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Episode 50 with Travis Tober

by Doug Radkey & David Klemt
September 14th 2021

Episode 50! The only way to celebrate such a big milestone is with an incredible guest. We're excited to bring you Tra... More

Welcome to the bar hacks podcast, engaging interviews, plus tips and strategies to navigate your bar or restaurant business towards sustainable success. Now here's your host hospitality industry, veteran journalist and editor. David clamped. Hey, welcome back to the Bar X podcast. We have an awesome guest today we have Travis Tober, the co founder of nickel City. He's behind old pal at this point, I believe it's three venues that you're involved with in texas. How's it going? It's going well man, how you doing? Happy saturday. So before we jump in, how can people connect with you on instagram? The easiest is my instagram handle october, thg Tober Toby er odds. Easiest one. I'm pretty, pretty active on it. I do actually get a lot of questions sent to me through that. So that's, that's pretty, pretty easy. I try to get back to everybody within 24 hours old pal T X. I think for old pal and Nichols. Yeah, what counts?

Yeah, we have a nickel city bar 80 X. And then I should probably know this, uh there's old pal bar T. X. And then there's a nickel city F. W. T. X. So, um you know, when you open up one venue, you never looked at the second ones that, you know, maybe we should all get it together, but you know, that's something we've got to worry about down the road and a good problem to have. This is going to be a big question for you, but how did you wind up in texas as far as your journey through hospitality. So you know, I, you know, I like to say that you have been in the bar industry for 25 years now, I'm originally from buffalo new york nickel city, it's where the name of the bar comes from comes from and when you grew up in buffalo, a poor kid in buffalo, you kind of dream of two places and that's florida and las Vegas right there. Everybody in buffalo goes on to vacations a year, you know, in the winter time they go to, they go to florida and in the summer time they go to Vegas. So I decided just, you know, one day I think it was, we had like 28 inches of snow and they cancelled thanksgiving.

Uh, so it was like, I'm out of here, I'm done. I broke up with my girlfriend told my mom, I was like, hey, I'm moving to florida and I just drove on a buddy of mine actually, Jason Loman who's actually a bartender in Tampa now drove me down and help me move And uh yeah, I moved, I, I posted up in west Palm Beach for a few years, I was out there and never truly fell in love with florida and you know, after a couple of years I decided to get out of there and then in 2002 I moved out to las Vegas and uh you know, might as well, might as well make the buffalo kid dream come true and move out to Vegas, you know because I like to say you know if you're an actor, you know you moved to L. A. If you're a bartender, you moved to las Vegas right? So it's the center of the universe I think as far as you know bartending jobs and you know that's out there, it's a career. So I went out there and I had an amazing, amazing time I spent roughly off and on like nine years there and then um when I was moving out to las Vegas from florida actually drove through the heart of texas and I don't know what it was with it but man something just struck a chord.

I was like like I just love the people, I love the scenery, I just really really really dug it as you know you live in las Vegas, you know 2000 and six was pretty rough around uh las Vegas. So you know I, you know had a house and you know held on and then you know 2010 decided to get the hell out of dodge and I moved to Austin only visited once before and uh kind of you know fell in love with it as many people do visit Austin to fall in love with it, you know move out here but I did move with the, with the sole reason that I was eventually going to open a bar I think you know living in las Vegas, you know this is you know you know next time we just opened up herbs and you know you saw a couple independent operators but like you know in the early in the early odds it was all big corporations franchise and stuff like that. So owning your own bar was kind of like a pipe treatment in Vegas for what I thought, you know what? I know now so I just decided to move to Austin you know at the time you know supposedly really good for small businesses, all this kind of stuff like that, it was all kind of worked out. So I mean that's lost out to Austin took a job.

A guy my name is jim lee gave me a job as the corporate is the property mixologist at four seasons which is they kind of called it you know Austin's living room, they said you know rumors there's more political deals done there than the capitol building and I truly 100% believe it it was pretty wild to work there for you know probably 34 years you know and then I got kind of ripped away from their um during that time I actually started working as a part time brand ambassador for aviation Gin you know at that point in time was like 2011 so you know it wasn't that well known as it is now worldwide and so I went to open up this bar restaurant that was quickly over, it was kind of like a rich kids uh dream dream project, you want to open up a restaurant, you know, didn't know anything about the goddamn restaurant business but which is fine, but if you don't want to listen to the people that know about the restaurant business, you shouldn't do that, you know Aces and places. So I was like yeah I was there for like 67 months and then actually aviation offered me a full time job as the national brand ambassador and the writing was on the table you know you know that that old story you know you come over and open up a place, you get all these promises and it's just carrots, dangled carrots, dangled money that's coming next way, you know and it just never happened so I decided to take that full time job was in there doing that for a while, I think this was like 2000 and 15, 2015, 2014.

So I had two years of just traveling the world talking jim you know doing cocktails, just being a brand ambassador and then um you know I met my partner craig you know we were friends here in the bar on rainy street there and you know he just asked me, we were at the bar half step which is pretty well done bar, we're just kinda hanging out, I ran into him, he's just like, hey, but so you're doing aviation full time now. He's like, he's like, well what's the end game? Um and I go, you know, eventually would open up my own bar. He's like, hey man, you know, I kind of, I've always done what you've done, you know, you know, I saw you know how you operate, I like how you handle yourself, you know, maybe let's do something down down the road and you know, it just kind of came, I was just like, you know, maybe maybe I want to do it, hit him up and you know, we kinda like talk to you at this location at the time, a couple long branch legendary bar in uh in texas in Austin especially it's the longest running far license in Austin. So we ended up, you know, long story short, we ended up getting that spot, you know, it took us about 68 months to open it up, you know, construction remodeled it, we wanted to, you know, the long branch is kind of notorious for their bathrooms, You know, there was a dive bar, bathrooms and then there were long branch bathrooms and just look like, I would probably say, you know, if we didn't get rid of those bathrooms, that's where Covid 20 probably would have started, but you know, you are sole goal is just you know basically cleaning up and you know, make it make it nicer but not too nice, that's kind of like minded craig's motto is, you know, make it nice, but not too nice or you know, somebody will be finishing out of fort worth.

