendship and forge a true business partnership. Gil and Rick had worked for the US Postal Service and paid their dues—this stage of their lives was supposed to be fun. They needed one another if they were going to repair their relationship, turn the bar around, and make money.

Remodeled exterior of Sauced in Largo, Florida, after Jon Taffer remodel on Bar Rescue

When Taffer revealed the renovated space he also showed Gil, Rick and their team the bar’s new name: Sauced. The name signaled both pizza (pizza sauce) and a place to enjoy a few cocktails (“sauced”). New signage made it clear that the space was one business, not three. The interior received an update with new furniture, a portable stage, a monitor that showed off images of Sauced’s food, and more. The bar received new glassware, a beer cooler, and draft towers. Sauced got a lifetime subscription to Taffer Virtual Teaching (TVT), a new Harbortouch POS system, and repaired ovens and refrigeration in the kitchen. For stepping up as much as he did, Taz received a new chef’s jacket.

Sauced in Largo, Florida, interior and bar after remodel by Jon Taffer on Bar Rescue

Six weeks after the relaunch, Gil and Rick were working well together. Driven by new guests, sales were strong and a lunch menu had been added.

Want more content like this? Check out the times Taffer saved LIV Restaurant & Bar in Las Vegas, Nevada, and fixed China Grove Trading Post in Texas.

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