Jon Taffer is famed for serving up his trademark cocktail of tough love and sobering reality checks on Bar Rescue, which is returning for its 9th season. The no-nonsense host (and executive director) brings his more than 30 years of industry experience to the table as he helps owners who face losing their bars, restaurants and clubs unless changes are made.
In the new episodes Taffer ventures to California, Colorado, North Carolina, and Idaho to help entrepreneurs with their businesses. As ever he is joined by his team of experts, and this season also enlists the help of Maria Menounos, as well as Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton and Miami Dolphins linebacker Bradley Chubb.
Here Taffer sits down to reflect on past seasons of his hit series and looks forward to the future.
What are your thoughts on the challenges these owners are facing after coming out of COVID restrictions? For example, now everything is so much more costly.
Jon Taffer: There are things that are not in our control in the business environment today. Cost of goods, inflation, and the labor challenges of finding employees. As well as post-COVID and sanitation concerns. When you come out of the starting gate with these external things against you, you better get the things you can control right. They are more important than ever before…I think operators are more challenged than ever before. I also think they need to step up. My job this season is not to fix what I can’t control, but I can make their experience overcome things like inflation. I can’t change a lack of employees, but I can make the employees they have more motivated and capable.
When you look at the long history of the show, is there one success story you’re most proud of?
The Puerto Rican episode where we went down after Hurricane Maria and rescued the whole town of Loiza is probably one near and dear to my heart. Superstorm Sandy, when we went to Far Rockaway’s [Bungalow Bar], and also after the flood in Louisiana for Big Mike’s. Those are really touching…I look at Spirits on Bourbon is very dear to me. Characters [Quarters] is very dear to me, which became MoonRunners [Saloon] because it’s a family operation. The ones that mean the most to me are the ones that I can touch the families.
What are some of the biggest heartbreakers?
Unfortunately, COVID took down many of them. We typically were running a 70 percent success factor according to newspaper articles I’ve read, which is one of the highest in the business transformation space. I was very proud of that number. But one is Blue Frog’s from Chicago that closed. I think of the family, the mom, and the son. That was rough to take. All of them are. They are sort of like my children. I care about all of them. But you’ll find for me the bars may disappear, but the people don’t… It’s all very personal to me.
Any really challenging ones that you learned from?
Early on in the series, I learned many lessons. One of the first episodes we did was about two young sisters. One was in medical school. They put every dime into the business; $400,000. They were going down the tubes very quickly. We tried to work and train with them. At the end of the day, their priorities were different. They failed and lost their $400,000. That’s a sad story to me because it was a bar on a pier. They really could have made it.
Let’s lighten the mood a bit. What’s a funny story you remember from filming an episode?
There were Edith and Juan Carlo who owned a bar in Orange County, California. Juan was cheating on her and coming home at 5 in the morning. I say to the producers to let me do recon with the wife. The wife sits in my SUV with me. She has a paper gift bag. I introduce myself and I ask, “What’s in the gift bag?” She responds, “Oh, it’s my 14th anniversary.” I asked her if that was for her husband. She said it was. I asked, “What’s in the bag?” She said, “Divorce papers.” None of us knew that. I’m proud to say at the end of the episodes they put the wedding rings back on and tore up the divorce papers. I got an email six months later they were having another child.
It seems you stay in touch with a lot of those you help. Do you continue to provide them with advice?
It’s up to them. If they want to stay in touch, they know how to reach me. I’d say about 30 percent probably do, and 10 percent of them have become very good friends. Guys on Spirits on Bourbon are very good friends. We support each other’s charities.
In the first episode back, we see Maria Menounos. How has it been having her involved?
Maria and [her husband] Keven [Undergaro] are very good friends of mine. That’s why they do the show with me. Maria has had the most disgusting food. She has gotten sick to her stomach. She has been covered in bugs and through all these things while doing recon for me on Bar Rescue. It’s nice to have them back. You’re going to see the tough Jon Taffer back again. Last year, they had a valid excuse. COVID is very valid and out of their control. This year not so much. You’re going to see the old me come back to fight for these people. COVID is not a valid excuse anymore. It’s time to move on.
You also have two football players Courtland and Bradley.
Another great episode. We had Marshawn Lynch on I believe two seasons ago, which is one of our great episodes. We’ve had musicians Lil Jon and T-Pain. It’s always great to have them all. For this episode with the football players, I’m not going to let the cat out of the bag. They have no idea what they are walking into. They have no idea what the food or drinks are, suddenly they see me screaming and yelling and throwing food and whatever the heck I do. It’s fun to watch their reaction when I do it. Maria has been there before. But look at the faces of the NFL guys.
What can you say about the future of the show?
The network and I have a multi-year vision together that we’ll be working on. We know the show works as it is. I think what makes us successful over the years is we follow the story more than the format. Sometimes things happen and other times they don’t within the format and structure of the show. That’s the secret. Deviating from the format of the story is what they want to watch. Viewers are far more interested in human transformation than any bricks and mortar for the bar.
Where do you want to go in the world where you haven’t taken the show?
The United Kingdom. People want me to come out there and rescue a bunch of English pubs. When you think of the conservative nature of the British and me coming in. I might be a bull in a china shop. I would welcome that though. It’s something we’ve talked about and continue to talk about.
What keeps you so passionate about Bar Rescue after all these years?
I’ve been on TV with them for 12 years and built a deep relationship with the team. The network gives me the freedom to follow the story and structure the show. Over the past few years, I’ve become an executive producer and have more control and where we go. That has been very pleasing. At the end of each episode, I get two things. I get a check and a hug. A hug is more important to me than a check these days.
Bar Rescue returns February 26, 10/9c, Paramount Network