Trader Vic’s Mai Tai bar

TVI was keeping this on the DL as I heard about it through the FOM earlier, but since Tiki Talk and Humu Humu blogged it, I thought I would too.

Trader Vic’s has come out with a new concept called the Mai Tai bar. This is a very low cost start up compared to a Trader Vic’s restaurant, and it concentrates on the high margin stuff and keeping staffing small, along with the floor plan.

Hans Richter (President of Trader Vic’s International) personally helped make Hukilau 2002 happen. We had been in touch with Sven Koch (V.P. of Trader Vic’s) all along thanks in part to Sven Kirsten, and so, when Trader Vic’s Atlanta decided at the last minute to charge us $2,000 to hold Hukilau there, Hans, who was on vaction at the time, called the manager and said he would cover it and to make it happen. Trader Vic’s has been a sponsor of Hukilau ever since.

I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but, when I emailed Hans yesterday, Sven called me right away to talk about the franchise. Hans was unavailable until the 19th. It sounded very promising. I was further surprised when Hans called me about an hour later.

I started on the plans to open a tiki bar here in Knoxville in 2005. I spent time talking to James about his experience with the Kahiki Moon. I talked to Brad about Hale Tiki. I talked to tikiskip about the restaurant he owned and ran in Columbus. I learned all I could about the restaurant business and researched the Polynesian restaurant business.

We had started out thinking we wanted to do something very small like the Tiki Ti. That turned out to be impossible by the laws of Tennessee. What we ended up with was a very streamlined place, geared towards the drink menu. The menu would be such that a small kitchen staff could manage it and a small kitchen could prepare and cook it. The food would be there to compliment the drinks. The main thrust is the drink menu. Live music, fun events, special happy hours and regular all out luaus were in the plan. The general idea is to concentrate on the high margin stuff and lower operating costs while maintaining great quality and ambience.

So when I saw the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai bar concept, I saw what I had been working on for a year made better. Since the Mai Kai does not do franchises, the other option is Trader Vic’s. And this is perfect. The Trader Vic’s brand, their quality menu, thier great staff, their barware, etc. scaled into a lean, high margin bar with emphasis on fun and entertainment. It was all I had in mind to do, plus Trader Vic’s name.

I learned from Hans that the cost of the franchise and opening the bar was more than I was planning, but not out of line. I beleive there are costs to be cut here and there. Most people opening a place like this are not that worried about saving $20,000 on kitchen equipment, but I am. There are ways to do this cheaper. I can envision these opening up in smaller cities all over the US. It’s a great concept.

The first one to open will likely be the Hawaii location. The Spain location is set to open this summer. The image on the Spain site is actually the Hawaii location and it looks beautiful.

I don’t know that I can open a Mai Tai bar here, but I am looking into it. I really think this concept will work all over and I am excited to see it. There are even no restrictions on opening the Mai Tai bar in markets where the restaurant already exists.

2 Replies to “Trader Vic’s Mai Tai bar”

  1. Good luck with getting a TVMTB started in Knoxville! I really do think that this is a strong concept that has a wonderful chance of succeeding, as the pendulum swings tiki back into favor.

    I think a great many people are plotting and scheming how they could bring one to their home town. I know I am! I wonder if it would take winning the lottery to have enough funds or if a business loan would do…

  2. Hans said you should have $400-500,000 to start the place. That amount is considered a small business loan. I think doing a franchise is more likely to get you that loan than the exact same concept made from scratch. Restaurant and bar loans are the hardest to get. I do think there are ways to cut costs and I think I could do it well under $400,000 here. But it would be good to get that banked first and have it left over, than to end up needing money.

    $500,000 may sound like a lot of money, but, try opening a major restaurant for that much and you’ll see it is not. Kahiki Moon’s opening costs ended up around $150,000 with James doing a tremendous amount of the work himself. Hale Tiki was opened with around $75-100,000 I think. A shoestring budget. One of the partners was a contractor with a crew, so all that build out was free, except materials. These are example of low budget, do-it-yourself with help from friends and hope there are no major expenses. Also, this likely is opening without a year’s rent and employee wages in the bank, which is also a standard. If you close, you will have to pay off that lease and most restaurants have that money in the bank when they open, along with reserves for salaries.

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