Like it's too nice. It's like, can you make a little bit shittier? So we just wanted that, you know, comfortable neighborhood bar to pop into and it's just like, Honestly right time. You know, I mean there's, you know, success in the bar. Restaurant business is 100% a lot of hard work. But if you want to think that luck has nothing to play with it, you're definitely out of your mind. So it was just the right time, right place. You know, this was 2017. So you know, cocktails are all around the world, cocktail bars are all the rage obviously. But at that point in time there was still that like hoity toity, you know, vest and you know, hat and you know, in fact totally moustache kind of cocktail bars and like that's what we had cocktails. Well, I was just like, man, we just made this like shit, whole neighborhood bar. We don't, we don't, we still never mentioned a word cocktail on any of our menus and we just said, you know, in the neons, you know, it really just says cold beer, mixed drinks and I go, listen, let's just do those cocktails, but let's do them cheaper better faster and you know, not pretentious, like it's not rocket science, you know what I mean? And you know, I'm definitely quoted saying this, you know, if you think it's all about your cocktails, your fucking lost man, you're closing up shop and it's never, it's never been about the cocktails, it's always been about, you know, the surroundings and and and the people behind the body of the people, you're hanging out with the customers, guests that walk in, just the whole experience.

So you know, we kind of, you know, we said, yeah, I'm like, yeah do cocktails, You never do cocktails for you know, a dozen years now and and let's do let's open I guess a cocktail bar but not neighborhood bar. You know that's what we, you know, we don't, we hate, we hate we get labeled as a guide bar all the time. I hate that you can't open a dive bar, you just generally become a dive bar and also dive bars don't have aperol spritz on draft or you know what I mean? Or you know what I mean, like Paula Champagne for 69 bucks and stuff like that. So I hate when people call us a dive bar, we're definitely a neighborhood bar. Just, we kind of call ourselves to any time everyone bar and you know that's it man, come one come all. I learned that when I was with a in a different role and you were awarded initially the dive bar of the year and when I found out that you preferred and you're nice about it. Uh neighborhood bar, I changed the name on the, the award because I felt that that was more than fair as the winner if you don't like that term. And I was super stoked to get that war. And then Covid Hitman, like we had to cancel our fucking flight And I was so happy because I know living in Las Vegas for 10 years the next march, it was always huge to me.

And uh, it was super cool. I was actually in Australia when I got the email on that and I was just like, I was in Australia working with aviation and doing a tour with death and co and I got there, I was like, sweet man. That's it. I like, that's like the last one I really, really wanted to win just because you know, martin in Vegas for years and we were up in buffalo, we used to fly in for that convention. So it was a really cool honor to win that you seem that you went full into texas though as far as I've been from buffalo. You didn't, I guess you skipped the temptation to throw down more buffalo food. You didn't go right into the, what we have to have buffalo wings. We have to make them the thing in Austin. How did you avoid that temptation? I mean what we always wanted to do is just like basically like a nondescript rust belt chic bar I guess is the best way to kind of describe it. So it's kind of like, like I said, people like you should open up nickel city up in new york. I was like, it's like like my friends in buffalo, I love them to death will come up and down like this is it like you want a word for this? I'm like yeah yeah yeah like this is like every dump we hung out at in there and then they look and they see the cocktails and you know 400 whiskeys on the back bar.

But you know what I mean? Like that was the whole thing is just supposed to be that nondescript, you know rust belt midwest bar that you know kind of like all over the place um but just doing cocktails like yeah, we we've got food, we do um my partners, my other partners hunt brothers are they own via three and three which is coming to Vegas soon and all over and you know they were partners in, I mean so we did Detroit style sliders and dogs, you know just kind of add a little bit more rust belt. Um So yeah, I mean the food is like I think it comes out to probably maybe 20% of our sales maybe less and it's basically we use that as you know, we've done like dollars sliders in austin you know on thursday, so you get the people and have a dollar slider, you're also going to have a, you know, maybe a $20 pour whiskey or you know frozen irish coffee for 12 bucks, so get them in with the food. So we generally kind of use the food in our favor as like We'll discount the food, not the drinks on certain nights and uh you know I mean somebody come in with three sliders for three months and lose their mind but they're you know, they're buying 23 drinks and their tabs still $40. It's it's a win win win. I also like that you pointed out that your friends think maybe that your bar isn't anything special but your whiskey program alone is definitely elevated.

There are as you called a hoodie 20 cocktail bar that doesn't have the collection you have so if you want to touch on how that decision was made and some of the activations you have around whiskey and the cocktail program or the mixed drink program. Yeah, don't use the C. Word, you know, you know, it was kind of like man, you know, you know, traveling the United States for you know, a couple of years and stuff like that. I always wanted to clean back bar but I thought you know what would it be cool if it was just one spirit like that's all you see and I was just like, well whiskey makes perfect sense. We have irish bourbon, rye, scott japanese whiskey that kind of makes the whole sense and it just kind of grew like, you know, obviously I think we're now probably like 400 whiskeys, you know, people come in like, wow, you got a lot of whiskey, like you have to, of course we have a guy like money, you know, and I also in the summer day man, like vodka sodas for days, love it. So you know that that was just kind of always like an aesthetic look, you know, poor spots on the back bar, you know, because like, man, there's a couple of bars, you know, even awesome, like beautiful, beautiful bars, but like the back bar looks like it's not a fucking Holiday inn in 1995 and it's just like, you know what I mean?

