Jon Taffer Rushes to Save an Owner $1,000,000 in Debt on Bar Rescue

Images: Paramount Network

For over 30 years, Jon Taffer has traveled the country saving hundreds of bars from failure and ruin. For the latest episode of Paramount Network’s hit show Bar Rescue, Taffer was in Palm Harbor, Florida, to try to rescue New England’s Ale House Grille.

Back in 2013, Tara Cook and her ex-husband bought what was then known as the Olde Schoolhouse Restaurant. The Olde Schoolhouse had been in business for more than 30 years, meaning it was well known in the community. Being new owners, Tara and her soon-to-be ex-husband wanted to update the property. They spent around $500,000 just renovating the building between 2013 and 2014.

It was when they renamed of the community staple that things started going sideways. As Tara told the Bar Rescue cameras, there are people who won’t visit the bar and restaurant now because of the new name. Things didn’t improve when Tara’s husband left, becoming a silent partner and leaving with her two kids, a failing business, and debt. According to Tara, the only thing he wants to know about the business is if it’s making money or if she’s going to shut it down.

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The staff also became an issue at New England’s. Kitchen manager Moe said that Tara takes “her bad life” out on the staff. General Manager Doug, hired on to help Tara improve operations, said the staff wouldn’t listen to him. He felt that the staff was complacent and didn’t respect him enough. Server Erik described Doug as a “complete asshole.”

The bar at New England's Ale House Grille before remodel by Jon Taffer on Bar Rescue

It turned out, however, that the staff wasn’t the only entity seemingly disrespecting Doug. The general manager revealed that he was expected to handle both professional and some personal issues for Tara. During the first part of the episode he describes functioning as Tara’s taxi or chauffeur. Interestingly, Tara’s take on that situation was that Doug was a good friend. This indicated that she was an operator who was unable to separate work from her personal life.

Almost one million dollars in debt, unsure of what to do to turn New England’s around, and possibly less than one week from closing for good, Tara decided to pull back the doors, bust open the books, and make the call for help to Jon Taffer and Bar Rescue.

The dining area inside New England's Ale House Grille before remodel by Jon Taffer on Bar Rescue

For this rescue, Taffer surveilled New England’s on his own. He had actually had the venue under surveillance for several weeks while he decided whether the operation needed rescuing. One of his biggest—and most disturbing—revelations was that the food handling at New England’s was “grotesque.” For instance, just before texting Tara to come meet him outside the venue, Taffer witnessed quesadillas being placed on a cutting board next to raw shrimp tails.

During their conversation, Taffer asked if revenues had gone up or down after Doug was hired as general manager. Tara admitted that they had gone down “consistently.” When asked if Tara had ever read Yelp reviews of her bar and restaurant, she said that she read them all the time. Some of the reviews mentioned Doug, and not for good reasons. According to Taffer—with Tara nodding knowingly—Yelp reviews have said Doug is rude, inhospitable, and has said that the customer isn’t always right.

The deck at New England's Ale House Grille before remodel by Jon Taffer on Bar Rescue

While discussing Doug and whether he was good for Tara’s business, cameras cut to him taking a plate of food from the line and tossing it onto the floor of the kitchen. Taffer said that his take on the Doug situation was that the general manager first proved himself to Tara personally. Doing so moved Tara to give him far more slack professionally than he deserved.

Eventually, Taffer revealed that he was sending in a recon team after all. The Bar Rescue host had tasked three Tampa Bay Buccaneers with testing the staff: defensive tackle Beau Allen, tight end Cameron Brate, and guard Ali Marpet. Having placed their order, Taffer headed into New England’s with Tara to observe the kitchen team.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Beau Allen, Cameron Brate and Ali Marpet on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer
Taffer pointed out several instances of cross-contamination involving multiple types of meat. Kitchen manager Moe didn’t wash her hands while executing food orders. Worse, general manager Doug didn’t confront Moe about her food handling mistakes because he hadn’t been paying enough attention to notice them. When Tara instructed Doug to get behind the line to help the kitchen complete the NFL players’ order—which after 10 to 11 minutes still hadn’t been completed—he also handled raw food and touched various pieces of equipment without washing his hands or putting on gloves.

After #ConfrontationTime in the kitchen, Taffer brought Tara and Doug out to speak with the NFL players. They had been waiting for their order for 31 minutes but had never gotten any food. Had the team nailed the order, had word gotten out that Tampa Bay Buccaneers players hung out at New England’s, the business would have gotten much needed help in turning around. Instead, Doug had squandered the opportunity. Taffer had Doug apologize and hoped they’d return to give New England’s another chance.

