In 2008, lifelong DJ Ivan Arroyo decided it was time to bring his Puerto Rican heritage and DJ rep to the Jersey City nightlife and opened Laguna Lounge in Jersey City, NJ. Ivan ran the bar with his two sons Josh and Jeremiah attempting to make it a hot spot for Latin music. Ivan focused all of his attention on being a DJ but while he spun bar sales dropped.
Things took a turn for the worst in early 2013 when Ivan’s marriage to the boys’ mother ended in divorce. Ivan responded by lashing out at his sons and his staff, turning the family business into a family feud with Ivan acting like an 18 year old kid. As the bar declined, Josh attempted to turn things around but Ivan let his ego and disrespects for his son’s ideas get in the way.
Leaving Laguna Lounge with a confused theme, a combative staff and dwindling customer base, Ivan is now in danger of having to face the music and his sons. Fifty thousand dollars in debt, Ivan has not only let the bar suffer but he left his ex-wife and sons out to dry like a soggy empanada. The bar is old and tired and Ivan has lost his dream of passing his business on to his kids is going up in smoke.
Located on 10 miles from Manhattan, the Heights area of Jersey City boasts one of the largest Puerto Rican populations in the country with a median household income of $50,301 and a median age of 33 years old. However, Laguna Lounge fails to attract the local community.
Most bars and restaurants are defined by curb appeal, not only is Laguna Lounge losing the local Puerto Rican’s walking by their losing everybody. Puerto Rican’s are known for being bold and lively, it’s in their blood, and Laguna Lounge doesn’t give off that traditional flair.
As a Puerto Rican themed bar, that lively energy should be dictated not only on the outside of the bar but on the inside as well. However, Ivan hasn’t utilized any distinctive furniture or fixtures that would be inviting to his target demographic. Instead he has covered the inside of the bar with green lighting; the one color you should never use.
The scene behind the bar doesn’t get any better with the bartenders not even knowing how to make a Piña Colada: created in Puerto Rico in 1978. “You can’t call yourself a Puerto Rican bar, you just can’t” if you don’t serve Piña Colada’s. In the kitchen, Ivan’s mother is frying room temperature empanadas on an apartment stove in oil that isn’t hot. Besides this being completely illegal the empanadas are being ruined by the storage and cooking process.
The biggest issue the bar faces is Ivan’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality swings. One minute he is smiling and handing out shots to the entire bar and the next he is reprimanding a staff member publically for over-pouring an ounce. The challenges, struggles and personality swings go even deeper when Ivan’s sons try to work with him to make the bar more successful. Taffer also discovers that Ivan has been filling high-end liquor bottles with cheaper products and struggles to find a reason to help the failing bar.
Ivan is underutilizing his son’s talents. Josh has a lot of ideas for the bar and Jeremiah is currently in culinary school. Therefore, Taffer’s first task in turning around the bar is proving to Ivan that his sons are valuable to the business.
For the bar, Taffer brings in Lisa Marie Joyce, TGI Fridays 2013 Master Bar Trainer. Lisa Marie’s expertise in bar training coupled with her enthusiastic personality is enough to turn anyone into a skilled bartender. Lisa Marie’s first order of business is teaching the staff how to create and properly garnish a Piña Colada. She also discusses how communication and team work between the bartenders is the only way that they are going to succeed.
For the kitchen, Taffer has brought in Chef Anthony Lamas, a successful restaurateur and owner of Seviche in Louisville, KY. His flair for Latin cuisine will help draw the crowd this Puerto Rican bar is looking for. With new kitchen equipment Chef Anthony gets to work with Jeremiah reminding him that you never start cooking with a cold pan.
Laguna Lounge is a 1,600 square foot space with a small kitchen, three distinct rooms housing a bar with one speed well, a dance floor and a pool table. It has a lot of potential but Taffer and his team need to create something that brings a sense of community to the bar. People will spend 60% more time in a well themed environment. Therefore, Taffer uses the science of place making to make the bar more interesting and inviting. Not one area is the same as the other.
Taffer and his team also create distinct work stations with soda guns behind the bar. He incorporated a brand new POS system to better keep track of guest checks and food orders in the kitchen.
Taffer and his team turn the rundown Laguna Lounge into a stunning Puerto Rican inspire haven called Tres Cuartos. Six weeks after the re-launch Tres Cuartos drink sales are up 20% and food sales are up 100%. Ivan is still treating the staff and his sons with respect and Tres Cuartos is becoming known as the Latin hot spot in “The Heights”.