Like I don't know man, you go into a bar and it's like this big, you know, it's supposed to be a big amazing thing and like whether you drink whiskey or not like you hate to see like a bottle of Malibu on the back bar and you know what I mean? Like all this other kind of neon shit, you know, it's just always kind of like, it was more of like, it kind of grew into a thing, you know I mean? Like I somehow one north America's whiskey bartender of the year in 2019. I didn't even go to the awards because I was like, there's no way I'm winning that. A good friend of mine got accepted the award on my favorite, but uh for me, but you know, it's always just been a thing like I, you know, I loved whiskey, I've always been a gin and whiskey guy, um you know, general summer whiskey, the winner and you know, there's just, you know, obviously like, again, lucky, you know, 2016 17 is when the whiskey started popping, you know, everybody started getting into it, you know, it was just another perfect timing kind of thing. What are you seeing as far as the brand or the style of whiskey that is just on fire right now? Oh man, you know, it's, you know, it's still, and I hate to say it man, because I've had my battles with them, it's still that sazerac stuff, like it's kind of weird, you know, I think, I think irish whiskey still always have in the moment, but you know, the, that allocated stuff, it's weird to see what hits and what doesn't, but you know, you're really starting to see some really cool stuff westward whiskey out in Portland Oregon.

They're doing, they're doing an amazing american single malt, like I, I really, really want american single malt to have this moment and they're doing really, really good juice and I love these like past finishes that they're doing, um you know, there's just a lot of cool stuff coming out of, just out of Kentucky, you know, you've seen a couple of new uh new distillery has been popping up in Kentucky, there hasn't been any new ones forever, but now there's a couple new ones, you know, I, I just, I really dig like all the like little distilleries like texas is having a moment to balconies in Waco is making some great stuff. The homies down the street drop out dripping Springs, Treaty Oak. I think they finally come into their own kind of took a little while for people to figure out how to make whiskey in texas. Not like they didn't know how to make whiskey, but like it's also, you know, Kentucky, it's, you know hot in the summer, cold in the winter here, it's hot and then version of less hot, you know what I mean? So um, you know the whiskey, he just quick around here, but I think, I think there's a lot of cool texas, whiskey that's really starting to take hold and we're getting all those those whiskeys and now they're just like, you know every week somebody's got some new whiskey and you know, every time somebody comes in and tries to sell me something, I pulled out a bottle of jim beam white label, I'm like this is 16 bucks, does it taste even remotely as good as this and usually answers no and I'm like, listen if I got a spot for it.

I got a spot for it, but I need, you know, I need a little bit something different, you know what I mean? So you know, there's, there's definitely some cool stuff for sure. Uh this word whiskey out important is doing some of my, my favorite juice right now. I don't know why I just thought of this, but there's the, I think it's called Heist. I think it's a series on netflix and they talk about the great pappy van winkle theft whereas one of the biggest, if not the biggest just whiskey thefts I guess in America too. People coming in now like, hey, I saw this son that's like, do you have pappy or is it just always there pappy? You know what's wild? Is that in Austin? I, we still have pappy left over from like a year and a half ago. Like in Austin it's like because Austin's hitman like we don't want that shit. It's too popular. Like japanese whiskey, we crush it out of there. Like well crushed japanese whiskey, you know what I mean I mean? And then like both nickel cities together I think are like the top three jim beam accounts, you know in the United States. So you know we, you know that's a nickel city you get, you know the draft chords and a shot of jim beam for six bucks.

It used to be $5. I literally lost sleep over raising into up to $6 but dinner with body Hugo from anvil and he's like does raise it up man just do it and uh yeah you know it's it's it's cool man. It's a thing for sure. It's interesting when the van winkle in certain areas isn't the top dog, you've got a bar out in Boulder city and I saw the bottles they had just about every expression you could get and I was out of curiosity how much would an announcement a half part of that be? And the guy just looked at me and he was like I don't know like $8 and I was like sold I'll take one and I was like I'll take one as well, you're going to do that for like yeah we don't really care was like alright yeah it's so funny man and you know but like in Fort Worth once we drop those bottles I'll sell out within within a week, week and a half and um you know there's just more like a bourbon. I hate to call bourbon bro culture up there but it is a little bit more like a happy during the height of the pandemic. This is wild to me. I had this guy come into me uh come into the bar Fort worth and you know how the pandemic?

I was bartending a lot still up there and this guy is like oh you got happy, he was like you can do to go to go drink some. Yeah yeah sure and he's just like Can I get you know two ounces of pappy a 10 years ago or I don't even know what which one it was and I was just like yeah like sure and I'm like I got to start from a cup dude like he's like oh yeah yeah yeah that's fine and I was just like man I fucking feel bad about this so I ended up pointing to a ziploc bag and I'm putting it, putting it in a deli cup just to make it look nicer and I was just like you know $80 guy like and he's just like Oh man this is great, I was just like get out of here dude, whatever man so you know I've sold happy in a plastic bag before and I'm proud of that actually I love that I was walking down the street couple tales ago and I was handed a little plastic cup and it was Hennessy Rashard and that's that I liked cool stuff like that where it's like yeah this is really expensive but the important part here is actually consuming it, Not making it look fancy, I have the crystal glass with the cigar, I'm good and it's also a very tales thing to do.

