Jon Taffer, host of “Bar Rescue” on Spike talks with JerseyMan about his hit show wherein he gives failing bars a chance to succeed, his new book, his favorite drinks and cigars, Governor Christie and of course, New Jersey!
JerseyMan: I understand you are from the East Coast, is that correct?
Jon Taffer: I am. I was born in New York, grew up in Westchester County and then Long Island, and left New York when I was about 19 years old.
JM: Since I’m from JerseyMan Magazine, I’m interested in your East Coast perspective.
JT: Yeah, sure. Obviously I’ve spent a lot of time in New Jersey. I use to go to Ocean Grove every summer with my girlfriend when I was younger, which was a very unique and very special place on the shore.
I spent a lot of time in Asbury Park. I used to own nightclubs in Philadelphia so we use to go to the shore all the time. I even worked in Pleasantville, NJ years ago and, obviously, Atlantic City. I never lived in New Jersey, but son of a gun, it seems I’m always there.
JM: It’s a great place as you know.
JT: It’s a wonderful place. They don’t call it the Garden State for nothing.
JM: So you’ve owned bars in Philadelphia?
JT: I did. Years ago, I opened Pulsations in Philadelphia, which was an extremely famous night club with a spaceship and a robot. I helped conceive that, opened and operated it in the beginning, and spent an awful lot of time in Philadelphia. I lived in Society Hill in Philadelphia at that time.
It’s funny when we built Pulsations we bought a lot of the equipment from a facility in Cherry Hill by the name of Emerald City, which at the time was a really, really high end, famous night club in that area.
JM: I’m a recent convert to your show. I’ve heard that a lot of younger folks enjoy the show, and I’m curious as to why you think that is?
JT: I’ll tell you what really shocked me. When you look at the demographics of “Bar Rescue,” the median age of the viewer is 36 to 39. And that shocked me, because I expected people like 21 or 25 year olds, and we’d be strong in the 21-29 year age group. I also thought we would skew very heavily male.
The fact is we tracked between 36 and 39 year old median age, and this is shocking, we tracked between 38 percent, and in the past couple of weeks, 42 percent women. And on Spike, that’s a remarkable number. It’s really flattering how many women enjoy the show and the fact that young people and middle-aged people both enjoy it.
JM: I love the whole angle where you go in undercover. How do you get cameras in there?
JT: The cameras go in about a day and a half to two days before I get there. The staff knows they’re there. I mean we don’t hide it. We have cables we have to run to walls and things like that.
It’s a funny thing. About a day into it the staff just forgets that they’re there. And they start to live in the moment, whether the cameras are there are not. It’s remarkable to me, when I’m in the room, there are not only the cameras that are built in, there are guys following me around with cameras on their shoulders. And the staff just seems to get used to it. I find when I look in their eyes and they look back in my eyes the cameras just seem to disappear and it becomes very real.
Certainly, the evidence of it is that some of them really act like jerks on camera on national TV. My guess is if they were thinking about the camera being there at that moment, they wouldn’t have acted that way. The proof is in the pudding, right?
I’ve got to say, it’s real to me. When I’m in the room, I don’t care about the cameras. I’ve been doing this for 35 years, this is my reputation, and it’s what I do for a living. I’ve won pretty much every award in my industry that you can win. When I connect with them and they see my intensity and how real it is to me, I think it becomes real to them. It’s interesting, you know, I’ve never said this before in an interview. I’m guessing that when I get there people expect this to be reality show b.s. And when I get there it’s not. There’s not one word of our show that is scripted; there is nothing setup. I walk into that room with complete freedom to do whatever I choose to do and as an end result, I think in a matter of minutes, they pick up on how real it is to me and then it becomes very real to them.
In essence, I think if I played to the camera they would play to the camera. And I just don’t. I think that’s the secret of the reality to tell you the truth.
JM: What are some of the worst things you have ever seen in a bar?
JT: There is an episode this Sunday (Editor’s Note: “Hole in None”, Episode 326, aired 11/17/2013 on Spike) where inside the walk-in refrigerator of this bar was a mushroom the size of my head growing out of the wall. In all my years I have never seen anything like that before. When we saw it, it could have been black mold; we didn’t know what it was! We all, myself and my experts, ran out of this building. I would not go back in until I sent a professional in there to test it and confirm that the building was safe.
If there is anything you know about me I won’t get people sick. I won’t be a party to that. This was disgusting. I’ve never run out of a restaurant before!
It’s probably the worst one I’ve ever seen. If you’ve watched some “Bar Rescue” you’ve seen some pretty bad ones. It’s remarkable.
