Laguna Lounge before Bar Rescue
DJ Ivan Arroyo opened Laguna Lounge in 2008 right in the midst of Jersey City’s The Heights, an area with a huge Puerto Rican population. He brought in his two sons Jeremiah and Josh to work in the area’s new Latin music hot spot while his mother worked in the kitchen, and Arroyo balanced his tasks between managing and deejaying. However Arroyo focused so much on the latter that he was oblivious to Laguna Lounge’s slipping sales.
In 2013 things became more difficult when Arroyo’s marriage ended in divorce. The frustrated and heartbroken owner turned to verbal lashing towards his employees and sons, and the two brothers found it difficult to work in such a condition. Josh put his business degree to good use and tried to save Laguna Lounge from sinking with ideas like targeting a wider demographic and new drinks but Arroyo’s ego repelled the teen’s profitable suggestions. Arroyo also underutilized Jeremiah as the teen was enrolled in culinary school yet he wasn’t tasked in the kitchen.
With $50 grand in debt, a dwindling customer base, and a brewing family feud, Arroyo decided to call for Jon Taffer and Bar Rescue.
Laguna Lounge on Bar Rescue
Laguna Lounge’s façade looked too plain with barely any décor or sign to attract locals into trying out the bar. The interior lacked any Puerto Rican art, architecture, or style except for just a few palm trees and green lighting, the latter a no-no in the bar business as it was visually unappealing.
When four locals performed Taffer’s recon they were surprised that Laguna Lounge had no Pina Colada which was a surprising thing as the cocktail is Puerto Rico’s national drink since 1978. The bartenders lacked enthusiasm and worked behind the counter with the energy of a lethargic koala. The bar also lacked a soda gun and the employees kept a stock of canned colas to fill the void. Such a practice only yielded cocktails that tasted flat. Later on Arroyo admitted to the crime of refilling premium bottles with cheap liquor to cut costs.
Empanadas were the only food item served by Laguna Lounge and the ingredients were prepared in advanced and reheated – an illegal procedure. The ingredients were also dipped in cooking oil that’s not yet ready for frying hence the empanada only soaked the oil while it waited for the temperature to reach a boiling point.
Arroyo himself was a big part of the problem as he always liked to be the center of attention, not to mention his uncontrollable bouts of temper which emitted the negative kind of Puerto Rican excitement. He was capable of changing moods in a whim, from the angry owner who embarrasses the employees in front of the patrons to a smiling DJ who drank booze with the customers and gave away free shots mere seconds after screaming at one of the staff. His ego was so massive that his own sons not only found it very hard to work with him but they also no longer see him nor treat him as a father.
The stress test revealed Laguna Lounge’s additional woes. The lack of a system made it difficult to determine who ordered an empanada while the bar area, despite being manned by five bartenders, was bogged down by disorganization. Arroyo stood clueless on how to help while Josh managed behind the counter and Jeremiah tackled the growing empanada orders by himself.
Taffer introduced the concept of placemaking or making the environment immersive in all 360 degrees and tackles all of the five senses so patrons would feel like they stepped into a piece of Puerto Rico. A well-themed environment can entice people into spending 60% more, driven to pay by what they see. Taffer had Arroyo dispose of the refilled bottles and, after showing that he was determined to change, his staff began to see him in a new light.
Expert bartender Lisa Marie Joyce addressed the bar’s lack of Puerto Rica’s national drink hence she introduced the ’78 Pina. She also expanded Laguna Lounge’s drink menu with the pineapple and orange Old San Juan Margarita and emphasized the importance of preparing cocktails in front of patrons with confidence and style.
Taffer provided the kitchen with new equipment so Jeremiah and the Laguna Lounge staff can store and cook food properly. Expert chef Anthony Lamas and Jeremiah elevated the flavors of Puerto Rico by cooking up the picadillo empanada with a layer of sofrito, and the shrimp ceviche dish offered a cold and refreshing taste.
Laguna Lounge was torn apart and turned into Tres Cuartos or three rooms which signified the establishment’s bar area and the center and back room. The façade was splashed in blue, brown, and pink, and was designed to look like a house in Puerto Rico.
The interior’s three rooms each had different appearances: the bar area with new stools and counter, a cigar room with sofas, and a brightly-colored patio. Behind the counter now lay four new POS systems and soda guns. A new ticketing system now ensured organization when it came to orders.
Arroyo and Josh worked cohesively in managing the bar while Jeremiah enjoyed his work in the kitchen. The employees no longer bumped each other in a disorganized mess but instead they mixed and served efficiently like a well-oiled machine.
Laguna Lounge Now in 2018 – The After Bar Rescue Update
Tres Cuartos gained fame as The Heights’ Latin hotspot, and they also had a good increase in food and drink sales. Around August 2015 the name was changed to Laguna Shots Bar with a new logo
The post-rescue reviews were few and mixed. Some noted the poor customer service and inconsistent dress code policies while praise went to the atmosphere and music. Arroyo still deejayed in certain nights and the bar expanded their drink menu which included shots and frozen drinks. The bar also offered promos along with live sports shows.