Jon Taffer Tries to Save an Owner from Shattered Dreams 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 Las Vegas, Nevada, to rescue a dive bar called Eliphino.

John McDonnell opened Eliphino in Las Vegas in 2017, realizing one of his dreams. The dive bar was named after the punchline to a bad joke: “What do you get when you cross an elephant with a rhinoceros? ‘Ell if I know!” According to John, the name was just fine because “historically, dive bars have really stupid names.”

John and his friend Casey—formerly the manager of Eliphino—wanted the bar to be a casual spot for Vegas locals to grab a drink and a bite. The full name for the bar was actually Eliphino Dive & Dine. However, John didn’t have enough money to open the bar and a kitchen…so he leased it. As he admitted on camera, however, he didn’t lease it to the right person. The bar was locked out and had no access to the kitchen, meaning his guests aren’t ordering food from Eliphino.

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The bar had been dealing with other problems as well. Eliphino’s “ice program” consisted of bagged ice being dumped into coolers. The “POS system” was Square readers. Eliphino had 27 taps…but only three worked.

The greatest issue as far as Bar Rescue was concerned was John’s inability to deal with the stresses of being a bar owner and operator. Casey and bartenders Lee Lee and Autumn described John as having a big heart but also spreading himself too thin to handle stress calmly. Being stressed out led to him being frustrating for the staff to deal with. He also would get overwhelmed with problems and give up rather than fix them. Ultimately, Casey left Eliphino.

Overwhelmed with running Eliphino on his own, about $110,000 in debt, and just a couple of months from closing his doors forever, John decided to pull back the doors, bust open the books, and make the call for help to Jon Taffer and Bar Rescue.

The interior of Eliphino Dive & Dine in Las Vegas before being remodeled by Jon Taffer on Bar Rescue

Taffer described Eliphino as being in a “strictly non-tourist” area of Las Vegas. The dive bar was located 30 to 40 blocks away from the Strip. For recon, former manager Casey joined Taffer so he could get more information about the problems with the bar. Casey explained that she had opened the bar with John but quit about a year after the doors had opened. She did so, she revealed, because John shot down all her business ideas.

For instance, Casey wanted to partner with a local pizza place but was told it wouldn’t work. It wasn’t that he was a bad person—quite the opposite. Casey says John’s a good person, he just always jumps to the negatives rather than seeing the positives when presented with business ideas. The problem with that mindset is that it leads to managers and other employees feeling unappreciated. Eventually, they won’t feel as though they’re a part of the business and will leave. Casey proved that when she left.

John also had control issues, according to Casey. He ran every element of Eliphino because he didn’t trust anyone to do their jobs and accomplish their tasks. This also leads to high turnover—nobody likes to be micromanaged or feel as though they’re not trusted at their workplace.

After getting the scoop on John and Eliphino from Casey, Taffer watched as recon inside the bar was performed by mixologist Derrick Turner and a buddy of his. Bartender Lee Lee was friendly and bubbly. Eliphino was supposedly known for their Long Islands but Derrick said his tasted like formaldehyde. It was also served in a mason jar, which Taffer questioned as he didn’t feel like it fit the concept.

The bar inside Eliphino Dive & Dine in Las Vegas before Jon Taffer remodeled it on Bar Rescue

Lee Lee gladly made Derrick a new Long Island. Eliphino pre-batched their Long Islands, which Derrick identified as the problem. There’s nothing inherently wrong with pre-batching drinks as doing so can save on speed and help with consistency. But if the batches aren’t built, poured, finished, garnished and served properly, guests won’t like them.

When Derrick and his buddy attempted to order food, they were told that wasn’t possible. Lee Lee added that she couldn’t talk about why they couldn’t serve food. Taffer pointed out that her non-explanation would make some guests think the Health Department had shut down their kitchen, making them uncomfortable with being there. Eliphino did offer pretzels to guests…which were self-served from a jar on a table. They did at least put paper plates next to the pretzels, along with a plastic scoop.

At this point, Casey explained the kitchen situation to Taffer. John leased the kitchen to someone with a catering business. According to Casey, food had never once gone out from that kitchen. John had failed to put any clause in the lease agreement that said if the kitchen wasn’t being used for X number of weeks or months, the agreement was nullified. Eliphino had never been able to serve food to its guests.

When Taffer went into Eliphino, he brought Casey along with him. During the confrontation—which didn’t involve yelling, throwing contaminated food items, or a drunken owner or staff—John realized very quickly that Casey had left because of his negative attitude toward work her feeling unappreciated. Taffer made it clear that John had the chance to ask Casey to come back and help him turn around the bar, which he did. Casey told the camera that she had helped start the bar and she wanted to help fix it.