Yeah, definitely, definitely, definitely drink some expensive weird shit at you know in the middle of the night and that you know weird stuff. I had this yeah I remember I had a West Henderson and uh Dave pickerel alrighty happened to be just at my tails house that we had for aviation and it was just after the awards was just like us four guys sitting around drinking whiskey and I was like this is kind of like a weird tales moment but I'll go with it, you know I'm friends with those guys and you just kind of like I don't let's go to the hair grows and that's what we did with their roles and it had some more drinks but yeah you know there's all that you know that tells moment, there's always there's always some weird fun stories from there for sure mentioned Fort Worth, how many years after you open Austin did you open Fort Worth? So we we decided I think in 2017 end of 2000 and 18 were like let's do let's do for worth my partner and I was like hey what are you about four? And I was like I dig it man, I dig it, it's like anti Dallas but it's also you know at the time was the 13th largest city in the United States and I was just like it's an underserved market for sure when he's like let's go check it out.

So the end of 2018 we all went up there and you know we they were trying to sell us at magnolia and just didn't have my kind of I'm and stuff like that so we just kind of looked at, you know places and they were like showing us these like new builds out built out. So I was just like, man, this guy, these guys just don't get up and get what we're doing and then we ended up walking this one site and I was like what's that building over there and like the old shitty flag building, I'm like exactly the old city flag building and I don't know, we'll call and they call this real estate agent, his name's eric Vickers, he's a regular and a friend now he's like, yeah man, he's like, oh who's here like nickel city guys and like he's been to our bar a million times and he's like, yeah hell yeah, I'll chill too. So we walk in this this huge ass flag building, it was a flag store, like that's all they sold those flags for 40 years and so we end up getting in and they, you know eric really help sell the owner of the building nineties I think these guys do this all smart. I mean he, he kind of sold the owners on it like cool. So they let us person a partition off like a front part and it ended up being like I want to say we're gonna be close to 4000, maybe like 3500 square feet or something like that.

It was like almost, it was like big and you know, we decided to do that, but the building that I'm going historical. So we didn't even open up until october 2020 which in hindsight is kind of a blessing because like if we would open up, it would have been a year earlier. I don't think we would have got our footing and then Covid and you know, all this. So it was actually kind of a blessing just to kind of open up in the middle of a pandemic and you know, I remember being a janitor first, I lived up there and I still have, I still have an apartment up there. I'm there every week. Like remember january, like New Year's Eve, Like this is fucking depressing man. Like we were kind of busy, but it was just like, it was that, you know, winter push on Covid, it was just like, goddamn, this is depressing And you know what kind of broke us up there was that winter storm, you know, I don't know if you remember texas, like kind of like literally texas froze over. I remember when that happened, it literally happened in the middle of the night and it was, you know, five degrees outside, which is cold in Buffalo, but like unheard of ever in texas and you know, everybody lost power, everybody lost, you know power and gas all that. So we like, you know, I was kind of hanging out with my girlfriend, you know, we were hanging out and we went to the bar was like, you know, one of our bartenders and I was like, hey we still have power over here, so we went over there and you know my cousin, I moved down, he's the kitchen manager, he moved down and let's take today off because like everybody is out of power was freaking the fuck out, but let's fucking open up tomorrow, and literally nobody was opening forward, like no one was opening for work and I was just like, I'm from fucking Buffalo dude, like we're opening up like this is this is our fucking time to shine, and it was like me and my cousin in the kitchen, I was like, hey guys, we're opening up some hours, you can get here safely and there was like two bartenders that lived in the neighborhood, they just walked over and we were fucking slammed from 2 to 10, we had shortened hours open eight hours, but we were, you know, we're just in the neighborhood, you know what I mean?

Like that's it, like come on, get more, might get a little bit, so you know I mean, get more, go to the bathroom, you know what I mean? Like, you know, we had, you know, we got a bunch of disposable toothbrushes or whatever, you know what I mean? Like come on, you know, just come on down and literally my bedroom was set up in the back bar Bar bar Barbara Gaza is with my girlfriend, slept that night and we'd wake up and we would just open up the bar and uh man, we were slamming like all these brands reached out, hey, we want to buy 100 sliders, you know, 100 meals for, you know, industry people or whoever and like we were literally just like feeding bartenders in the neighborhood and it felt really good man. It was like, it was hard work being my cousin frozen ass off and you know, it was, it was, it was fucking cold for a week, it was frozen for a week and it was a fun time. It definitely like after that, like we've been slammed ever since. I really like, I really think that storm and just kind of like introduced like, hey, you know, we're just a neighborhood bar man, we're not some, you know, some honey, 20 guys from Austin trying to, you know, you know, appropriate for earth, like we're here, you know, we live here and you know, we hire local people and you know, we kind of made it a point not to hire anybody from Dallas and you know, one guy snuck through Justin, we kind of messed with him but he's moving to Austin anywhere.

So um, you know, we didn't want to Dallas fort Worth. So we're out, apologize Fort Worth, you know, and love it. Hi there just a quick message before we get you back to this episode, if you're looking to take your bar restaurant or hospitality business to the Next level. I mean to profits of 12-15% or more, it's time to take action. Let's start creating your road map to success with our proprietary strategies, tools, resources that will inspire your team, activate your potential and lead your hospitality brand to margins. You never thought possible visit Korg hospitality dot com right after this episode for more information. Now back to the bar hacks podcast is the guest experience vastly different between the two bars are the activations and the programming. Different programming is pretty similar. We still got the whiskey Wednesday is 79 cent wing on Mondays which literally I think I'm losing money on that now because of the wing the wing shortage but you know the program is fairly fairly similar to what we like to call the city of fort Worth is like the same but different you know we got the same tile, we got the same colors.

