Find a back issue

What Happened to Martini Park: The Vodka Syndrome

How does a thriving (and throbbing) business like Martini Park go from posting sales of close to $6.5 million in 2007 to closed in less than one year? According to one former employee the answer is: “They opened in Plano.”

There is a city ordinance in Plano stating you can’t operate a business that generates more than 50 percent of its revenue from alcohol sales. Six months after Martini Park opened in December 2006, the management crunched the numbers and realized 92 percent of their net sales came from booze. While the TABC was happy to take their 14 percent, according to my source inside of the MP staff, the City of Plano was not happy and shut them down. It’s a long juicy story. Jump for the Cliffs Notes and a significant updates.

According to a former employee, The Barish Group, led by Chris Barish, didn’t do enough homework before they settled on The Shops at Legacy. They searched the country for their highly defined demographic: an area with high incomes and a high divorce rate. When the Barish Group peeps walked through the Shops at Legacy they were dazzled by the amount of fancy foot traffic and the lack of an upscale singles bar for adults, specifically females, to mingle. “Hey, we were all about making the cougars feel safe,” said one former employee. “It was a great place for them to get drunk and if they ended up making out with a 22-year old guy, then so what. It made for a great girl’s night out.”

That could be the understatement of the century–those girl’s nights out added up to huge numbers. In January and February 2007, Martini Park reported weekly sales that looked like the months-even years-of almost every other spot in Dallas. “In three weeks of February 2007, we did $160,000, $146,000, and $145,000,” said the former employee. At that time only Ghostbar, which is in Dallas, sold more booze and Martini Park, in Plano, ranked number 10 in the state under the “Bar Type Establishments” in the monthly Texas Bar & Restaurant Report.

To keep their liquor license and the City of Plano happy, Martini Park management had to rework their percentages. They started serving food and ringing up sales differently. “We had to create lunch and dinner and starting passing complimentary skewers of fruit and cheese,” said the employee. “That enabled us to re-allocate and ring up each sale like a combo meal.” That worked until the TABC saw the taxable revenues decrease. According to my copy of the Texas Bar & Restaurant Report, Martini Park posted $476,169 in sales for July 2008 and $174,012 in August 2008.

The handwriting was on the bar room wall–management “figured” there was no way they were going to make the 50/50 split and get their liquor license renewed in September 2008. According to my source, the TABC didn’t want to shut them down but, after an extension and a hearing with the City of Plano, the city ordinance of Plano trumped Martini Park’s best attempt to become a restaurant. “We couldn’t handle the extra labor costs and turn it around,” said the former employee.

So, here’s my question: how does a company come into a market like Plano, where there has never been a thriving bar scene for the obvious reason that there is a city ordinance on the books that prevents one, and proceed to throw down millions of dollars on a great concept and end up running out of town with all but the kitchen sink in their moving trucks? “They didn’t do their research,” said the employee. “It’s New York ownership and to them it looked like a great spot but they didn’t look at the legal side. They should have never opened in Plano.”

UPDATE: Oh, the plot thickens. Just off the phone with the other side. Plano city leaders were “caught off guard” by the closing of Martini Park. After talking to one city official, it sounds like they did not want to shutter the spot: “we want that revenue and are doing everything we can to keep it.” (Yesterday the whole city staff was in a day-long budget meeting.) Anywhoo, from what I hear, the forces in Plano are in the process of working on a new ordinance to allow bars to sell as much booze as they want to sell. And the new rule is not that far from being reality. So, did Martini Park know about the new ordinance? Did Martini Park really know what time it is? Did the money making machine behind Martini Park really care about getting cleared for profit take off? Methinks there is a lot more going on behind the scenes. Like too many managers and not enough money management talent? Or, were they quagmired in a bad business deal and need an easy out.  I’m on it. Stay tuned, as the martini turns

UPDATED UPDATE: After much digging, I have come to the conclusion that the City of Plano is not directly responsible for the sudden death of Martini Park. This morning I learned that a change in the current ordinance requiring a 50/50 alcohol/food sales ratio is going before the Planning and Zoning Committee on December 15. The ordinance will then be presented to the Plano City Council on January 12 for approval. One member of that council told me, “Oh, it will get passed.”

