‘Bar Rescue’ star Jon Taffer opens tavern in Alpharetta

The entrance to Alpharetta's Taffer's Tavern created by Jon Taffer of "Bar Rescue" fame. Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com
The entrance to Alpharetta's Taffer's Tavern created by Jon Taffer of "Bar Rescue" fame. Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney ho/rho@ajc.com

This is the first in what Taffer hopes will be a major nationwide franchise operation.

For the past decade, restaurant and bar consultant Jon Taffer made a name for himself on the reality show “Bar Rescue,” barking at and berating cowered owners while finding myriad solutions to fix their stumbling operations.

Now for the first time, Taffer is attaching his name to a tavern in hopes of capitalizing not only on his fame but also his decades of expertise in the field. Using a franchise model, his first Taffer’s Tavern is on Main Street in Alpharetta, a complement to the growing coterie of dining options on the square. He also opted for more high-tech equipment to reduce kitchen staff by 40%.

Taffer’s, which seats about 180 including 48 outside, opened quietly last month.

“We’re doing better than I expected so far,” Taffer said in a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, from Las Vegas, where he is preparing a new season of “Bar Rescue,” a current staple on Paramount Network. He had planned to come to Atlanta this month for a now postponed grand opening party, but his TV obligations prevented him from doing so.

Taffer's Tavern opened Oct. 30. Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com
Taffer's Tavern opened Oct. 30. Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Taffer, 66, once ran the famous Troubadour nightclub in West Hollywood in the early 1980s and has owned multiple restaurants and bars over the years. He built his celebrity reputation as a turnaround artist on more than 200 episodes of “Bar Rescue.”

So far, he has made only a single visit to Georgia for that show, attempting to fix a sports bar, Barlow’s, in Tucker with a major employee theft problem in an episode that first aired in 2013 called “There’s No Crying in the Bar Business.” Barlow’s, which eventually changed its name to Comeback, shut down in 2017.

When Taffer decided to open his first set of restaurants under his own name, he chose the franchise route. The initial group to sign on is led by Atlanta’s Hemant Suri, an associate director at AT&T who used to own Midtown Tavern in Atlanta. Suri’s franchise operation, which already runs two Curry Up Now franchises, selected Alpharetta as its first Taffer’s location, in part, because Suri lives nearby and loved the square.

“It’s very friendly in terms of the community, and the clientele matches with the concept they wanted to launch,” said Suri, who plans to open several more locations in metro Atlanta.

In August and September, Taffer spent six weeks living in a tour bus in Buford with his family and working with Suri on the construction of the bar, presiding over every detail, from the safety systems to the seating to the zoned sound system. He even purposely placed the bar to the right of the entrance because he saw studies that indicate people tend to go that way first.

“He was with us every step of the way,” Suri said. “His entire staff has been helping us for the past couple of months.”

Bar and nightlife consultant Jon Taffer gets wayward taverns into shape on Spike TV's "Bar Rescue." Courtesy of Gary Coronado
Bar and nightlife consultant Jon Taffer gets wayward taverns into shape on Spike TV's "Bar Rescue." Courtesy of Gary Coronado

Credit: Gary Coronado

Credit: Gary Coronado

On a recent Wednesday late afternoon, bar patrons complimented the relaxed, comfortable ambiance and the quality of the drinks, a point of pride for Taffer given his expertise in that arena. The 14 crafted cocktails included a few featured on previous episodes of “Bar Rescue,” including the Jon Fire Shot, a sweet mix of vodka and honey with a kick of spice and mint, plus the Resurrection, a mix of spiced rum and citrus with coconut.

“I like the bar,” said Will Short, an Alpharetta insurance supervisor, who was visiting Taffer’s for a second time. “It feels like you’re at an old-school country club. It’s warm. It feels good. You can see outside.” He plans to eat a full meal there with his dad in the future.