Obviously it's it's an old shitty building. We got the glass block, there's a couple differences obviously it's a lot bigger and then you know in in nickel city we have the cash only charity borrowing back which is basically that closet that some of the world's best bartenders have raised, you know I think up to date like $20,000 for charity and we didn't do that. So we have Barbara Gaza back there which is our kind of like our uh Guadalajara which I really think is truly the best city in Mexico. We did a pop up down in Guadalajara, myself and Turtle and Amanda cargo, R O G M. And uh we just kind of fell in love with the city and you know, so we took this little room and while we were walking the streets of Guadalajara, the sidewalks were accent with this like green and maroon tile, which kind of matched nickel city, but like a cool fucking mexican tile way. Like that's a sign. So we kind of built this awesome mescal, what I thought was going to be mainly at tequila bar and a little bit of Mexico has now turned about 80% Mexico. I mean we've got, you know, we only open it up on Fridays, Saturdays and once a month we do an industry party back there because like, again, like 303 100 skews back there when I, you know me being an idiot thinking, you know, everybody's gonna, you know, it's fort worth.

You know, they're not ready for mescal drink tequila Also, I got a bunch of good tequila man, I'm telling you what we've got, we've got girls coming in there like 23 like, oh, what kind of skills you have? I'm just like, these are like hipster girls, these are just like, you know, Becky's and charges coming in there. I was just like man, Moscow's totally flipped the fuck in the corner now. And uh yeah, we crush out, you know, mescaline of their, you know, every friday and saturday and we're doing a little cool pop up this weekend with a, with a mexican vinyl DJ and just having fun. This sounds like you kind of see what's going on and you get an idea in your head and you make really fun programming if you're going to open a bar today, man, have your concept, you know, whatever the hell is going to be. But programming programming, programming that like make somebody want to come to your bar, get that foam, oh going, you know what I mean? Like, oh something, something's going to happen if I'm not there or you know what I mean? Like you want to be in there and you come in, you know that. So hey, I'm gonna swing by for one and then fucking four hours later you're, you know, six years in two shots and you try to leave and run into somebody else.

That's what we always try to create. But you know, programming hopes that France, want to help out programming, they want to feature their products and we love doing that. You know, you know, you don't look at costs of things if you look at, you know, we've never paid one dime for advertising and nickel city, but you know, I'd rather on instagram or do whatever, push our brand with like dollar sliders and wild turkey, you know, one on one and then, you know, Thursdays were, you know, notoriously i for some reason any places and ran Thursdays is always a weird one, it's you know, before the weekend, stuff like that, but now Thursdays with our dollar slide is like super busy state night and fort worth, like we're slammed for it again, like bars are fun, it's the entertainment industry, it's not the hospitality industry, everybody knows what fucking in the ground the right now, everybody knows it's far easier, you know, I mean like I've fucking got, you know, my, my grandpa knows you know how to make a badass, you know, do old fashioned, so it's just like, you know, I mean like what are you doing, what are you getting people to come in for? You know what I mean? It's like you got to offer them something and you know what I mean? It's got to be just, you got to entertain. We talked earlier and as you know, there's, there's definitely a labor shortage going up throughout the industry, but you brought up that you really haven't had that issue because people really don't want to leave when they start working for Nicholas city.

So to what do you attribute the fact that you're able to keep really good talent, you know, I mean, obviously we have a lot of fun, we definitely have a lot of fun and you know the money is good, but you know that isn't everything obviously a good thing is like we, you know, I share sales goals, we have sales goals, weekly sales goals, stuff like that. Like, you know, if we hit this, hit the sales girl, we're all going out, we're all going to top golf or like they've done like we've, you know, we've paid for like, you know, floating the river or something like that or you know, like badass lunch and take everybody out, you know, we do that, you know, we have a really cool, uh, we don't, we never closed so we never shut down the bar for a christmas party, but we'll bring in a badass, far from out of town, like, you know, two years ago as an evil came and took over the bar and we all partied and then went back and watched these guys, you know, across the animal, we don't know what I truly believe, It's the best cocktail bar in the world and they just crushed it and body split his head open on the frozen machine and you know, we all, he's got to start out, he's got a harry potter star from nickel city, but you know, and just not micromanaging people, you know, we, we, we start from the bottom up, you know, and you know, I tell everybody like, what do you want to learn, what do you want to get out of this?

Do you want this part in here for five years and crush it and leave, that's great, Do you, are you going to school, how can we help you work? You know? Let's be, you know, let's, let's be flexible how far up you want to, in the industry, you know, in awesome. Especially, you know, because it was pretty cove and there isn't anybody on staff including kitchen staff that hasn't been taken to like a distillery and like Vermont or Kentucky or you know, we do a lot of trips, a lot of educational trips, we do a lot of pop ups, you know, like we, I, you know, I'm, I got a call on monday, I think we're going to do a nickel city pop up in, in Ukraine and Kiev during barometer. And it was just like, you know, I mean like I was about 20 years ago and like if my manager the, you know the city by work there, it's like, hey, let's go to a pop up in Kiev, everything is paid for, let's go do it. I mean what, what is this? You know what I mean? But like we have that opportunity, like we are in discussions to pop up Kiev and I was just like, two of the employees are going to go to, we're going to fly into Ukraine, we need you for three days to do this pop up and then you tell me what city you want to leave from and we'll fly you back from whatever city.