I’ve also learned that when Martini Park had trouble getting their liquor license renewed in September 2007, they entered into an agreement with Culinaire International, the Dallas-based company that “operates nationwide in the hospitality industry, specializing in hotels, cultural centers, private clubs, entertainment arenas, venues for public assembly, zoos, off-premise catering, and freestanding restaurants.” Whew. One of Culinaire’s clients happens to be Nicola’s which is located across the street from Martini Park. And like a good neighbor and consulting firm, according to my source, Culinaire took over some of the management tasks at Martini Park and got them a new liquor license. Things went swimmingly until the 3rd quarter of 2008 when, as any restaurateur/bar owner will tell you about 3rd quarters, business slowed down.

My semi-educated guess is that when Martini Park hit the third quarter slowdown, they couldn’t  balance the budget that was dwindling from slow sales, a sluggish economy, and management fees to Culinaire. Plus, their TABC license renewal was coming up in September 2008 and the reality of it getting renewed was dim. That’s the nice way to look at this mess—you could also wonder just how those ginormous revenues were handled by the corporate money managers. If a business makes a lot of money it certainly doesn’t mean they are always going to be profitable. I mean, sometimes the inmates do run the asylums.

43 comments on “What Happened to Martini Park: The Vodka Syndrome

  1. That is depressing on so many levels. I’m sorry for the people who lost their lucrative jobs. I wasn’t a big fan of the place but they obviously filled a need. Now Plano loses tax revenue and the area restaurants lose dinner business and the Marriott loses the hook-up room business, and so on and so on.

  2. How much you bet this has something to do with Martina McBride? Not sure why….but hey…I’ve yet to find a ‘Springs’ in ‘Balch’ so I might be onto something.

  3. Yet another reason to avoid Plano if humanly possible. What next a tax on getting out of bed in the morning? Ridculous!

  4. Yep, they didn’t do their research, which would have revealed that people in Plano/Frisco want megachurches and 10pm curfews, kid-friendly restaurants and not a liquor store in sight. How dare someone try to create a place for shameful unmarried adults to drink the devil’s brew while wearing practically nothing? God-fearing adults of Plano/Frisco rejoice and praise the Lord! Jeeesus! Jeeesus! Jeeesus!

  5. You hunted the story down well Nancy but I’m left with one question important to the 22-year old guys…

    Where have the Cougars gone now that the watering hole has dried up?

  6. Well, the majority owner of Fox Sports Grill filed for Chapter 11 back in June so I wouldn’t get too comfortable there either.

  7. There is a lot of nonsense all around these days but this has to be the first time I’ve heard of a successful business that isn’t an illicit one being shut down for being too successful. Shame on the city of Plano and I hope Martini Park finds themselves open again soon.

    As for why unmarried people live in Plano or anywhere else in that area, it’s simple. More house for the same money than can be bought in Dallas. I lived in a pretty swank house that, for the price, couldn’t be touched in Dallas nor would one like it have been built.

    Not that there’s anythign wrong with that…

  8. Please check my latest update for answers to some of your questions. Blaming the economy is the easy way out.

  9. The closing was not a result of a city ordinance, it is the result of a ‘wet-dry’ election that passed a couple of years ago resulting in the 50% alcohol split. The city didn’t pass it, the people of Plano did. Plano can’t fix what closed Martini Park, but they can ease restrictions on private clubs, the only other option for bars in Plano.

  10. Martini Park was operating illegally from day one. Anyone spending even 15 minutes looking at the liquor laws would have known that. They basically operated as an illegal monopoly in Collin County. That the City of Plano would think about making an exception for them (how would that even be legal??) is ridiculous.

