Jon Taffer Tries to Recover the Recovery Room on Bar Rescue

Images: Paramount Network

For over 30 years, Jon Taffer has traveled the country saving hundreds of bars from failure and ruin. In the latest episode of Paramount Network’s hit show Bar Rescue, Taffer was in San Antonio, Texas, to save the Recovery Room.

Owner Heather Stitch spent her entire life savings—$125,000—in 2013 to buy her “dream” bar, the Recovery Room. As with many of the bars featured on Bar Rescue, the first year of operations was great. The bar developed a decent number of regulars and things seemed like they were on track for success.

And as is the case with a significant number of bars and restaurants featured on the show, things fell apart when the owner decided to prioritize having a good time over focusing on the business. The regulars stopped coming due to what was described as her “drunken antics.”

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Her relationship with her employees didn’t fair much better. One bartender, Dee, described Heather as a “hot mess.” That seems to be a common descriptor of owners on Bar Rescue who have lost their way. Victoria, another bartender at the Recovery Room, described her boss’ behavior as “inappropriate.” Dee says she’s witnessed firsthand how Heather’s behavior has driven guests away, never to return.

Heather was so into having a good time at work that she apparently didn’t have much time to actually train anyone she hired. According to staff, she would point out a few things, show employees how to ring up items, and that was that. Heather’s good time also meant that guests got to do shots for free. As Devin, also a bartender, described it, Heather was “addicted to the party” and is a “kid in her own candy store.”

The Recovery Room bar in San Antonio before being renovated by Jon Taffer on Bar Rescue

Interestingly (read: unfortunately), Heather said she didn’t used to drink but she also didn’t know that owning a bar would be so much work. How drinking on the job would make things easier is a mystery.

Howard Stitch, Heather’s husband, stepped in with the Recovery Room just 5 months from closing for good. He went from support for Heather to, as she put it, “sugar daddy,” investing between $30,000 to $35,000 of his own money to keep the bar afloat. He nailed it when he said to the camera that he felt the owner of a business should be the model for all the employees. With not only her bar but also her marriage on the line and with nowhere else to turn, Heather chose to pull back the doors, bust open the books, and make the call for help to Jon Taffer and Bar Rescue.

When Taffer and Shut it Down! podcast hosts and comedians Jim Search and Max Cohen performed recon, the Bar Rescue host said he wouldn’t want to walk into the place based on the exterior. Cohen said he wouldn’t even know it was a bar just looking by at the sign. Looking past the unappealing exterior, the Recovery Room is located just about a half-mile from U.S. Army base Fort Sam Houston. In fact, San Antonio is considered a patriotic military city.

As far as the impression the interior made on the recon team…it wasn’t good. As guests entered they were given wonderful views of a dirty floor and detritus behind the bar. The walls were painted green which tends to give people a sickly pallor. There was also an empty room on display which was there…because? All it was doing was generating zero revenue. The Recovery Room had a pizza oven but no kitchen.

It was revealed during recon that the bar is losing $2,000 each month and that Howard forks over the money he makes to cover the losses. Taffer and his recon team watched as Heather sat at the bar doing shots with her friends and Howard looked on looking anything but happy. As Taffer pointed out, Heather and her friends were essentially drinking Howard’s alcohol. Nothing was as important as Heather’s party.

At one point, just months from closing the doors forever, Heather gave away 20 shots. Taffer asked his team what she had to be happy about or celebrate. That thought had dawned on Howard as well because he attempted to stop Heather from doing more shots and was met with derisive laughter, to which he said the situation wasn’t funny.

Finally, Taffer had witnessed enough of Heather’s disrespect toward her benefactor, the business and the guests. In a Bar Rescue first, part of Taffer’s recon involved him walking into the bar, instructing the owner to get behind the bar, and make him 15 Margaritas, the most popular drink in America. Heather began the process by filling three glasses with ice, running her hands through her hair, and then putting them all over the tops of the glasses. Taffer demanded she start over.

Read this: Top 5 On-Premise Cocktails Revealed

While Heather struggled to make the Margaritas, Taffer asked Howard some poignant questions:

  1. Is she more generous when she’s drunk?
  2. Is she flirtier when she’s drunk?
  3. Does the bar lose more money when she’s drunk?

When each question was answered in the affirmative, he asked Heather one: “So why the hell are you drunk?” He then asked Howard if he realized the sooner he stopped writing checks to keep the bar alive, the quicker Heather would straighten up.

If you’re wondering whether Heather ever made those 15 Margaritas, the answer is no. For some reason she thought Margaritas were supposed to be built in the glass and not shaken. When Taffer called her out on her mistake and Howard backed him up, Heather retorted with one word before laughing: “Divorce.” Disgusted by her disrespectful behavior, Taffer left, saying he would save the bar for Howard but not for Heather.

Immediately after Taffer’s exit, Heather put her selfishness on display. She berated Howard for not defending her to Taffer. Howard pointed out that he had been supporting the bar for three years which seemed to go right over his wife’s head. Heather also vehemently denied being intoxicated. She was only “toasty,” which would somehow be more acceptable.