Doug and Tara were asked to sit outside of New England’s the next day so Taffer could speak with the staff. He wanted to figure out what other issues were affecting the business. David, who had been at New England’s for 18 months, and Moe, who had been there for 5 months, said the Yelp reviews about Doug being rude were accurate. On top of that, David claimed that he had seen probably 100 employees come and go since he had worked at the bar and restaurant because of Doug. Robin estimated that 85 percent of turnover was due to staff mistreatment and said her first 6 months of employment were “a nightmare.” She had been brought to tears more than once after being degraded by both Doug and Tara. Erik described Doug as completely unapproachable and said Tara ran her business with a “my way or the highway” attitude. If operators nurture a culture wherein management disrespects staff, their turnover rate will increase. This not only makes it difficult to build a high-performing team, it costs the business thousands of dollars.

Of course, Tara and Doug were having their own airing of grievances while they were separated from their employees. Yelp was referred to as Bitch by Doug because he felt that people only used the site to complain. Tara assumed her employees were putting the failure of the business on her and Doug. The general manager bemoaned a lack of competent employees with common sense.

Taffer asked Tara and Doug to join their employees. He explained that food costs were good—between 30 and 35 percent—and liquor costs were within $9,000 of where they should be for the year. Taffer asked Doug how many employees he had gone through, to which the general manager estimated 70. Doug said work ethic was the reason so many employees had come and gone. During a sequel to #ConfrontationTime, Taffer asked how the business could be successful if half the guests disliked Tara and almost three-quarters of the guests didn’t like Doug. Growing emotional, Taffer demanded Doug stand up and apologize for degrading and shaming the staff. After Doug apologized, Tara did as well, although she didn’t stand when she did it.

Apologies delivered, Taffer introduced the staff to mixologist Mia Mastroianni and award-winning New York City chef Michael Ferraro. The two experts trained the staff on the drinks and food they’d be making and serving for the upcoming stress test. Chef Ferraro also reiterated food handling safety. The twist for this episode’s stress test involved penalty flags, a nod to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers recon team the staff had failed previously. The industry standard for serving a table is 12 minutes—Taffer would give New England’s 15 minutes. Any table that wasn’t served within that time would throw their flag and scream, “Penalty!”

Taffer estimated that 15 minutes into the stress test a mere 10 percent of the room had been served. It didn’t help that the front-of-house staff hadn’t implemented a streamlined process. Rather than dropping napkins and taking food and drink orders upon greeting a table, they were doing everything slowly and inefficiently.

As far as back of house, one order that managed to get out to a guest was served with raw chicken. That prompted Taffer and Chef Ferraro to have Doug check the temperatures of other chicken dishes before they left the kitchen. The safe temperature for chicken is 165 degrees Fahrenheit—Doug’s checks showed chicken under 140 degrees. Doug’s incompetency as expediter meant servers were taking food that didn’t belong to their tables and then bringing back to the kitchen. With penalty flags piling up and ticket times approaching 35 minutes, Taffer decided to #ShutItDown so the experts could train the staff the entirety of the following day.

The Stout Cocktail by Mia Mastroianni at Das Brauhaus on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer

With Taffer landing on a German biergarten for the remodel, he had Mastroianni and Chef Ferraro come up with food and beverage that would speak to the theme. Mastroianni kicked off training by teaching the bar team the Stout Cocktail: three dashes of orange bitters, a half-ounce of simple syrup, and stout beer. Chef Ferraro taught the kitchen team a cheeseburger with sauerkraut served on a grilled pretzel bun.

The new Das Brauhaus & Cafe on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer

Taffer’s reveal included more than a cosmetic makeover. New England’s Ale House Grille was now Das Brauhaus & Café. The deck had been converted into a beer garden and the rest of the venue certainly drove home the German biergarten concept. Taffer got Das Brauhaus Ripple Maker machines from Ripples, a device that “prints” artwork—logos, messages, portraits, hashtags, and much more—and was featured at the 2019 Nightclub & Bar Show. Moe was given a chef’s jacket.

The bar at Das Brauhaus & Cafe after remodel by Jon Taffer on Bar Rescue

Tara held the door and greeted guests as they came in to check out her newly renovated and renamed bar and restaurant, and among those guests were Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mastroianni said David was performing well behind the bar, Moe did a great job in the kitchen, Taffer stopped to chat with the NFL players and implore them to get the word out about Das Brauhaus, and he also made sure to let Doug know he and the team had improved on relaunch night. Tara and Doug presented Taffer with a plaque that read “Rescued By Taffer” and had him sign it.

The beer garden at Das Brauhaus & Cafe in Palm Harbor on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer

Six weeks after the relaunch, liquor sales had risen 39 percent, Tara and Doug had managed to keep their personal and professional lives separate, and Doug was said to be treating the staff with respect.

Want more content like this? Take a look back at the times Taffer saved China Grove Trading Post in China Grove, Texas, and Gil & Rick’s Sports Bar & Pizzeria in Largo, Florida.

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