Jon Taffer Tries to Solve an Identity Crisis at LIV in Las Vegas on Bar Rescue

Jon Taffer with Charity Johnston and Chef Ryan Scott. 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 his hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada, to rescue LIV Restaurant & Bar. He brought along mixologist Charity Johnston, beverage director for the Madera Group, and Chef Ryan Scott, known for combining cutting-edge culinary with classics.

Mother of two and full-time physical therapist Michelle opened LIV Restaurant & Bar in 2017. The venue catered to a mostly Filipino clientele. Michelle’s dream was to build a restaurant and bar that captured the sense of community she missed after leaving the Philippines.

Unfortunately, Michelle had never run a restaurant or a bar before opening LIV. Her lack of experience resulted in an identity crisis. It was unclear whether LIV was a restaurant, a bar or a nightclub. When a brand sends confusing messages about their own identity, it confuses potential guests and consumers. For LIV, that translated to a lack of steady business.

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Michelle’s lack of experience also meant she didn’t know how to manage her team. The Bar Rescue cameras captured a couple moments that illustrated how lack of management was hurting the business. For instance, it appeared that Michelle had forgotten to order at least one crucial item event though it had been put on a list. A soda gun was said to not be in working order, and kegs were shown to be dirty.

LIV Restaurant & Bar on Bar Rescue before Jon Taffer remodel.

The show also suggested that server Janette had no problem acting as a bartender and pouring potential profits down the proverbial drain to score more tips. When owners and managers don’t manage, dishonesty and division can take over a bar, restaurant or nightclub incredibly quickly.

Lack of management can also be physically dangerous and deadly. Irresponsibly kitchen practices can mean disaster, and not just in terms of revenue. If a kitchen team doesn’t follow strict guidelines, they can seriously injure or even kill someone.

Michelle had taken money from her savings, retirement and children’s college funds to keep LIV afloat. After hemorrhaging $350,000, losing $15,000 per month, and facing closure in one month, Michelle decided to pull back the doors, bust open the books, and make the call for help to Jon Taffer and Bar Rescue.

LIV Las Vegas bar on Bar Rescue before Jon Taffer remodel.

Taffer, Charity and Chef Scott watched as two social media influencers performed recon inside LIV. The space is close to 5,000 square feet, so even with over 80 guests LIV looked very slow. The influencers’ first impressions were not good. The table at which they sat—nobody greeted and sat them—was dirty. They were ignored and were unsure whether they had even been noticed at all. One of the influencers said of the experience, “I’d think that I was in an old folks’ home.”

When bartender TJ did finally engage with the influencers he told them LIV had nothing on tap and no drink menu. After he told them he could either make whatever they wanted or “figure it out,” TJ was asked for a Dark ‘n’ Stormy and a Greyhound. His reply? He didn’t know the former and there was no grapefruit for the latter. Eventually, the influencers were able to place orders that TJ could make, a Long Island and a Cosmo. Execution was, however, lacking. The nonfunctional soda gun meant TJ was pouring soda from two-liters that weren’t even refrigerated. When the drinks arrived, they were terrible.

Bartender Dane left the kitchen and took the influencers’ food orders. They asked if there were vegetarian options—crucial in today’s restaurant and bar world—and were told that there weren't any. Dane offered to alter the chop suey to make it vegetarian, so the influencers ordered that along with an order of calamari and an order of chicken wings.

Live Restaurant & Bar dance floor and dining room on Bar Rescue before Jon Taffer remodel.

Being active social media influencers, the recon duo appeared to go live on a platform to air their grievances. As any operator should know, an influencer can destroy a business with a single negative post.

In the kitchen, bartender Dane was preparing food with lead cook Russell for some reason. Chef Scott noticed that the team wasn’t even following one of the most basic rules of service: first in, first out. It appeared that the entire staff was in the kitchen…except for Michelle, who was standing at the DJ booth. That was another issue: recon took place at around 8:30 at night and no music was playing, which meant nobody was dancing and there wasn’t much in the way of ambiance.

