Beginning in 1990 as a small neighborhood bar in Chicago, Bar Louie has successfully managed to extend its reach to over 70 locations across more than 20 states. Bar Louie is known to quickly become the favorite hangout spot in any market that they step into seamlessly becoming a part of the local scene. Clearly what has fueled their growth is the rate at which their culinary excellence, world-class drinks, and captivating ambiance become the talk of each town. In their 30 years of operation, they have always kept their focus on just a few simple things: provide amazing cocktails and real food until the early morning; genuinely welcome all people; and ensure every guest remains safe while having a really great time. So how has this “unchain” of corporate and franchise gastrobars won the hearts of so many people and managed to reinvent and remain relevant during this challenging time? Stephanie Davidson, the Chief Administrative and Marketing Officer shares, “As COVID-19 began to impact sales and traffic, we aggressively followed our guests into their homes by leveraging digital marketing; adding 3rd party delivery and expanding ToGo. We also introduced a new virtual concept Sweet Lou’s and completely revamped our back of house systems. Our incredible team is leveraging these new tools to fuel growth in food sales even while overall guest traffic is suppressed due to COVID-19. We actually have multiple locations achieving SSS without the historical LBW sales – which is exciting – and reinforces our optimism about the future of this brand.”
“Giving back to and serving our communities and our team members is a core value at Bar Louie. So not surprising, during this time, formal and informal giving has remained strong. In our communities, we have continued to give through Louie Loves – partnering with local organizations to Feed the Frontlines.”
The Original Gastrobar
Bar Louie’s stated mission is “To be the nation’s favorite gastrobar offering an unmatched, shareable, social experience over great food and drinks” and it would seem that the brand is doing just that. The Original Gastrobar excels at cocktails with a twist, untraditional martinis and creative yet approachable bar food. The award winning “Diva” is just one of their signature cocktails. It combines the flavors of pineapple and pomegranate resulting in a slightly sweet, slightly tart, very unique and refreshing martini. In fact, it is so good – the “Diva” literally has her own collection of trophies – and she deserves every one of them.
Bar Louie strives to serve each community it operates in. Each location is unique which offers its guests a neighborhood sensibility and a reason to visit multiple Bar Louie’s. A hybrid “gastrobar” concept that offers both a dining and drinking experience, many guests share that it is the perfect place to enjoy brunch with the family; cocktails with friends; or relax with a drink while waiting on a ToGo order. Bar Louie opens for lunch and stays open late ensuring that their guests can join them for a quick meal or drink; linger for hours while on a date; or gather with a large group of old friends and new to celebrate until the early morning. This brand appeals to a wide range of guests including Gen X, Gen Z, Boomers, and Millennials who are looking forward to having a good time in a safe, clean and comfortable atmosphere. Bar Louie’s guest experience competes with the best in the business, and if they get it wrong, they fix it fast.
“After 30 years, we remain focused on providing our guests an unmatched, shareable, social experience over great food and drink – and to do these things safely.”
Bar Louie’s Gastrobars are often situated in high traffic locations, for instance, local lifestyle centers, special event locations, hotels, nestled in the heart of downtowns and even in an airport, so many of their guests use Bar Louie as “the meeting place” in both their personal and professional lives. Hence, they constantly work hard to flex their spaces and be ready for any use or occasion. But as the lockdown was ordered all around the states, Bar Louie aggressively complied, closing its Bartops; reducing hours of operation; and introducing sanitation and social distancing policies. Like other successful businesses, the challenges presented by COVID-19 focused the Bar Louie team on what mattered most as they flexed new muscles and rapidly adapted. The months of March, April, and May were used to launch 3rd party delivery services and optimize their workforce. This soon led to the start of Project Leapfrog that defied all historical implementation norms. Led by their Head of IT Tara Townsley, Project Leapfrog followed the principles of simplification, integrated solutions, cost reduction and improved end-user experience for Bar Louie Team Members and the guest. Significant work occurred in all functions with an overhaul of BOH systems that reduced office and inventory hours for the gastrobar managers and by onboarding forward thinking marketing partners powered by AI systems.
Quite evidently now, there is something that gives Bar Louie a certain edge from its competitors, and it’s the way they apply technology to evolve and grow on a larger scale, and in this time to stand against the pandemic. Stephanie asserts, “Giving back to and serving our communities and our team members is a core value at Bar Louie. So not surprising, during this time, formal and informal giving has remained strong. In our communities, we have continued to give through Louie Loves – partnering with local organizations to Feed the Frontlines. Most recently we introduced Cocktails for a Cause where when a guest purchases a specific Chef creation – we will donate $1 to No Kid Hungry and help provide thousands of meals for our kids. For our team members- We immediately expanded sick pay benefits to all PT and FT Team Members; adjusted health and leave policies to allow TMs to make the right decisions for themselves and their families; instituted a flexible work policy for our Support Center leaders; and helped displaced Team Members find jobs and access financial resources. Our leadership team developed new competencies and strengths during this period – and as our traditional business segments begin to return, we are bullish on the future.”
To new approaches and connections
Moving forward, Bar Louie is ready to break its own records and begin growing again. Hence, when it comes to choosing a new franchisee, they like to keep their process fairly simple and make decisions that are based on a combination of financial assets, operational experience and long term goals. At present Bar Louie has multiple franchises with 2 or 3 units each and looks forward to developing new robust partnership agreements with franchise partners of all sizes offering a unique, flexible and profitable business opportunity. New franchisees can expect to experience an extensive on-boarding process to help successfully introduce each new franchise owner to the brand. This will include introduction to key 3rd party providers; personal interactions with function leaders and active partnership throughout the first weeks of a new gastrobar opening. Bar Louie provides detailed hands-on training at a certified training location for all owners, operating partners, and management teams before opening. Also, they appoint certified trainers for new owners that are able to assume ongoing training for all hourly Team Members once the corporate team leaves. Bar Louie believes that the training of managers is critical, so all franchise managers regardless of hire date train at a certified training location on the go forward as well. Franchise owners have access to unique tools and resources created to support their decision making; provide training on required systems and tools; and to drive sales. Additionally, Bar Louie’s Vice President of Franchise shares key information; conducts ongoing relevant training; and liaison with each Franchisee as needed to aid in the running of a profitable business.
Looking into the future, Stephanie says, “After 30 years, we remain focused on providing our guests an unmatched, shareable, social experience over great food and drink – and to do these things safely. No company deserves to be in business – and we do not take for granted the fact that we are still in business. We are fortunate that our guests and our team members have confirmed that they want us in their communities. People need a place to gather; to relax; to forget about their worries and to receive great service. We intend to provide that place for many years to come.”