Cliques is located in Hope Mills North Carolina, a small town about 12 miles from Fort Bragg. After arriving at the bar with Jon Taffer and Chef Nick Liberto, we noticed that the bar was located in a strip mall with very little signage or bar look and feel. The name Cliques sounded more like a female hair salon than a bar; which was the first of this bars downfalls.
After watching the bar staff interact with customers and each other we knew straight away that these bartenders had no rules and no guidance from anyone. They were allowed do what they wanted when they wanted. Drinking while working and acting out in a childish manner seemed to be the norm for the staff at Cliques. This had to change and quickly.
As for the bar, it was old, dirty and looked like it came from someone’s house. The floor area for seating had no flow and in the far corner a punching machine sat; which only degraded the bar. While we sat in the car during the recon the three of us knew that this was going to be a tough one to crack. Hard headed staff and management made me think that Jon was going to have his hands full with this Rescue.
Once we got into the bar and I was about to work with the staff I soon found out that these bartenders had very little experience with mixed drinks. A Whiskey & Ginger with a squeeze of lime seemed to be difficult; I had my work cut out for me. I trained the staff on some easy cocktails that they could make for Stress Test but I had my doubts on the speed in which they would be able to get the drinks off the bar and into customers’ hands. And I was right; they really struggled. The stress test was a disaster with 20 minute drink times and no direction from management at all. After stress test Jon spoke to me and we both agreed that the biggest problem that the staff had was management working as a team. We then decided to take three of them on a “Team Building” trip where they could see how a team really works together to get the best out of what they do.
I took Todd, Kim and Lizzie to the George Dickel Distillery in Tennessee. We were greeted at the distillery by my friend and colleague Douglas Kragel, National Ambassador for Dickel Tennessee Whisky. Doug walked us through every step in making Dickel and even allowed Todd to draw some ageing Dickel whisky from cask. I spoke with Todd after leaving the ageing warehouse and he told me that never before has he experienced anything like what he experienced today. He commented on how friendly everyone was at the distillery and was amazed when I told him that all the Dickel that is sold World Wide is handmade by 25 members of their staff; “Handmade the Hard Way.” I think this really showed Todd how a team should be managed and work together. I can honestly say Todd, Kim and Lizzie were changed by the whole experience and arrived back to Hope Mills inspired with a new, clearer and more thoughtful approach to running the business.
However, it was back to business as soon as we returned. The relaunch was only a few hours away and as usual there was a lot to be done. The staff had yet to see the bar and how much it had changed over the past 36 hours and I knew that they would love every aspect of it. I created some really unique cocktails for them that no other bar in North Carolina has. And just as I assumed they were thrilled with the new unique theme and exceled during the relaunch.