by John Stapleton, Contributing Editor
It looked like a good idea even though it “wasn’t in the plans.” It also came with a “great price.” At the bargain price of $50K, it had the size and the atmosphere to become a steak house where people could watch their favorite team, hang out after hours.
At least that’s what Ralph Skrzypczak thought as the new owner of O’Shays.
In May 2015, on a $150,000 loan, Skrzypczak with his partners took over O’Shays as kind of an “interesting idea.” He wasn’t looking to get into the restaurant business.
With rent for the facility only $10,000, he thought he would have much of the loan available to carry the restaurant/bar for the first year during rebranding.
However, within the walls to be remodeled, mold had taken over, and Skrzypczak had a $75,000 problem on his hands.
“I got this place with no inspection,” Skrzypczak says. “I never questioned as to why it was such a great price, and I admit it was the first stupid thing I did.”
By the time Skrzypczak could start recuperating any costs, he was left with only 30 days to keep the doors open. A faithful late-night crowd made it happen. After 60 days, Skrzypczak and the crew survived and officially O’Shays became True Grit.
Where’s the Captain?
After the first intense year, though, Skrzypczak says he was burnt out as personal issues and other business ventures came into play. The restaurant had sidetracked his goal of opening a dispensary in Colorado. He wanted to get back to that.
He hired managers and staff he believed could run the operations. However, “I didn’t know the business well enough to know what to look for,” he says.
For the next year, Skrzypczak’s naivety and absence took the business off-course, financially and reputation-wise. He needed to navigate True Grit out of troubled waters.
“I jumped into the game,” he says. “I hit it hard, but still, it probably wasn’t hard enough.”
By the end of 2019, True Grit had become an events-driven venue and had gone from a four-item menu to a place where one could sit down with a menu offering a little something of everything, including a popular fish fry.
End of the World (as We Know It)
2020. The restaurant and bar biz had to figure out overnight how to adapt to shutdowns and restrictions.
Skrzypczak realized he was not just responsible for the employee, but for the employees’ families. The news of a mandatory shutdown put Skrzypczak into another mode of leadership. No one was “getting let go” unless they wanted out. He was determined to keep the show running and his employees working.
“Looking down the barrel of the bankruptcy gun” Skrzypczak turned True Grit into a mini-grocery store with a delivery service. Where grocery stores were running out of items from their suppliers, the restaurant suppliers had everything in stock.
He went full throttle on his marketing campaign, putting his face out to the public. Sales exploded. Employees stayed busy with orders and the delivery service. Skrzypczak avoided bankruptcy, and as restrictions began to ease True Grit began to transition to the “new normal” complete with higher supply costs and an employee shortage.
Coming out of 2020, Skrzypczak was feeling good about True Grit’s future. They had kept their core employees; business was returning. The idea to be on the TV show Bar Rescue had been on the table before, starting with the previous owners when it was O’Shays.
Once the light at the end of the tunnel began signaling that 2021 was going to be an “interesting year,” communications with the show restarted.
Skrzypczak thought maybe the show would focus on how the businesses survived the COVID pandemic. Anyone who watched the episode called “Wreck-it Ralph,” though, didn’t see someone who had just spent the last year adapting to challenges, hustling day and night to save a business. No, they saw someone getting punched as if he was the village idiot who had stolen his dad’s credit card and maxed it out on video game purchases.
Skrzypczak says he caught on immediately this would be the show’s angle and it was the preferred route versus making his employees look bad. He isn’t denying there was some truth to the episode, and he was willing to take on the role if it helped the business.
“I told the staff, I was OK with being ‘the stupid guy,’” Skrzypczak says. “But I am not OK with being called lazy.”
Even though he was expecting it, Skrzypczak was “hit hard” by Bar Rescue host Jon Taffer.
“If you know the show, you know I was going to get yelled at,” Skrzypczak says. “Or they were going to go after my staff.”
For “drama,” the show put Skrzypczak in a position to fail — having him as a shift manager supposed to be handling the floor, a host or server, stepping up to make drinks behind the bar, or someone who should be able to throw on an apron and get in the kitchen.
Skrzypczak’s normal day-to-day is spent looking over payroll, inventory, supply orders, making cost comparisons, and making sure invoices are being paid — not that he wouldn’t jump in, but he does have a manager and staff in place.
While the operations overhaul is one aspect of the show, Bar Rescue also remodeled the floor taking out a few pool tables, creating a more open atmosphere to accommodate more seating. The biggest change was the name. True Grit became The Roost.
Pre-COVID, there was a staff of about 20, Skrzypczak says; The Roost is now at 40 employees. Like everyone else in the industry, Skrzypczak is dealing with a labor force shortage, disruptions in the supply chain, and inflation.
That said, The Roost is going strong as people are packing in on Friday and Saturday nights for comedy nights, karaoke, UFC fights, or just some dancing. Football fans are flocking in on Sundays, and the daily crowd is showing up trying the new menu items.
“Did Bar Rescue help? Oh, absolutely!” Skrzypczak says. “It prepared us for what we were not ready for, and now we have to rise to the occasion. People go in for scream therapy, and I can tell you it worked for me and I got one of the best in the business to do it.”