And here is what’s shocking, these people, they don’t know when I’m coming. They see that I have crew around and setting things up. But they all think I’m coming a day or two later, if I’m coming at all. I walk in, and even if they are expecting me, they are not expecting me for a couple of days. One of my big challenges is to catch them with their pants down and keep it real. They can’t know I’m coming or we’ll start to lose some of that reality. So, when I walk in it’s a surprise, I catch ’em.
JM: Are you planning any rescues in New Jersey?
JT: We wanted to try and get some in this season and when we did the Hurricane Sandy episode which was in Rockaway Beach we started working on it for New Jersey. I want to be candid with you. I think that Gov. Christie has done such a good job bringing attention to the shore and the devastated areas in New Jersey, where as I believe on the other side of the river the Governor has not done a good job of bringing public attention to this issue. There’s an imbalance. I felt that Gov.
Christie had New Jersey so well covered for national exposure, and I saw Far Rockaway and Breezy Point and that area go unnoticed. He has done a fantastic job of keeping it on top of the public’s awareness.
I’m hoping to come to New Jersey next season. We are working on location in a few areas; I’m not at liberty to say where yet. But I can’t hope to do many more “Bar Rescues” without going to New Jersey!
JM: So what’s your new book, “Raise The Bar” all about?
JT: Before “Bar Rescue,” I’ve been doing public speaking for 30 years all over the country and I get paid a lot of money for it. I’m known to be a good motivational speaker. (And if you are curious you can watch one of the videos on YouTube called the “Concept of Success” which some fan posted.) But people have said why don’t you write a book and share some of your philosophies? What I did was put a book together that did two things. It shares with people what I believe are the principles of success, then inspires them to be successful. I find that a lot of these [kinds of] books are text book based. They teach you how to be a leader. I don’t believe anybody can teach you how to be a leader. I believe you are either born a leader or not. It’s a very practical guide for success. But most importantly, it is my desire to inspire people and I hope I did.
JM: Because you’ve spent a lot of your time in bars and nightclubs, you must have a favorite drink and possibly a favorite cigar. Do you?
JT: Funny that you would say that, of course I do. You know, you bounce around in life, but I always seem to come back to this same drink. It’s a Godfather. A Godfather is served in a rocks glass, it’s about an ounce and a half of scotch. My scotch of choice would be Johnny Walker Black. Then they top it with a little bit of amaretto. I like a small amount of amaretto. That’s my drink of choice.
My cigar of choice will surprise you. My cigar of choice is actually electronic. I’ve been smoking cigars for 30 years. I’ve been a Romeo y Julieta fan for a long, long time. I will confess that I’ve been smoking Cuban cigars for quite a while, even within the confines of America.
[Now] I smoke e-cigars, believe it or not. I smoke a cigar called an Antonio Villard. I’ve smoked a lot of these cigars. This particular one is made out of water and fine cigar tobacco extract. It tastes like a terrific cigar, but everybody around me seems to think it smells like a chocolate chip cookie. So I can smoke this thing anyplace I want and I’m happy with it and I don’t offend anyone. So, I’ve been into e-cigars and loving them!
Let me say to traditional cigar smokers, don’t laugh at me until you’ve tried it. I hand these things out all the time and, any cigar smoker I’ve ever handed it to, has come back and said, “I’ve got to admit, Jon, I was gonna laugh at this thing, but son of a gun, it’s’ really good!” Smoking e-cigars is a healthier alternative. Try one of these cigars, they are great.
JM: I will definitely do that. One more question, what do you think of your TV counterpart, Gordon Ramsey, host of “Kitchen Nightmares”?
JT: I cannot say how much respect I have for Gordon. Gordon invented the format, the concept of a chef driven TV show, the concept of business transformation, the concept of tension and pushing people to be better. I’m in awe of Gordon. He’s the best on television. Not only is he the best on a show, too many reality show experts are not experts. Candidly, they are casted. I’m real at what I do. So is Gordon. He’s good at what he does, his hands get dirty, he’s engaged and the damn guy is a workhorse. The amount of TV he produces every year is unbelievable. For the record, I’m also a big fan of Robert Irvine (Host of Food Network’s “Restaurant Impossible.”) He’s a very, very dear friend of mine. I have huge respect for him.
JM: Excellent. Thanks again, Jon. I’m very much looking forward to watching new episodes of “Bar Rescue,” hopefully from New Jersey.
JT: Thank you.
Written by: George Brinkerhoff, Jersey Man Magazine