Fire urges restaurant chain to make changes | Business Observer


The day after Memorial Day was pretty normal at Duffy’s Sports Grill on Dale Mabry in Tampa, in Walter’s Crossing Mall. The bar was quite full, as usual. The diners filled the tables and the televisions were on. Lots of televisions.

But that evening, someone out for a meal, or maybe a drink, casually threw a cigarette before stepping through the front doors and entering the sports bar. There was a receptacle there for those waiting for a table or the employees on break who smoked a cigarette to get rid of their butts.

This particular restaurant missed the receptacle and the hot butt landed in the mulch. Wood mulch. Dry wood mulch.

What happened next was a disaster that the business, in several months, became a triumph.

“It was dry enough for the mulch to catch fire,” says Joe Webb, president of the Palm Beach County restaurant chain. “The fire crept behind the wall, so we couldn’t see it. It was between the walls.

“We don’t know when it happened,” adds Webb. “It could have been 5, 6, 7, 8 hours. We have no idea.

What they now know is that while the fire raged between the walls, the employees and diners minded their lives and their jobs. At around 10:30 p.m., the chef noticed smoke. There’s a big hood that sucks in smoke, so he just figured there was something wrong with the hood.

But then he walked into the half-full dining room and noticed smoke there as well. The chef and staff evacuated everyone and called the fire department.

Turn around

The firefighters came and did their job to put it out. But the building was filled with two or three inches of water, all the paneling was peeling off, and the walls had absorbed so much smoke that special paint would be needed to keep the smell from coming back.

Rather than allowing the fire to disrupt results, the company saw the restaurant closure and necessary repairs as an opportunity to better rebuild and introduce new elements that it will now use in other restaurants.

Over the past few months, Duffy’s has been working on renovating the restaurant, giving it a new look. This means a new color scheme on the outside, new flooring in the bar, new tables, new carpets and color palettes, 3D pennants, new bathrooms and a floor-to-ceiling mural spanning two walls. featuring the region’s most outstanding athletes.

On November 29, about six months after the fire, the chain reopened the renovated site with its management team still intact and some returning original employees. Webb, 55, says the insurance company gave Duffy’s $ 450,000 and then another $ 300,000 to Duffy’s to renovate the restaurant. “We decided to take a negative situation and turn it into a positive one,” says Webb.

Yet the Tampa fire came as the company recovered from pandemic-induced closures and began to face economic headwinds in its wake.

Unlike many restaurants and chains, on the one hand, Webb says that when the pandemic forced Duffy’s to close in early 2020, the company found it couldn’t turn to a model of dishes at take out or delivery like many other restaurants have done to increase its income. The problem? Customers didn’t see this as the kind of place you would order and pick up food. Duffy’s is a sports bar and restaurant, with dozens and dozens of wall-mounted TVs and crowded bars. It is a place based on experience. Before the pandemic, only about 6% of sales were take-out.

After experimenting for a few weeks, the company decided to close all the restaurants. They stayed close for 100 days.

Restaurants reopened in July 2020, when authorities began allowing dining rooms to open at 50% capacity.

Duffy’s has 33 restaurants primarily in South Florida and the state’s east coast. On the west coast, along with Tampa, it has locations in Estero, Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Sarasota. The company wants to grow, but that shouldn’t happen until 2023 and at the rate of about one or two per year. There are currently no plans to open outside of Florida.

Webb says the company survived the shutdowns thanks in large part to a $ 10 million federal P3 loan. This has helped the company stay afloat, take care of employees, hire new ones, and pay necessary bills.

But, like when the fire started in Tampa, the company used the downtime to streamline operations, reduce costs, improve food delivery efficiency, and make operations more agile and more efficient. profitable. The rest of 2020 has been good for the company, officials say, with profits higher than ever.

Duffy’s refuses to share its income figures. Webb said sales and revenue were 30-40% higher than last year. And he says the business is more profitable now than in 2019.

Same feeling

These streamlining measures came in handy in 2021, when the company struggled with rising prices and expenses associated with supply chain issues. The cost of wings, for example, has doubled since Duffy’s reopened last year.

“Pork, hamburger, steak. Everything has skyrocketed, ”says Webb. “Plastic. Chairs. Everything has gone up in price.

Additionally, losing Tampa during this time was difficult as it had become one of the top performing places, with a large number of events such as the Super Bowl and the success of the local sports team at the origin of the traffic.

But without the changes, says Webb, “it would have been extremely difficult. We had to go out and be a different Duffy than we were while still having the same community feel, the same family restaurant. And that’s who we are.

And nowhere is this new approach balanced with what longtime patrons have come to expect more evident than when they step into refurbished Tampa Duffy’s.

There is still mulch outside the restaurant. It’s just made of rubber now.

About Vivian J. Smith

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