Jon Taffer Turns Around Country Nights on Bar Rescue

Images: Paramount Network

For over 30 years, Nightclub & Bar Show chairman Jon Taffer has traveled the country saving hundreds of bars from failure and ruin. During last night’s episode of Paramount Network’s hit show Bar Rescue, he traveled to San Antonio, TX, to rescue Country Nights.

In 2015, 54-year-old bar owner Dalia DeMoore opened Country Nights, her 7th bar in 15 years. Her bar “fairytale” began when she met her Prince Charming, a millionaire she dated who bought Dalia her first bar. She has been living a bar nightmare ever since. She was, as she explained, pushed out of her first bar, so she began buying her own.

Failure after failure resulted in Dalia accruing approximately $144,000 in debt. Some months the bar loses $4,000, sometimes $6,000. Dalia is behind on her mortgage and is at risk of losing her house. In a bid to pay down her debt, she leased part of Country Nights to a popular barbecue joint, Dee Willie’s BBQ Smokehouse. Unfortunately, Dee Willie’s ceases service at 9:00 p.m., meaning Dalia isn’t capturing potential revenue.

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Daughter Krystal, a bartender at Country Nights, said her mother is out of control when she’s at work. However, she’s not the only one who’s running wild. Bartender Melissa claimed she “literally” runs the bar, is the daughter Dalia “always wanted,” drinks whenever she wants, doesn’t pay for her drinks, is allowed to do whatever she wants.

In response to Melissa’s claims about drinking the job, Dalia confirmed that the staff can drink on the job…as long they don’t lose control. During the episode, Melissa could be seen threatening to fight guests, smashing a bottle on the floor behind the bar intentionally, and throwing a bottle from behind the bar and against a wall, damaging a sign.

With her bar out of control and nowhere else to turn, Dalia decided to pull back the doors, bust open the books, and make the call for help to Jon Taffer and Bar Rescue. When the host arrived with mixologist Mia Mastroianni, he noticed a glaring problem with the exterior of Country Nights: half of the sign was missing. It had blown off and was never repaired or replaced. If the exterior of a bar is unappealing, never mind confusing to locate because of missing signage, potential guests will perceive the interior to be as bad if not worse than the outside.

Jon Taffer and Mia Mastroianni conduct surveillance of Country Nights on Bar Rescue
If you can make Jon Taffer react this way during surveillance, something is very wrong with your bar.

Unsurprisingly, during Taffer and Mia’s surveillance of the operation, Dalia and her staff were seen drinking on the job. The owner also bought a round for the bar after losing a coin flip. Melissa took a break two hours into her shift, to which Taffer pointed out that breaks are every four hours by law, not two. Krystal had to tell the self-admittedly intoxicated Melissa to end her long break because Dalia didn’t appear to want to move from her seat at the bar to do so. They may have been better letting Melissa stay away from the bar. Upon her return, she climbed up on the bar, laid down on it, and had at least one guest take a body shot. Overall, the breast-obsessed staff (watch the episode—you’ll get it) chased out several guests with their language and antics.

The confrontation between Taffer and Dalia went about as well as can be expected. The intoxicated owner wanted more drinks and offered to show the Bar Rescue host her two favorite assets, which he declined. As he turned to walk out on this rescue, Dalia chased him down and begged him to stay. After getting her to admit that what she was doing wasn’t working, that she was failing, and that she wanted to stop being a loser of a bar owner, Taffer offered a deal: he’d help her put money in her wallet if she would keep her breasts in her shirt. Flashing them to guests in the bar, Taffer pointed out, wasn’t helping operations or paying down her debt.

Jon Taffer, Mia Mastroiannia and Chef Kevin Bludso at Country Nights on Bar Rescue
Jon Taffer, Mia Mastroianni and Chef Kevin Bludso.

Simple deal, right? Well, Dalia broke it within moments of Taffer leaving Country Nights. Taffer returned as Krystal was confronting her mother. He delivered an ultimatum: expose herself one more time and he’d walk away from the rescue. Upon leaving the bar—for the second time that night—Taffer said he would return to Country Nights if Krystal called the following day, not Dalia. Krystal called and Taffer returned to the bar.

Before he got back to the bar, Melissa poured herself a drink against the orders of Dalia. When confronted about the break she took and her behavior, Taffer told her that if he were to audit her pours against the money she takes in, he would prove her a thief. He then picked up her drink, smelled it and called her out for drinking on the job. He also called out Dalia for allowing Melissa to drink rather than taking it away from her and telling her not to do it again or she would be fired. Lack of management and accountability was killing Country Nights. The owner told the camera that she hoped Melissa would “keep her cool” and change, which isn’t how management works. Owners, operators and managers must actually manage their staff members, making responsibilities and punishments for violating rules clear.

Smoked Pork Butt Tacos by Chef Kevin Bludso at Madame Dalia's on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer

The plan for this rescue included bar training because Mia and Taffer weren’t convinced the bartenders could even make a Vodka Soda, a beverage menu and atmosphere that would be appealing to women, and Chef Bludso working with Dee Willie’s pitmaster and managing partner Freddy to create a separate Country Nights menu of barbecue-based bar bites. The barbecue collaboration would prevent Dalia from needing to open a second kitchen while doubling labor costs.