Mary Boyle, a longtime Alpharetta resident who was hanging at the bar with her husband of 38 years Dan, said she loves “Bar Rescue” and was drawn to the tavern by Taffer’s name. She liked sipping on the citrus, vodka-based Cloud 9 cocktail and found the custom-made tan leather bar seats comfy. “It’s a great addition to the area,” she said.

Cloud 9 is one of the specialty crafted cocktails at Taffer's Tavern. Courtesy of Taffer's Tavern
Cloud 9 is one of the specialty crafted cocktails at Taffer's Tavern. Courtesy of Taffer's Tavern

Credit: Taffer's Tavern

Credit: Taffer's Tavern

Taffer installed kitchen equipment that removes traditional open grills to cook items such as steaks, ribs or burgers. Instead, he has embraced sous vide cooking whereby proteins are vacuum-sealed then submerged in a water bath to cook at a precisely regulated low temperature. Because the food cooks in its own juices, it comes out moist, juicy and tender every time.

“We believe this provides a superior end product (and have many positive reviews to support that),” said Alan Walker, a Newnan native who runs marketing for Taffer’s operations in Vegas, in an e-mail, “but are continuing to work towards consistency across the board.”

Sous vide reduces prep and labor, with reduced costs, and provides a more sterile environment, Taffer noted.

The set-up preceded COVID but now works to their benefit. “We realized, ‘Holy cow! We have the safest kitchen. No exposed raw proteins. Contactless cooking,” Taffer said.

There is no need for a grease trap or a range hood to clean out, Suri noted. At his Curry Up Now franchises, he has to get the grease traps cleaned out every three weeks and hoods washed every six weeks.

The food is bar fare, including a roast beef au jus sandwich and 72-hour braised short ribs. Taffer said food can get to the customer in five or six minutes, quicker than using traditional methods. “We can turn tables 10 minutes faster, and that’s huge for the server,” he said.

The Taffer's Tavern kitchen does not look like a typical sports bar and grill kitchen with its sous vide machines. Courtesy of Taffer's Tavern
The Taffer's Tavern kitchen does not look like a typical sports bar and grill kitchen with its sous vide machines. Courtesy of Taffer's Tavern

Credit: Taffer's Tavern

Credit: Taffer's Tavern

Despite all the technical innovations in the kitchen, training for wait and bar staff is focused on the human connection with the customer, Taffer said. He wants big, vibrant personalities.

But it’s been tougher than he expected to hire staff. Many people, he realized, are still not keen on working in a restaurant during the pandemic.

Taffer has employees who specialize in plate handling, service and pay transactions, reducing bacterial and viral cross-contamination. And he has installed a contactless system where customers who opt to pick up their meal can eventually grab their food from a locker space from the outside of the building.

“The employees need to feel safe,” Taffer said. “We think we’ve proven we can do that. We have hand-scanning technology, so if an employee has too much bacteria on their hands, it will light up, and they’ll have to go back to the sink.”

Torrey Cox, a bar lead at Alpharetta's Laffer's Tavern, uses a special drink cleaning device. Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com
Torrey Cox, a bar lead at Alpharetta's Laffer's Tavern, uses a special drink cleaning device. Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

A sampling of the bar food available at Alpharetta's "Taffer's Tavern." Courtesy of Taffer's Tavern
A sampling of the bar food available at Alpharetta's "Taffer's Tavern." Courtesy of Taffer's Tavern

Credit: Taffer's Tavern

Credit: Taffer's Tavern

The bar area of Alpharetta's Taffer's Tavern seats up to 30. Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com
The bar area of Alpharetta's Taffer's Tavern seats up to 30. Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Jon Taffer spent six weeks helping construct and design Taffer's Tavern in Alpharetta. Courtesy of Taffer's Tavern
Jon Taffer spent six weeks helping construct and design Taffer's Tavern in Alpharetta. Courtesy of Taffer's Tavern

Credit: Taffer's Tavern

Credit: Taffer's Tavern

MORE INFORMATION

Taffer’s Tavern. 33 S. Main St., Alpharetta. 678-585-4456, tafferstavern.com.

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