In the 1960’s, new Ft. Lauderdale zoning laws prohibited bars on the beach. However, since the Ocean Manor Hotel was built in 1957 the hotels Bamboo Beach Tiki Bar was grandfathered in making it one of only three beach bars in the entire city.
Frank Talerico made the biggest investment of his life in 2004 when he purchased the Ocean Manor Hotel out of bankruptcy. Despite its early success, the Bamboo Beach Tiki Bar soon became a financial disaster. Once a well-known hot spot in South Florida, the hurricane damaged poolside bar quickly turned into a beach disaster.
Instead of upgrading the damaged bar, management used its profits and turned their attention to making upgrades in the hotel. The neglected bar soon got slapped with a reputation for being a dive among locals. Owner Frank estimates that he is losing close to $200,000 a year.
There are multiple challenges that Jon Taffer and his team faces after forcefully overtaking control of the bar. Jon had to point out to existing customers all of the issues with the bar and kitchen in order for owner Frank to understand the ramifications of the actions he has taken.
Condo Attraction: Ft. Lauderdale attracts more than 10 million tourists every year to its white sand beaches. However, they tend to only come during the peak season of January through April. During the rest of the year these tourists are harder to come by and even harder to conjure at the Ocean Manor Hotel located in an upscale residential neighborhood, 3 miles north of the main drag. With its dive reputation among locals, attracting tourists has become even harder without recommendation from locals.
Frank's Focus: Taffer soon realizes Frank’s attention at the bar is focused more heavily on the pretty girls tending bar than the bar itself. The tiki bar's physical condition is nothing short of disastrous - the bar top is old and falling apart, rusted equipment from that salt air, dirt and grime everywhere, not to mention a huge plumbing issues. In addition, Taffer finds mixer cartons left open all day in the hot Florida air, without tops attracting fruit flies and bacteria is a fact. The broken drink coolers haven’t been replaced by owner Frank. Instead he dumped ice into the drink cooler as a make-shift ice chest, lacking the necessary stainless steel and proper drainage system. Taffer calls Frank “irresponsible,” and quips, “this bar is run down because Frank chose NOT to fix it. These are the problems he let happen.”
Lackluster Leadership: Taffer blames Frank's lack of leadership for the business’s failure. “I’ve never seen an owner enable more nothingness than Frank. So between no ownership and no supervisors of course the bar is going to fail,” Taffer says. Knowing that there will be no consequences, staff members show up late to their shifts consistently or miss shifts altogether. Frank makes excuses saying, “People show up late all the time in the bar business,” blaming the industry for his indifference. Taffer retorts, “You’re the kind of guy they know they can blow off. That’s not a business owner.”
Fried & Sugary: The Bamboo Beach Tiki Bar is not only dirty it lacks fresh cocktails and appealing menu items. The food was fried and the drinks too sugary. Taffer plans to elevate these elements to create an experience people want to come back to.
“57% of all tourists get their recommendations from locals. If Frank targets locals, he’ll get the tourists,” explains Taffer. Taffer plans to turnaround this bar by making it more sophisticated. “I have to make it more sophisticated. Upgrade the food, upgrade the beverages, and create an experience people want to come to.”
To transform Bamboo Beach from a run-down dive tiki bar to an upscale beach bar, Taffers calls in Josh Capon, executive chef from Lure Fishbar in NYC, and Terrelle Treco, a Diageo mixologist.
Having worked at several high-end South Beach clubs, Terrelle is an expert on tropical drinks. She elevates the menu with new cocktails, using fresh fruit and fresh juices. She rids the bar of the bacteria ridden drink mixers and opts for using fresh ingredients and introduces the staff to muddled cocktails. Muddling is the technique of crushing citrus or leaves into a cocktail. It doesn’t just create juice it produces aromatic oils that lead to bigger sales. Studies show that if customers can smell a menu item at the bar there is higher chance of them ordering it.
In addition to the new menu, she implements new glasswear and trains the staff on proper pouring technique and drink presentation.
Chef Capon’s new menu will make the tiki bar a destination in itself. Capon incorporates fresh ingredients like mangos and pineapples paired with fresh seafood. These tapas style dishes are perfect for beach-goers looking for something light, fresh and sophisticated.
As for the overall look and feel of the place, Taffer updated the bar concept to be a clean, sophisticated beach bar welcoming wealthy condo owners in the area. Taffer, along with design expert Nancy Hadley, implemented new seating and furniture, new flat screen TVs to replace the old boxy TVs hanging from chains, and added billowing sheets designed to create an island oasis.
The Bamboo Beach Tiki Bar has been transformed by Taffer and his team into BAMBOO Beach Club + Tiki Bar. The new bar was specifically named to appeal to both the locals and the tourists. The re-opening night of BAMBOO was a huge success. The staff was proud of the new establishment and their new found pride showed in exquisite cocktails and new delicious tapas style bar food.
"A great bar will make the hotel better. The whole property has improved because of this Bar Rescue," says Taffer. Thirty days later, which normally would have been their low season, sales doubled at BAMBOO. Not only did they attract more tourists, BAMBOO now attracted the locals too.