One of the new food items was the Smoked Pork Butt Taco. Bludso rubbed pork butt with brown sugar, granulated garlic, pepper and other seasonings to make a “bark,” then cooked it slow and low for 12 hours. The smoked pork butt was served on shells with diced onions and cilantro, barbecue sauce, and limes on the side.

Mia taught the bar team a three-ingredient Texas Tea that can be made in under 10 seconds: half-ounce fresh lemon juice, ounce-and-a-half standard pour of whiskey, and sweet tea to top over a rectangular Collins cube, garnished with a lemon wheel. To make it clear beyond any shadow of a doubt to Dalia that bartending while intoxicated simply doesn’t work, Mia and had her and the bar team try making drinks while wearing “drunk goggles.” Beyond being irresponsible and unprofessional, it can lead to both spills and overpours that cost money, slow build times, unbalanced drinks, and employees hurting themselves.

Barbecue Sour cocktail by Mia Mastroianni at Madame Dalia's on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer

The stress test…did not start off well. Dalia said the bar had probably $100 in singles and no fives or coins, Melissa said she didn’t feel well, and the bar was not well prepared for the 100 guests Taffer had invited for the stress test. When Dalia went outside to invite the guests into the bar, she walked in ahead of everybody rather than holding the door and greeting them all as they entered.

During the stress test, Taffer proved his point about preparation by having one guest kill the till by paying for a $6.25 drink with a $100 bill. The move forced Dalia to run to a business next door to get change…during which she apparently had time to get a Slurpee. Did Taffer call her out for that in front of the staff and guests? Yes, yes he did.

On the plus side, Freddy from Dee Willie’s said that they would stay open later if the bar promoted the food better and the volume of orders was worth it. Barbecue is great bar food because it’s precooked, dishes can come out of the kitchen in three to four minutes, and it goes well with beer. There’s also the benefit of increased sales: more food sales, more beverage sales.

Another positive was that the importance of sharpening skills and dialing in operations sunk in with Dalia. A bar, restaurant or nightclub isn’t about one person. An operation isn’t only about the owner. Employees rely on their jobs to support themselves, their families, and achieve career longevity and financial stability. When an operator is out of control or only thinking of themselves while their business collapses, it puts those employees in jeopardy.

Nothing appeared to sink in with Melissa. Rather than sticking around the clean since, as Mia recognized, the staff hadn’t done that prior to the stress test, she demanded $100 rather than the $40 the bar team was going to get and said she was going home. That left Krystal with no money for herself or babysitter.

The bar inside Country Nights, now Madame Dalia's, before the renovation is revealed on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer

Bar training the next day focused on the 5 new drinks developed for the bar, including the Barbecue Sour. Three-quarters ounce fresh lemon juice, three-quarters ounce housemade barbecue sauce, and an ounce-and-a-half of whiskey were added to a mixing glass along with ice to be shaken before being strained into a rocks glass with fresh ice and a rim of barbecue rub the kitchen would be using on brisket.

Dalia shared with Taffer that her staff has threatened to quit if she doesn’t fire problematic employee Melissa. When she tearfully said she felt bad for firing Melissa, daughter Krystal asked her if she thought Melissa felt bad for her behavior, the position she put the owner in, or the state of the business. Taffer advised Dalia to get over her feelings because a week later, when the bar would be making money, the decision wouldn’t feel difficult any longer.

When the time came to fire Melissa, Taffer confronted her about her attitude. Clearly, Melissa behaved as though the bar revolved around her and she was above the rules. Taffer fired her and confirmed with Dalia that she was supportive of that decision. Melissa didn’t take the news well.

The interior of Madame Dalia's, formerly Country Nights, on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer

While Dalia allowed Taffer to do the firing for her, she did take ownership of the termination. That’s a big step psychologically and professionally for the owner. When operators and management don’t manage their employees from the very beginning, they develop a sense of entitlement. They think they’ll never get in trouble—let alone fired—for their mistakes, rule violations or poor attitudes.

Before the reveal of Country Night’s renovation, Krystal told Taffer she felt her mother had changed as an operator. She believed Dalia had adopted a new mindset, one of holding employees accountable, not trying to be everyone’s friend, and putting her foot down as the boss. A new name for Country Nights was revealed: Madame Dalia’s Country Bar. Three Harbortouch POS systems were installed, the operation was set up to use Bevinco for more accurate weekly inventory costing, the venue was outfitted with new furniture that better communicates a country bar theme, and the bar itself was outfitted with superior hardware. Dalia was also gifted a lifetime password to Taffer Virtual Teaching, Taffer’s online training program.

Six weeks after this rescue sales went up…but Dalia couldn’t say by how much. Luckily, Melissa hadn’t been rehired.

New sign outside Madame Dalia's, formerly Country Nights, on Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer

Jon Taffer, entrepreneur, CEO and hospitality trailblazer, will deliver the keynote “Taffer’s Cut the BS Excuses that Hold you Back” during Questex’s 2019 Nightclub & Bar Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Tuesday, March 26 from 11 to 11:45 a.m. Based upon the New York Times Bestseller, Don’t BS Yourself!: Crush the Excuses That Are Holding You Back, Taffer’s keynote, sponsored by Paramount Network, will offer methods on how to increase productivity and revenue through challenging the habits and processes business owners use to justify failure. Don’t miss out on this lifechanging keynote!

If you missed this episode when it first aired or would like to watch it again, be sure to visit the Paramount Network website, download the network's app, or search for it on demand via your provider.

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