Bar Rescue: Rocks in Laguna Niguel, CA

Writers Note: As “Bar Rescue’s” culinary producer, I’m fortunate to have a unique perspective on the behind-the-scenes process of making the television show and the bar a success. I work very closely with Jon Taffer and our experts to resuscitate the bar and food programs, including menu development, design, and installation of equipment. Now in our second season, I’m thrilled to continue as part of Jon’s elite team and eager to share the exclusive inside scoop with you!

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Rocks is the “dive off the 5” Jon Taffer quoting Yelp reviews about the supremely located bar that gets it all wrong.

After years of success in Real Estate, Scott Terheggen fulfilled a dream by opening Rocks in 1996, a bar located off the busy Interstate 5 freeway in Laguna Niguel, California—a youthful beach town. Formerly the only establishment that welcomed the city’s smokers, it’s in danger of going up in smokes itself. Jon Taffer, host and co-executive producer of “Bar Rescue” and NCB Media Group President, has been called here to reignite this bar’s dwindling flame.

The aging rock club doesn’t appeal to the right clientele. Six colleges surround the area with over one hundred thousand students enrolled… but the bar attracts none of them.

Inside and out, Rocks is unwelcoming. The tatted-up, pierced regulars, who are part of a drinking gang lead by one of the house bartenders, give the bar a negative image. The rough-trade group of guys intimidates young newcomers, especially collegiate woman who feel unsafe when they dare to step through the door.

Shooting at Rocks was a challenge. In daylight, this place is a grubby cave possessing an indescribably foul stench. The cigarette-scorched, alcohol-stained rug combined with the rancid reek of spilled beer covering the bar top—Rocks lives up to its “dive” reputation.

Using his proven strategies and tactics developed during his nearly 36-year career and as founder of Taffer Dynamics, Jon’s first order of business is to disband the bartender’s tattooed drinking club at the bar. Then, he introduces a dress code policy of no biker jackets, ripped clothing, or baseball caps; this is to attract woman and clean up the bars image. Jon is straight to the point—business is business. He confronts owner Scott: “Do you have any new customers? Are you running a business or a party? It’s time to transform Rocks into a high energy spot where young people want to go to and spend money.”

Next up, Jon targets Scott’s financials—numbers don’t lie. By day Rocks is open, but empty, costing more to keep the lights on. Taffer keenly determines that based on inflow of sales and outflow of salary, Rocks would make more money if it only opened in the evening. Jon explains to Scott, “nighttime is where your money is, not being open at 11am! Nightclubs make most of their money in about 16 hours a week. It’s going to be all about speed. 50% of customers who have to wait 15 minutes for a drink typically don’t return to an establishment.”

Jon’s Bev-Intel liquor reports reveal Rocks is giving away thousands of dollars per day. To get the staff’s pours corrected Jon called in speed bartender Joseph Brooke. Joseph’s experience running high volume bars in Los Angeles and New York will have the staff turning out cocktails in seconds flat. Joseph’s first assessment of the bartenders’ skills was a rough one. Forget about speed they can’t even mix drinks properly. Joseph has a huge task ahead of him to turn this staff into an efficient, dynamic, speedy unit. 

Bad technique behind the bar is not Rocks’ only problem. To help teach his music sciences, Jon brings in DJ Green Lantern. DJ has toured with some of the biggest names in hip hop, and is accustomed to energizing thousands of fans in sold out venues nationwide.

Taffer explains his strategy, “When I arrived, Rocks was the “dive off the 5.”  No one could see it.  And if people did find it, they were greeted with a dirty rocker bar environment with clientele that kept new customers away. Say good bye to Rocks!” “To attract a hipper, more mainstream crowd, we need to overhaul this place.”

I can’t give away much more than that, but tune into Spike TV this Sunday to see the drama of turning around a failing bar business in 72 hours and how Jon Taffer’s rescue panned out. Be sure to check out for exclusive coverage of each episode.