Bevinco financial data for the Recovery Room in San Antonio on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer

The next morning, Taffer returned to the Recovery Room to see if he had shocked Heather into realizing the seriousness of her situation. He did this in part by showing Heather, Howard and the staff the consequences of the owner’s behavior and how it had impacted the financial situation of the Recovery Room. According to Bevinco data, the bar should have rung $3,955.58. Instead, the bar gave away $984.08. For the month, the bar had given away $3,936.32. That equated to a yearly loss of $51, 172.16, or the equivalent of nearly 41 percent of Heather’s initial investment in the bar.

Taffer asked bartender Victoria if she had observed behavior from Heather during the three-and-a-half years she had worked at the Recovery Room that led to guests leaving and not coming back. She said she had and that the bar had a “party atmosphere.” Taffer than showed footage of Heather’s drunken behavior to the owner, her husband and the staff. He explained to a tearful Heather that her actions had led to a poor perception of her as an owner, doing nothing but damage to the bar.

The Bar Rescue host was incredibly blunt about how he perceived Heather. To him, she wasn’t serious about working in the bar, she was just a “little girl” playing at bar ownership, and she wasn’t being fair to her husband. Continuing with that last point, Taffer said Heather had a choice: she could lose her bar—her dream—or give Howard half ownership of it. He had been forking over cash for the past several months to keep it open, after all. With that, Taffer left the bar to let Heather and Howard discuss things. Ultimately, Heather made the choice to give 50 percent of the bar to Howard.

After Taffer had been informed of Heather’s decision, it was time for bar training. Taffer brought in mixology expert Phil Wills to get a baseline for the team’s skills and teach them new drinks. Phil asked Howard what he thought the top-selling spirit was at the Recovery Room. When he said Crown Royal was toward the top of the list, Phil explained that not only was Crown the top-selling Canadian whisky in the world, it was the top-selling whisky in Texas.

The Shore Leave Crown Royal Deluxe cocktail on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer

For the first drink, Shore Leave, Phil started with one ounce of Crown Royal Deluxe in a highball glass over ice. He then added a half-ounce of peach schnapps, an ounce-and-a-half of cranberry juice, and an ounce of orange juice. Phil garnished the drink with an orange half-moon.

The second drink, 68 Whisky, was prepared in a pint glass and called for an ounce-and-a-half of Crown Royal Apple combined with a half-ounce of caramel syrup, three dashes of aromatic bitters, and two drops of liquid smoke. Phil added ice, stirred, and strained into a rocks glass over fresh ice. He garnished the drink with two skewered cherries.

68 Whisky Crown Royal Apple cocktail on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer

New drinks taught, it was stress test time. At first, Taffer had confidence that the team would perform well. He had based that on what appeared to be a good effort at managing by Heather. However, everything fell apart and descended into chaos just 10 minutes into the stress test. Phil noted that the entire bar team was crowding around one bar station, while Taffer noticed that nobody had opened a tab or otherwise paid for their drinks. While specific times weren’t quoted, the Recovery Time may have earned itself one of the fastest stress test shutdowns in Bar Rescue history.

Counterattack Crown Royal Deluxe cocktail on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer

It was obvious the team had not only been experiencing a lack of leadership and management, they also hadn’t received training behind the bar. At least, if they had been trained it certainly wasn’t up to the standards of Wills or Taffer. Wills met the team at another bar to boost their skills. He also introduced a new drink, the Counterattack: In a mixing glass combine (with both hands) one ounce of hibiscus syrup and one ounce of fresh lemon juice, add two dashes of aromatic bitters, a splash of aquafaba, and an ounce-and-a-half of Crown Royal Deluxe. Add ice, shake very well, strain into a coupe, and garnish with a lemon peel.

With bar training completed, Taffer declared the team good to go. However, he felt he needed to define everyone’s roles to keep the bar from falling back into chaos. He also met with Heather and Howard to explain that the former needed to focus on becoming a catalyst for her guests’ good times and not her own. Taffer revealed that he had been concerned the bar would have led to a divorce if things hadn’t changed. He asked Heather what she needed from Howard as a partner moving forward. Heather said she needed his support, to which Howard said he believed if he could provide the bar team with consistent training and help with the schedule the situation would improve. Taffer agreed and moved on to renovate the Recovery Room.
The Base Line's new name and sign in San Antonio on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer

When Taffer revealed the redesigned bar, it had a new name: the Base Line. The interior had been reworked and refreshed and the bar itself had been updated. It now featured an impressive draft system from Arctic Concepts that reduces foam and waste and pours beer at 39 degress. The single bar station had been replaced with two wells at opposing ends, and a Donna Italia pizza oven had been added to the bar. The Base Line was given three Harbortouch POS systems and a lifetime subscription to Bevinco.

The Base Line bar in San Antonio after the Recover Room renovation on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer

Crown Royal, known for their commitment to giving back, has Walls of Gratitude across America featuring 35,000 honorees. Now, Baseline has one. Taffer had also brought the Crown Royal and Packages from Home bring their active duty military, veteran and military K9 care package program to the Base Line.

Read this: Help Crown Royal & Packages from Home Send 1 Million Care Packages by 2020

Six weeks after the renovation, sales are up 22 percent.

Want more from Taffer? The Bar Rescue host delivered an inspiring keynote at the 2019 Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas on Tuesday, March 26. Check it out here!

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