So if you want to go to Italy for five days afterwards, we'll do that. We'll slide it from the line back to back to us that you know, you guys figure it out, you want to go to London, whatever, you know what I mean? It's like this is, you know, it's the whole thing. Do you do the interviewing when you're hiring staff? I do, I try to do the final interview for sure. I let our leads in our bar managers to the main hiring because at the end of the day they're going to work on some side by side and I'll never pushed anybody on anyone. Like you know like I've had like really well known bartender through the time, stuff like that. I'm just like, hey man, like you got a bar back, you know what I mean? Like you have the bar back and it might be six months. So it's just like, you know the bar backs make great money too. But like at the end of the day you're running, you know a badass for in L. A. And you moved to boston and like hey nickel city like like we're just not going to throw you in the mix, you know I mean like you gotta, you gotta earn it, you know what I mean? Like you're gonna be fucking juices in the morning, you gonna be matching cocktails, all that kind of stuff and you know, it's worked out. I think I think now basically everybody on staff at, at nickel in Austin started as a bar back and our general manager, our bar manager in Fort Worth started as a bar back in Austin and he's now he's not the longest running, you know, he's the very last of the very first hires and he's running Fort Worth like he's living his best life, like, you know, he's running that, you know, if, if, you know we're looking at other locations, he's gonna help us open up that, you know, I mean I stay out of his way.

I'm like whatever schedule you want, you know, do what you need to do and and let him do it and you know, he knows the brand just as good as I do. So he knows, you know what we're looking for and you know how to have fun and somebody walks through the door and it's a party every day, even if it's a Tuesday at five p.m. You have any advice as far as interview questions or just interview strategies to find the right people. So I have, okay, so there's, there's two things that kind of always talking about with interviews and, and stuff like that, right? I kind of want to staff like cheers, you know, think about cheers as a whole was probably the best fictional bar of all time. So what I need is I need my, I need my coach, right? You don't need that old, you know, usually I'm the old guy, bartender, you know, kind of knows that not, not too smart, that's me, you know, you need that slick young guy, Woody Harrelson, you know, you need a, you know, kind of like a kind of like a sarcastic somebody else, so everybody has to fit a role. I want to, I want to cast of characters, I don't want the 10 best bartenders in Austin, I don't even know if I want the best bartender in Austin, you know what I mean? Like what I do is I hire like I'm hiring like a cast of a T.

V. Show, so I need different personalities. Yeah, we got, we always got the cocky young guy, you know what I mean? Like that, so you need that, we got that, you know Bradley right now, these are cocky young guy, Austin mess with them, I had a bartender another night, like I'm also going out, rang was asked by a lot, I was just like, man, you just got out rang outranked by a 44 year old chubby dude, like, and you're, you're like 25 young, I go get your shit together, but you know, you want to hire like a cast of cast of characters and like, you know, and it's challenging because sometimes it doesn't always mesh and there's, you know, a little inter fighting stuff like that, but you know, you need your uptight bartender, you need to, you know you need your funny guy, you need, you know the guy that the guy, a guy that's gonna come in hungover because they went out too late last night. Just, it makes for more interesting dynamic, not just for for the team but for like people that come in and you know, I mean I think it's working like we were nominated best american bar team like Final 4, 2 years in a row. So it's just like just just be interesting, don't you know, don't be that stereotypical bar that just hires he's the best, best, best you know I mean like fuck that fuck being the best, you know, be the most interesting is what I always say challenge that you did mention you have right now is with suppliers so are you your way around the challenge?

One of the biggest challenges you're seeing. I mean the crazy thing in fort Worth, you cannot order chicken wings through through a distributor. So we have to literally get in the truck and drive to restaurant depot and buy chicken wings at like $160 for £40. You know when nickel city opened it was $50 for £40. I mean we're talking triple of the price and we really haven't raised the prices. I finally rose up the prices of chicken wings and we still do 79 cent wings. I mean like it's interesting every day like you know I finally had to talk my managers on the bar managers off the cliff because they would get pissed at, you know, in, in texas, we have to order through liquor stores like, hey, we got out of stock of like brown and I'm like, it's not that they want to sell it to us, believe me. Like it's, there's, there's just glass holders. There's a tough vote Chico sort and you know what I mean? Like I open up old pallets, got Topo Chico advertised me. Now I have to drive around all the texas to find topo Chico and glass bottles. You know, it's just, I mean there's no monkey shoulder. It's like a new list every day. It's that you can't, you can't get something and it's only going to continue like for at least the next year. There's gonna be massive just shortages like now we can't get Roederer champagne, You know, like I said, it's a new list and I guess our pivot now is just like, all right, well we can't get that and that's on our menu.

How do we change this out or you know, what do we do here? What do we do? You know here? And you know, like suppliers fault like they want to sell this, it's, you know, sitting on a boat out on the dock, out of L. A. Like I don't know what's going on with it. It's just getting worse and I think it's going to be, people really need to be ready to have some long conversations with themselves and like what they want to accomplish, like somebody's esoteric brands like they can't even find bottles, you know what I mean? Like if you know if if you're DiBiaggio and you have this purchasing power and then there's this little X. Y Z brand, like they're getting pushed push back and you know, I want, I want to help these guys as much as I can, but actually you don't be able to sell stuff too. So you know, it's going to be a weird year and I think, I think we're just at the beginning of the supply issue problem and I think it's only only gonna get worse so like we'll do when something comes in that we haven't had a problem jim beam yet. But you know if there's something that we're having a proper tone Xo, which is in our, in our irish coffee, I mean the distillery was shut down for six months, you know, and you can't get patrol right now, there's sure as shit not making patrolling xo cafe, like we're the number one account in the world of it and we just use it at, you know, in our frozen irish coffee.

