A Blessing in Disguise
Last winter, during an overcast and subfreezing afternoon, a neon sign hanging inside Sports Break Grill & Bar threw a fluke spark, and within a few minutes, half the barroom was overrun with flames.
“To be honest, the fire was a blessing in disguise,” said Kevin Prater, co-manager of Sports Break, a bar that in recent years had become a headache. “For a waitress to pick up her food, she’d have to run to the back of the building, through the kitchen door, all the way to the back side of kitchen, and around the expo line before she’d finally see the food. Then of course she’d pick up the customer’s food and turn around and go all the way back. Our waitresses were running two miles for every meal.”
In his kitchen, the cooks and servers were regularly bumping into each other. Behind his bar, the bartenders fought over limited taps. Kevin had known for years that the flow of the place just didn’t work, but renovations were continually pushed back. That January fire didn’t just scorch the taps and bar stools; it turned 23 years’ worth of complacency into a dustpan-sized pile of ash.
As he and the other Sports Break managers surveyed the remains of their charred bar, there was no argument to whether they should rebuild—despite its tangled layout, Sports Break had been their shared baby. The real question was: do we build it back the way it was or do we buckle down and build it as it ought to be?
The answer seemed obvious. That next morning Kevin woke up, climbed out of bed, and dug out the phone number to J.E.S.
The Right People for The Job
Scott Clifton is a tall, gentle guy—quick to a joke, quick to admit a mistake. Though he’s now the general manager of J.E.S. Restaurant Equipment, he began his career by designing small restaurants across the Atlantic coast. Investors would call him up, describe their dream restaurants, and Scott would drive however many miles to meet with them and help assemble their new kitchens. A client might be an old pro, already aware of what exactly he needed, and Scott would assist him with stuff like HVAC regulations, municipal permits, and tricky installations. Sometimes the clients were vague with their conceptions. They’d seem like the sorts of people who could sit down in a barber chair, and when asked what kind of haircut they wanted, would respond, “Don’t matter to me, just make it look good.” In cases like these, Scott had almost free reign to create his ideal kitchen, a kitchen with flowing corridors, couched equipment, and open, ergonomic prep areas.
The Sports Break managers had worked with Scott before and they chose him specifically to remake their burnt down bar. “Scott was phenomenal,” Kevin told us afterwards. “Any time we called him up, he was right there for us. Totally hands on. A true Johnny-on-the-spot.”
J.E.S. was involved in every step of the redesign process from initial blueprints to pricing to ordering to final installation. The owners of Sports Break drew up a Christmas list of the things that they wanted for their new bar—a F.O.H. waitress station, a customer service stand, a blender station, a to-go counter—and they trusted Scott to make it all come true.
For the bar itself, they chose to go with a Glastender Bar Die construction. Scott argued—and the managers agreed—that this construction would best serve their particular restaurant. “Bar dies,” Scott explained, “are these modular, interlocking panels that fit together and act as the wall of a bar. Now the cool part about these things is that they have the bar equipment built right in. If you want a sink in your bar, you buy a panel with a sink attached; if you want a, I don’t know, an ice-well, you buy a panel with an ice-well attached. They don’t stand on legs: they’re bolted right into the floor. That’s hugely advantageous. No cracks, so they don’t smell up the place the way Woodwalls do—with these things, beer bounces right off…”
After the schematics were drawn up and a team of J.E.S. service agents had bolted the bar dies to the barroom floor, Scott began work on the kitchen. “It’s terrific,” Kevin later told us. “Scott created this flow that allows waitresses to come into the kitchen, dump their dirty dishes in the sink, flow around to the expo line, pick-up a new plate, and go right back out through the door.” The service agents lugged refrigerators, ovens, sinks, and worktables into the kitchen and installed them all without a hitch.
The now-finished kitchen gleams with stainless steel. Because of its expert layout, everything a cook or server might need is centralized within arms’ reach—ingredients, cups, spices, and glasses are always visible and on the ready. Kevin didn’t get a bar kitchen; he got a restaurant kitchen. “I’ve been in this business for 35 years, so being able to put something in place according to a vision that I’ve developed over the years, it’s been… it’s been a treat.”
A Bar Reborn
This Friday, Sports Break in Greenwood celebrates its grand reopening. Before the fire, it had three taps; now it has twelve. Before the fire, the waitresses were counting miles; now they’re counting meters. Before the fire, customers always seemed to be waiting on something; now they’re happier than ever before. When Sports Break called JES up, they asked for state-of-the-art everything—futuristic wait stations, futuristic appliances, futuristic bar taps. But when you step through the door for the first time, it doesn’t feel like the future: it feels like right now. It feels like the beginning of a good night.