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The first public building in what was to

become the United States of America was a

church. The second was a public house—a bar

in today’s language.

Alcohol, the atmosphere of a public drinking

place, and the inevitable hangover are parts

of the foundation of this country. No one

understands this better than Jon Taffer.

You probably recognize the name even if you

aren’t already a fan. Taffer is the host and

brains behind “Bar Rescue”, the Spike TV show

where the industry expert helps transform

struggling bars into profitable businesses. He’s

founded, flipped, or owned more than 600

bars and clubs in his career, making him the

preeminent voice of the hospitality space.

He was in a rainy Phoenix and filming an

episode for the fourth season of his hit show

when I had the chance to talk to him about

the show, his expertise in business, and a new

exciting venture for the Taffer brand.

But before we talked about “Bar Rescue”,

I wanted to know where he found his passion

for the hospitality industry. What I didn’t

expect to hear was that it all started

when he was a political science major in

college, when he thought he would go into

politics. After finding a love for cultural

anthropology—specifically an interest in

primate and human behavior—and tending bar

in college, these life aspirations shifted.

It turns out bars, restaurants, and clubs are

great places to observe human behavior. As

he quickly moved up the ranks and through

the restaurant and hotel industry, and learned

more about the market—which is driven by

human reactions—Taffer knew this was where

his passion met his expertise.

What he couldn’t predict, however, was the

success of “Bar Rescue”.

“I thought we were going to make a pilot,

and that was it. Then I thought we’d film just

a couple of episodes. Then I figured we’d be

cancelled after a season. I never would have

thought we’d make it this far.”

People connect with the show—its drama,

its problem solving, and the final reveal of

the new and improved bar and staff. But the

biggest draw is Taffer himself.

It’s easy to misconstrue Taffer’s aggressive and

often unforgiving demeanor on the show as

plain old meanness, but that’s not the case. His

passion for the industry, for doing things the

right way, and for providing a unique brand

experience are what underlie the attitude.

“These people own businesses, take risks, are

in debt up to their eyeballs, and often have

their house and family life on the line,” he said.

“They have made thousands of bad decisions

to get them in this hole. I show up and have to

change the fundamentals of how they make

decisions. I have two and a half days to learn

how they think and change it. You can’t play

nice with those terms.”

The key to the show is creating a new brand

identity for the bar—one that patrons see

as unique and authentic. Each week is a

new challenge to make sure the rebranded

bar isn’t like any of the other 100 or so

Taffer has helped revitalize on the program.

When redesigning, he always looks for one

characteristic—a “thread”—that he can build

the design, menu, and atmosphere around.

But according to Taffer, most people don’t

understand what the heart of branding

actually is.

“At the end of the day, a brand is as emotional

as it gets. A brand has attributes that a

consumer connects with. It’s about how

someone feels about it—it’s not factual, it’s

abstract and based on human reactions.”

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