So literally we've had all the countries patrolling xo sent to texas and it sits in a warehouse just for me And you know when we're ready we take 10 case drops of it as whenever, we can, you know what I mean? So you're gonna see weird stuff just going out, but it sounds like you really don't want to pass on any of these inflating costs to your guests. I try really try not to like, well you know, we, we have that long conversation, you know, partners of you know liquor brands and you know like, hey, we want to do this this list. Only the neighborhood bar means that dishwasher fucking you know, five star restaurant down the street. You know, he's making, he's probably making pretty good money these days, but still like he needs to be able to come in and I want, I want the same experience for the person that comes in at once has $20.20 can get. Yeah three shots of jim beam and 33 draft cores, that nickel city, you know what I mean? And I always want that experience for that person because that makes it more interesting bar. I don't like these bars that are coming out. You know, they're like little cocktail started 20 months.

Who's that for? You know what I mean? Like and I don't really want to fucking hang around those people like that's not fun to me, you know what I mean? Like I want the dishwasher from down the street, I want the car washing guys across from nickel city to come out in. You know, I want single moms like, you know like teachers don't make a lot, but they, all of the drink, you know, I mean like I want, I want everybody coming too far and be able to have that option. Can you get a $200.01 ounce pours whiskey at nickel city 100%. I'm not going to prevent you from spending your money, but I also want that person next year To have that same Goddamn experience and you know of a Colbert and a shot of Jim Beam, you know, it's like, you know, it's like that, that's trash a production scene where they're tarring the roof and he's just like, I just need 20 Colbert's for my men, you know, I mean just to Colbert's for man, like that makes you feel great that day. You know what I mean? It's the simple things in life and a frosted mug of course is definitely one of my guilty pleasures. It's not like he wouldn't catch you at too many of the Vegas casino bars or nightclubs, uh, definitely at the nightclubs, a little too old chubby for that right now.

But I mean like when I'm in town, I'm obviously gonna go harass Neptali over at herbs, but, but I do you know what I mean? I do actually, I think I might be in town in a couple of weeks, go out to dinner with him and stuff like that. But you know, I do enjoy seeing, I mean, I've, you know, lived in Vegas for you know, 89 years. I'm an old downtown kind of guy man. I love going down there. I think what they're doing at circa is amazing. Uh that, that whole casino. I think this is fantastic. And I also like old times six. I love going to carnival court and just watching, being entertained and you know what I mean? Like having fun and you know, I don't go to Vegas for the cocktails man. I just, you know, go to degenerate gamble a little bit every once in a while. But I do enjoy like, you know Jammy land. There's a lot of cool bars out there. Golden tiki, you know, a lot of cool bars that I mean obviously orders arising, great fun things. You know, they're the grandfathers of that for sure in Vegas but like Vegas is, you know, it's fun. Like I mean just like first and last stop uses Frankie's tiki room for me out there and it's not for the drinks. I don't know, I just sit there and gamble and I can, you know, drink shitty beer and two fucking shot the rump in the minute.

You mentioned your dislike of the label dive bar and then the bathrooms. I could only think of the double down and the amount of times I've had. Yeager there and then had to use the bathroom. Yeah, it's, I mean I worked at the hard rock on the street in the early on so I was definitely a double down regular for short, I think the office was over there to another equally definitely a dive bar for sure like yeah, wherever you can get your again cold Ash, Jager shots and you know even you know cheap beer and cheap shots where we go, you also now have a bar that you opened this year and that is old pal yeah, oh pell texas tavern, you know, it was kind of like, man, it was the middle of pandemic. I moved out of Austin, I now live in Lockhart texas, which is just 30 minutes from East Austin, nothing crazy, but you know, it was, you know, it was kind of like perfect, perfect timing, you know, I was kind of thinking I'm gonna move this town, there wasn't really at the time there wasn't really any cool bars, but I was just like this is like Austin's exploding, you know, this is in the middle of a pandemic and I was like, you know, kind of my head kind of tripped out when my friend from Chicago was like, hey if you look at this house and Lockhart for us, it's like what do you do look a lot like, I think we're moving Lockhart like, you know, it's affordable, we can work from home and I was just like something kind of kind of clicked in my head, I was like this is going to be a thing, you know what I mean, like you know, we're kind of like escaping like awesome, got so damn expensive so quick, you know, for austinites in California, so I'll take two of those houses, you know?

Um but you know, it was kind of like the thing, I was just like, man, I think it was gonna be like this, you know, kind of come around and coming out here for years because you know, barbecue tourism out there and it was never a place to get Colbert and I was like what if I did what, you know, open the bar, I kind of always wanted to, it's kind of like an old old Austin, you know, I mean once I opened up like, like icehouse hockey tongue fried chicken joint, you know, in the middle of in the middle of Lockhart texas and I was just like, you know, it's a town of 13,000, like that might be 14,000 people here right now, you just never know. And you know, we did it and you know, we went in and I was able to, you know, you know with Nicholson is successful, uh you know raise money pretty quickly for it and you know, we decided to build it out, we probably put a little more money in that we should, but we got a 17 year least, you know, and I want to say, you know, I don't like talking numbers but are at least, you know, per square foot is probably 1/5 or 1/8 of what it is in Austin 25 minutes away. And then after we signed the lease, two days after Elon musk announced the gigafactory 18 minutes away from from Lockhart and they're like, oh yeah, but those guys going to live in in Austin, I go, yeah, all the executives like the factory workers making 55 60 K a year, they can't afford Austin, they're going to move the long card and you know, you're talking to my realtor out here yesterday, you know, You know, there's like nothing lasts more than 24 hours.