Sticking with the kitchen and its many issues, server Janette was using the POS system to input orders. However, the printer wasn’t working so orders still needed to be written by hand and submitted to cook Russell. Speed appeared to be an issue for the lead cook—the kitchen only had 6 tickets during recon and was having problems executing in a timely manner. The handwritten tickets weren’t being put in any sort of order, which contributed to first in, first out violations.

With Michelle effectively absent—she appeared to be spending an inordinate amount of time in the DJ booth considering no music was being played—her team was doing whatever they wanted. Janette was seen on camera offering at least one table free drinks. If an owner isn’t perceived to be an attentive and effective leader, the staff won’t respect them. That leads to a drop in standards, poor customer service, and theft by some employees.

Perhaps the most egregious violation came in the form of Russell’s irresponsible kitchen practices. Chef Scott noted that he hadn’t changed his gloves, cross-contaminating everything. Remember the influencers’ vegetarian chop suey order? The cutting board and knife Russell had been using to prepare different meats was the same one he used to prep vegetables. The chop suey wasn’t going to be vegetarian. It also appeared that Janette noticed the wings weren’t cooked fully. She told Russell he needed to cook them properly to avoid poisoning guests with salmonella. Operators need to realize that some guests are vegetarian or vegan because due to health issues—cross-contamination can send them to the hospital or kill them. Taffer wasn’t about to let his recon team consume their food order—it was confrontation time!

After stopping his recon team from eating even a single bite, Taffer charged into the kitchen with owner Michelle. He called out Russell for not changing his gloves—which also had a tear in them—and asked if he knew that was wrong. Russell said he did know, so Taffer took him to task for not caring, for not cleaning, and in general not doing what he was supposed to do as lead cook. Taffer gave Michelle two options: stick up for herself, her business and her family and he’d stay or fail to do so and he wouldn’t rescue LIV. Before leaving the restaurant-bar-nightclub he called out the front-of-house team, letting them know they hadn’t gotten off lightly just because he had mostly focused on the kitchen—he would get to them the next day.

Before the staff left for the evening, Michelle called Russell out for his behavior. He asked for a second chance and Michelle said that if he didn’t change she’d fire him. This second chance didn’t sit well with bartender Dane. To him, Russell’s actions and the quality of his food should have led to him being fired that night.

The staff appeared to still be cleaning when Taffer arrived the next day. The kitchen didn’t look much cleaner than it had the night of recon. Taffer gathered the staff and asked each team member’s role. After he asked Janette about her job, he revealed that Bevinco had been tasked with gathering data ahead of his visit. LIV should have sold $489.14 of alcohol over the weekend but they had only sold $168, a difference of $330.14. Put another way, for every drink LIV actually sold, the staff was giving away (stealing) two more.

With that data revealed, Taffer told Janette he believed her to be the biggest thief at LIV. Janette argued that because she wasn’t physically stealing money from the register she couldn’t be a thief. Taffer explained to Michelle that Janette was stealing by doubling the amount of alcohol in the drinks she made for her guests so she could pocket bigger tips. Giving away an owner’s items to increase tips is stealing, but Janette refused to admit she was a thief. Taffer was done with Janette’s thievery and lies and delivered another ultimatum: admit the truth or he’d walk out on the rescue. Janette made the admission, her coworkers told Taffer they didn’t like working with her, and she apologized to Michelle. For whatever reason, she was given a second chance and remained employed at LIV.

That confrontation completed, Taffer moved on to LIV’s identity. He asked each employee what they saw when they looked around the space. They all answered “nightclub,” yet Michelle appeared to view LIV as a restaurant. Taffer declared that LIV needed to be a nightclub, meaning operations needed to change. With that, Taffer introduced the staff to Charity and Chef Scott, who was asked to check on the cleanliness of the kitchen with lead cook Russell. The walk-in was in an abysmal state: there was rancid food in it, for one thing. Chef Scott told Russell in front of Michelle that he wasn’t going to teach the cook anything until everything was tossed and the kitchen had actually been cleaned.