Taffer called for a staff meeting with John, Casey and bartenders Amanda, Angie, Autumn and Lee Lee. John revealed to the staff how deep he was in debt, that the bar was losing about $2,500 per month, and that Eliphino was just two to three months from closing. When asked about problems, the staff pointed to the lack of kitchen, which prompted Taffer to address the word “Dine” in the bar name. Ultimately, he said John wasn’t an aggressive owner, a good decision maker or a risk taker. He also said John wasn’t fighting for his future or his employees. When Taffer finally got through to John and got him fired up, he told him he needed to fight for what he wanted, ask for help when he needed it, and listen to other people’s business ideas.

El Diablo cocktail by Derrick Turner at Shattered in Las Vegas on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer
El Diablo by Derrick Turner

When Derrick came in to test the staff’s skills, he learned that not only did John do the Long Island batching, he was the only one who knew how to make the batches. If he were sick, on vacation or otherwise not at the bar, nobody would know how to make the Long Island batches. He also taught the staff new drinks, like the El Diablo: three-quarters of an ounce fresh lime juice, an ounce-and-a-half of tequila, and a pinch of cinnamon over ice in a mixing glass. The drink is shaken, poured into a highball glass over fresh ice, and topped with ginger beer. The back of a bar spoon is used to finish the drink with a touch of cassis, and a cinnamon stick is used for garnish. The bar staff’s excitement for new drinks and a new cocktail menu was put to words by bartender Autumn. She said it was a relief to know there would be a standard and consistency, which would make everyone happy.

The bar team didn’t put consistency on display during the stress test, unfortunately. They were mostly attempting to only make one drink at a time, and even then they weren’t building the drinks they had been taught correctly. Interestingly, it was the team members who spent the most time at Eliphino that were making the most mistakes. Lee Lee became very frustrated with the stress test and cut herself. Taffer instructed John to send her home because of her bad attitude. Angie was identified as the strongest on the bar team. Autumn needed training but had a great attitude and was smiling even during the stress test. Really, the entire bar team needed training. Taffer had John shut it down so Derrick could train the bartenders.

Tequila Sidecar cocktail by Derrick Turner at Shattered in Las Vegas on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer
Tequila Sidecar by Derrick Turner

During training, Derrick taught the team the Tequila Sidecar: three-quarters-ounce orange liqueur, one ounce of lemon juice, and two ounces tequila in a mixing glass. Add ice to the top and shake. Rim a rocks glass with lime juice and sugar, add fresh ice, and pour the drink. Express an orange peel and garnish with it.

Bar training wasn’t the only issue with Eliphino. Taffer had John sit down with the person who had leased the kitchen from him. During the conversation, that person told John that she leased the kitchen with the plan to operate an incubator kitchen. As far as she understood the agreement, she would provide food if John followed her rules and paid her rates as other incubator members. Further, she claimed that the agreement stated John would turn the kitchen over “in good working condition,” which she says didn’t happen, hence the delay in opening. John disputed what she said, saying he agreed to lease her the kitchen “as-is.”

It was revealed when John read the lease agreement out loud that he had indeed agreed to turn the kitchen over in good working condition. He had not done so as the kitchen had been turned over with defects. Taffer explained that John had blown it: she was not legally required to work with Eliphino, nor did she have any desire to do so.

Still, Taffer moved ahead with the renovation. He revealed the bar’s new name: Shattered. He wanted John to take meaning from that name: that this bar wouldn’t shatter any more of his dreams, and that he deserved success.

The interior of Eliphino, renamed to Shattered, after being remodeled by Jon Taffer on Bar Rescue

Seating and tables had been addressed during the remodel. The bar had also been addressed: a second work station had been added, as had soda guns. Two Manitowoc ice machines had been installed behind the bar. Three Harbortouch POS systems had been installed: two behind the bar and another for servers. The draft system was updated to a 9-tap Turbo Tap system. Taffer had also gotten the bar BevChek to manage beer costs. He had also addressed an issue in the kitchen to make the incubator tenant happy.

The bar inside Eliphino, relaunched as Shattered, after remodel by Jon Taffer on Bar Rescue

Six weeks after the remodel and rename, sales were up 30 percent at Shattered and John had taken possession of the kitchen.

Want more content like this? Take a look at the times Taffer refreshed UNLV’s hospitality school bar, saved the Recovery Room, and fixed Kiva Lounge & Bar.

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