    Many other people thought about opening bars (me included). We didn’t because we knew the laws didn’t support it.

  11. Cheap bistids didn’t even have a green room for the hard working bands. Good riddance cheap A$$e$.

  12. Plano sux!!! GRRRR!!! Me angry!!!! I complain about their chain stores and forget about the ones going in across from Northpark!! GRRRR!!!

  13. News flash… all the money went up the owner’s nose. They didn’t give a rats ass about business; how and when the curtain came down. I am the reliable source!

  14. About 60 of us are left jobless now that MP closed down. I heard that they knew 2 weeks in advance and didn’t effin bother to let us know! They shut down 3 days before thanksgiving, leaving us with a crappy economy to get jobs and Christmas on the rise. They didn’t handle their biz correctly and now we pay. The manager, “BA” or “Bill Arnold”, was probably pocketing a shit-load of cash seeing as he sometimes didn’t ring things up and we saw him taking cash.

  15. well, if people had read the entire article, they would have seen that Plano is doing everything to get the ordinances changed and will take effect in Feb. sure, people that live in D don’t necessarily want to come to Plano, but there are a LOT of ppl in plano, frisco, allen, mckinney, richardson, etc. that DO go out in the burbs. Plano has one of the coolest bars in downtown – who needs Dallas

  16. Well I just have one thing to say, we have grown weary of driving to downtown or addison to kick back and have a few drinks and I truly enjoyed MP. It is too bad, if it is the people of Plano at fault, because it isn’t like it was a full blown night club. It was upscale and classy and I LOVE their drinks. I will miss being able to ride down the street to hang out with my husband and have a great martini.

  17. Personally, I think it’s because the Dallas $30,000 millionaires can no longer support thier massive credit card habit. How can they support the cougars without a semblance of wealth?

  18. hey musicguy name me one good band that deserved a greenroom they all sucked minus a few what crappy band do you play for obvisely you played in one of the bands there

  19. I live 2 blocks from Martini Park. It was still doing good business! Pretty packed every Thur/Fri/Sat night!! Why would they not “wait it out” and see if the city would work with them??? I had heard from a couple sources that there are pending lawsuits against them. Wonder if that also had anything to do with it?

  20. It’s obvious they think the concept is workable having opened one in Chicago which I visited. It looks exactly like the one in Plano.
    I think they also opened one in Columbus Ohio.

  21. Word on the street is that the Martini Park space at Shops was leased by the folks that own Fox Sports Grill (also in the shops). They plan on reopening the space as, wait for the originality, “Dirty Martini”. I tried to open a pub last year in Plano, but was rejected because of concern regarding my ability to reach 50% food sales.

    Even under the new, 2009, city council approved regulations for a “Private Club Alcohol Permit”, an establishment still must have 35% sales from food. The Fox folks will have to do some major adjustment in the venue with dedicated dining space, or perhaps “Fehmi’s Friends” aka Plano City Council (gotta love the $1 Million tax payer funded bronze statues and those tax abatements) will just ignore it to give the new spot a full year of non-commpliance (but tax dollar feast) before they shut them down as well. Or perhaps, they will allow them to allocate sales to some shady catering entity.

    To the mayor & city council: If concepts that have a history of selling 92% alcohol are going to be relicensed with only a different name and ownership, shame on you. The decision to grant an alcohol permit to “Dirty Martini” will be closely watched — by trial lawyers — and by cougers alike. I hope those tax gains are not just a deposit on punitive damage awards to other entrepreneurs and restaurant owners.

    On the other hand, if they pass a law allowing full bars, I am going to open a $5 Beer Barn with loud music and raunchy patrons. Hey, as long as I pay my taxes, who cares, right council? If not, just publish the prices for government favors, so everyone can participate. How much for a license to speed anytime I want?

  22. I heard that the owners of Sambuca are now going to reopen martini park. Any truth to this rumor? Or is there any new news? Thanks