Jon Taffer is no stranger to taking businesses to the next level.
The star of Paramount Network’s Bar Rescue has helped bars and restaurants reach new heights for years, and now he’s turning his attention to his own concept, Taffer’s Tavern.
The casual-dining company’s first unit in Alpharetta, Georgia, opened in late November 2020. The next year, Taffer’s Tavern debuted a second location inside FedEx Field, the home of the Washington Commanders, and signed three multi-unit franchise deals for 10 locations across Savannah, Georgia, and Northern and Central Florida.
For 2022, the two-unit chain set itself up to more than triple in size to seven locations. Development in Boston and Washington, D.C. is already underway.
At a time when many restaurants are struggling with inflationary costs and staffing challenges, Taffer believes his brand is in the best position to expand because certain partnerships have shielded Taffer’s Tavern from external market pressures.
“We think we’ve cracked the secret to managing costs,” he says.
The TV star formed a long-term relationship with sous-vide company Cuisine Solutions, which has mitigated supply chain delays.
“Our food inventory comes in from Cuisine Solutions … We’re not having any supply side issues on those kinds of products,” he says. “When people really assess the business model, I think we have certain efficiencies and savings that offset some of the negatives that are in the marketplace.”
While Taffer’s Tavern has been relatively immune to commodity pressures, construction delays and long lead times for equipment have slowed development by around 60 days.
To counteract these issues, Taffer partnered with Colliers and Northboro Builders to enhance development for franchisees. Colliers, an international commercial real estate company, identifies markets best suited for new units, while Northboro spearheads construction. The company said it entered these agreements to ensure operators have access to preferred vendors.
“The cuisine side has worked well. I can’t say that about construction,” he says. “I’m not a big lover of excuses, and today everybody is blaming the other guy. It’s hard to get accountability when the supply side has become a sea of excuses.”
Taffer says something must change in regard to inflation if the industry wants to continue thriving.
“There needs to be a new political environment for this to change, unfortunately,” he says. “Until key policy change occurs with regard to oil and spending, this [inflation] isn’t going to end. And that worries me long-term for our industry … Maybe as an industry we need to get more politically involved in the policies that impact us.”
Construction woes aside, Taffer is forging ahead with growth plans. When it comes time to deciding what markets are best for expansion, he uses a list of criteria to make the right choice.
Taffer and his team meticulously look over data points—real estate and spend reports, industry-related competitive assessments, and other aggregated information—to determine if a specific market’s consumers fit Taffer’s Tavern.
The celebrity leverages his work in TV and media to gather this data.
“The media work I do has certain penetration levels in each market across the country, and being a media brand, we get massive amounts of data,” he says. “Who is watching, who is listening, what the demographic makeup is like, what markets they’re in, etc … That allows us to identify not only the greatest potential in markets, but the greatest potential brand.”
Future Taffer’s Tavern locations will resemble the Alpharetta unit in most ways. The interior will remain generally the same, save a few alterations to lighting fixtures. The most noticeable changes will come in the form of technology—like a new POS system—and a few extra pieces of kitchen equipment to expedite service, mostly for off-premises orders.
“We’re eager to roll that [POS system] out amongst the stores,” he says.
Along with the 9,000-square-foot restaurant planned for Washington, D.C., Taffer says he is interested in nontraditional builds as well, given the success of the concessionaire at FedEx Field.
Taffer is quite familiar with stadium-based dining concepts. Years ago, he had a contract with the Target Center in Minneapolis where he controlled 68 suites and ran the entire concessions operation. The prosperity he experienced in Minneapolis made him comfortable opening his namesakes concept in FedEx Field.
The concessionaire is a pared down version of standalone Taffer’s Tavern units, with menu items that work better in a stadium setting, like the Roast Beef Sandwich, Spicy Chicken Sandwich, and Pot Roast Fries.
“It’s very limited and very efficient,” he says. “The beauty is, there are video displays [in the FedEx Field location] and they can cross-promote to the restaurant. We see an opportunity to bounce back between the two and create a real synergy.”
Nontraditional expansion won’t be limited to stadiums. Although Taffer wasn’t able to provide specific details due to an NDA, he says airport locations are definitely on the table.
The restaurant fits seamlessly into this environment because of its four-to-six-minute ticket times and swift table turns, Taffer notes, giving customers plenty of time to dine as they wait for their flight. The planned locations will feature décor similar to traditional stores, and will also feature a breakfast menu, something other locations will not have.
“Our adaptability in these types of limited locations is really great,” he says.
Another aspect of Taffer’s Tavern that makes it adaptable is its training time, which takes seven hours instead of the previous seven-day process.
“Turnover is not as painful because we can get them trained literally in a day,” he says. “That lifts the burden off management so they can be back out in the front of house.”
In terms of choosing the best franchisee, every deal comprises at least five units. For Taffer, this shows a level of “financial wherewithal” needed for a successful partnership.
Next, potential operators must have a favorable track record—regardless of whether it’s in the quick-service or full-service segment—and understand franchising rules, standards, and operating procedures.
“I have a brand that has taken me a lot of years to build its value, and it’s a pretty valuable brand … so those are the kind of operators we like to have around us,” he says. … We want to make sure everything runs well and to navigate the company through some of these difficult times over the next year or two.”