It was decent out here, you know, a lot like awesome, but there's just no inventory out here, you know, it's a really cool town to do business in man. Like literally I'm talks to take over this little shop and do a bottle of wine shop and like natural wine mark as well, you know? And this is like the rent is 13 and I'm just like, can I can I, can I do this here illegally? Like just go to dan at the city office like that. I was like dan, okay, so I literally walked a block away down to the city hall and I was like damn here like, oh yeah city planner downstairs to the right, like it was like, hey dan to 10 san Antonio, can I put a wine brother, He's like, well let me look, opens up this big thing. He's like, oh yeah, you're the central business district. You're good. You can open up that goes next to the church. He's like, we got rid of that law. You can open up a wine bar next to church. I was like, great. And like, you know, like you like, I have the mayor's phone number. Like literally the mayor bought me a cup of coffee the other day. I was like, this is great. You know what I mean? And I truly fell in love out here and you know, I think we're going to see those little towns and little like I guess bedroom communities is the, is the word. I use. I also heard the words in towns, you know, there used to be boom towns on the resume towns.

So it's like, you know, walk hearts 25 minutes from the airport, 30 minutes from Austin. You know, I mean you've got, you know, bars, restaurants, shops, everything you need out here and if you want a big city day, you just drive in. Austin is 30 minutes away. So I think we're going to see, you know, like I'm not doing anything, you know, mind blowing out here literally, we're just doing all the beers kept on ice and then we're doing hand squeeze margaritas and all the cocktails cocktails. They're not really cocktails. You know, we have a margarita, a whiskey, sour, you know, we're doing an old pal cocktail because you know, old pal, but we have to stirred and to shaking cocktails, all the juices, fresh squeezed right in front of you and it's just fun. Really, it's just, it's just a, it's a really fun project and something like that's a nickel city was always the bar I wanted to open and and I'm going to continue opening nickel cities, you know, hopefully, but you know, old palace in the bar, I always kind of want to hang out at, you know what I mean? And like I did it last night, we, you know, we got live music on the weekends. You know, we had a cool little band last night and just like, you know what I mean? Like did we break sales records now, but everybody had fun.

It was a good time and you know, keep the, keep the cost alone, You'll still make money where we go. This is probably a pretty big question. Do you have like one or two really good bits of advice for anyone who's on the fence about opening a bar restaurant right now or is close to doing it and maybe they're a little bit nervous about pulling the trigger man. I don't think there is a better time to open up a restaurant or a bar than right now. One thing the pandemic did was separate the good operators from the okay operators. Right, so the pandemics if you're that? Hey, what are you gonna open up? I'm gonna open a sports bar, Okay, what do you do? I'm gonna have wings and burgers and that's it. Like those guys went away, you know what I mean? Because they weren't there running bad margins, they were watching stuff, they weren't, you know, getting every dollar they could, the 100% the pandemic got rid of the shitty owners and the people that's hearts went into it. I mean, I get sent releases all the time for these buildings are just like, oh, I knew that guy, like you walk into it being a restaurant or bar owner, you can walk into a place.

I know if it's going to be there two or three years from now, You know what I mean? And you walk in like this, what is this? Why does this exist? Who nobody asked for that? Right? That's my biggest question. Who's asking for somebody asking for that was somebody asking for fried chicken and honky tonk joint Lockhart? Yeah, I think they were like, I mean, they were maybe like, that's what we mean, but like what's pop? They're like, oh, that makes sense, right? So if you are passionate and you want to put in the work and you want to, you know what I mean? Do those grueling days and there's not a better time to open a turnkey bar and again, please God don't go into this place. And I hate the, I hate the expression, lipstick on a pig, like, don't go in there and just paint this place and you know what I mean? And just like, you know what this out? Because like it was a bar before man, like, you know, it was a bar restaurant before it fell and I don't know what you think, just doing a fresh coat of paint and a new sign is going to do, you have got to remodel, you've got to put some money into it and you got to make that space, You're the last thing somebody wants. It was like, oh yeah, that's exactly like that. But now it's, you know, blue instead of green, like, you know, it's a it's a british bar, it's not an irish pub anymore like that, It was already there, right?

Like, you know, if you think you're better operating, you probably are, but if nobody's forgetting about why they didn't come there last time, you know, they're still not going to come there. So, you know, our space in in Lockhart was a brewery before and it was one of the worst things I've ever seen. Most worst setups out, just like this is it, If we're doing this, we just got to knock this whole fucking wall down, we gotta expose this brick, we're gonna put a real kitchen in here and you wouldn't recognize it from the other day, people go, wow, this was a very, you know what I mean? And yeah, but like, they don't recognize that you've got to, you know, if you're gonna do it, get it, there's people that want to raise money and you want to help you, you know, invest in your thing, get, you know, get a good debt together and there's people out there that want to invest in something and just do it, man, just go out and I really think now is the time if you've been wanting to do it, do it now. I love the optimism of the positivity. That's fantastic advice, I think that's probably the best place to end. Thank you for being on, I really appreciate your time, This is awesome. Cool, Thank you. Thank you for listening to the bar hacks podcast produced by Krg hospitality and hosted by me, David Clement.

If you like what you're hearing, please rate, review, subscribe and share. Follow us on twitter at past bar hacks and instagram at bar hacks. Talk to you soon.

Episode 50 with Travis Tober
Episode 50 with Travis Tober
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