On last night’s Spike “Bar Rescue,” Jon Taffer and his crew came to Ann Arbor, Michigan, on this episode titled, “Unnecessary Toughness.” In 2001, Mike Flore purchased a failing restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor, with the vision of opening a sports bar. The business immediately flourished as it attracted the local college alumni. As new bars emerged, they poached many of the regular customers. By failing to adapt to the local bar scene, he continued to lose customers. As the business declined, Mike took it out on his staff and customers. Now losing $10,000 a month and left with a rundown bar, staff constantly on edge and at the present time a million-dollar debt; Mike agreed to bust open the books and put in a call to Jon Taffer and “Bar Rescue.”
As Jon sat in the SUV, he told veteran mixologist Andrew Venjohn and expert chef Ryan Scott how dense the college population was in the area of the University of Michigan. They noticed that The Arena had a prime corner location, but the restaurants in the middle of the blocks were busy while The Arena looked dated and did not even seemed like it was open. They spotted the bartender lighting drinks on fire, and Andrew mentioned that if one spilled; the entire bar was could burn down.
For recon, Jon sent in three Michigan alumni who were familiar with the local bar scene. Hopefully, they will find out why Mike is indebted for one million dollars. One of the guys was a student there for six years and had never been to The Arena because he hadn’t heard anyone talk about it. They sat at a table, and the server was shocked that she had a table to wait on. The guys ordered drinks, and one could not be made because the bar did not have simple syrup. The server asked what was in a Rum Runner, and it was obvious they had not been trained properly and probably never made one before. When their food arrived, it was undercooked and sent back. Mike came over and asked about it, but he gave the guys the stare of death.
Mike brought back the new dish and just said “here” as he placed it on the table and walked away mumbling. When he went back to the kitchen, he told the staff, he hoped the guy would choke on his steak bites. Mike let a guy light his own drink, allowing such a disastrous move in his bar was a crime. Jon called him a d**k and asked the others if they would ever work for him.
So Jon went inside, and rather than speak with Mike, he chose to speak with the bartenders, Lauren and Brittany. They both told Jon that Mike kept people away from the bar. Then Jon left without speaking to Mike. When he left, Mike sat with Lauren and Brittany to find out what Jon had to say. They told him that they worked in a hostile environment, and their boss was a jerk. The way he threw the food at the recon guys was unacceptable, and he is the reason the bar is failing.
The next day Jon came in and spoke with the crew, including Mike’s wife Jen. He told Mike that he acted more like a bouncer than an owner. Suddenly, Jon must have hit a nerve because Mike admitted he was an a**hole and was chasing customers away. Jon plans to turn him into a motivator – not a degrader.
He introduced Andrew and Ryan, who were starting training immediately. Andrew made some signature cocktails for the Michigan students and alum that live within steps of the bar. In the kitchen, Ryan made great food that would appeal to the Midwest meat eaters. Jon had high hopes for the stress test, because the employees had great attitudes, it was the owner he was wary of.
As the stress test proceeded, the customers were waiting for drinks a long time. Food was coming on a regular basis, but the runners were hard to find. When drinks were made incorrectly, they were poured out and redone. One customer was jealous of the drain that had more drinks than everyone in the bar. When Vinny, the manager who has been with Mike since day one finally had enough, he walked out.
When Jon saw a couple get their long-awaited drinks, he sat with them and asked them about the rest of the bars in Ann Arbor. She was an alumnus, and he was still a student. All the rest of the bars had good service, and they had no complaints until now. Jon then shut it down and took Mike to another bar. He pointed out a smiling bartender, a relaxed atmosphere, everyone with drinks and a feeling of success. Mike told Jon that he must have let the feeling slip away.
The next day, while the renovation team was busy, the staff met at an off-site location to continue the training, but Vinny was not there and nobody knew where he was. The training proceeded as Andrew made drinks that were easy and quick to do. He made a proprietary drink using fruit punch and Captain Morgan Canon Blast garnished with a candy fruit slice. In the kitchen, Ryan made a signature sausage burger with fried ravioli on an English muffin that looked amazing. Next, Jon sat with Mike and tried to chisel a hole in his tough demeanor. Jon has a way of calming the roughest seas and did so with Mike. He really found out that Mike was a nice guy, but had perceived himself as less than that and started believing it.
While the staff stood outside the new bar, Jon told them he wanted to make something that a 41-year-old alumna would love, and a 21-year-old student could identify with. Surprisingly, Jon left the name the same, but with a Michigan Wolverine in football uniform, the sign gave the welcome to all students both past and present. The interior was a tribute to U of M, and the attitude and smiles on Mike’s face told the true story. When his kids saw the place, they were thrilled and are probably looking forward to going to the University too. Six weeks after the relaunch, The Arena has grossed over $220,000 in food and beverage sales. Mike’s attitude shift has created an enjoyable work environment for his staff, and Vinny has returned to working at The Arena thanks to Jon and his crew on this episode of “Bar Rescue.”