When the kitchen had finally been addressed, Chef Scott introduced his food ideas. If LIV was going to be a nightclub going forward, the food would need to be bar bites rather than full entrees. He showed Russell and Michelle his idea for a turkey bacon club in the form of a beer-battered spring roll. Chef Scott envisioned bitable “lollipop” food for convenience and to match a nightclub concept.

Halo Nightclub Beer-battered Turkey & Bacon Spring Roll by Chef Ryan Scott on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer.
Beer-battered Turkey & Bacon Spring Roll

Charity chose to teach the bar team a riff on the classic Greyhound. She started by muddling mint before adding the vodka and grapefruit juice and garnishing with fresh mint leaves. Charity expressed that she felt the team had heart but wasn’t certain they had the skills to succeed with the coming stress test. Speaking of the stress test, Taffer chose a modified version to test the team. He planned to let guests in a dozen at a time, so two bartenders should be able to serve each group of 12 in three minutes (or less).

Halo Nightclub Greyhound cocktail by Charity Johnston on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer.
Greyhound

The first bar team consisted of Dane and Janette. The latter buckled under the pressure of the stress test. At one point, Taffer noticed that the groups of guests were gravitating toward Dane’s side of the bar because he was putting out drinks. Taffer asked Janette if she could handle being a bartender, to which she told him she could if he didn’t add to the pressure she was feeling. Taffer told her to either deal with the pressure or leave before pulling her and putting TJ behind the bar. TJ did better than Janette but apparently not by much since Taffer identified Dane as the rock star behind the bar—he had produced 70 percent of the drinks.

Halo Halo cocktail by Charity Johnston at Halo Nightclub on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer.

Janette was put back into her server role but didn’t do much better. She at first attempted to just verbalize orders to Russell and Chef Scott, who wasn’t about to let that slide. He told Janette to bring him tickets. And she did—the red raffle-style tickets stress tests guests had been given to order food and drinks. Those tickets held zero value for the kitchen team since they didn’t, you know, have any food orders on them. When tickets were provided to the kitchen they had no table or seat numbers written on them, nor were they in order. Despite the dysfunction regarding tickets and service, Chef Scott said that Russell was a good cook who just required guidance. He was able to learn the new items and execute them.

Shrimp Corn Dogs

The stress test was shut down so Taffer and his team could get to work remodeling, renovating and retraining. Taffer wanted to split the large venue to create separate nightclub and restaurant spaces. The food and drinks would need to fit within a nightclub concept and also compete with what was being served on the Strip. Charity created the Halo-Halo, a cocktail that was a nod to a popular Filipino dessert. Continuing with small bites food concept, Chef Scott created Shrimp Corn Dogs, shrimp dipped in corndog batter elevated with sauce, pickles, celery leaf and seasonings.

LIV Restaurant & Bar on Bar Rescue after Jon Taffer remodel.

Remodeling LIV was no small feat but Taffer and his team pulled it off. Since the venue was located in Las Vegas, a city known for industry-leading nightclubs, the new concept had to be able to hold its own. LIV Restaurant & Bar was no more—it had been relaunched as Halo Nightclub.

LIV Las Vegas bar on Bar Rescue after Jon Taffer remodel.

The bar team wouldn’t have to tell guests they had nothing on tap since Taffer had a Turbo Tap system capable of a 98-percent yield installed. He had also added three Harbortouch POS systems. An LED dance floor had been installed by USA Dance Floor and an automated Orange Door entertainment system had been installed inside the DJ booth. Taffer enrolled Halo Nightclub in the ServSafe online program free of charge, and also gave the venue a subscription to Taffer Virtual Teaching. The Bar Rescue host capped off the reveals with brand-new uniforms for the front of house and a chef’s coat for Russell.

Live Restaurant & Bar dance floor on Bar Rescue after Jon Taffer remodel.

Six weeks after the relaunch, Michelle was leading the Halo Nightclub team and the kitchen was clean.

Want more content like this? Take a look at the times Taffer refreshed Kiva Lounge & Bar in San Marcos, TX, and rescued Eliphino Dive & Dine in Las Vegas, NV.

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