Thursday, February 28, 2013

Manuel's Tavern to raise prices, change hours ... and be smoke-free by 2014

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2013 at 2:44 PM

Patrons watched then-Sen. Barack Obama elected president at the packed bar in 2008
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • Patrons watched then-Sen. Barack Obama elected president at the packed bar in 2008
Brian Maloof, the owner and general manager of the Poncey-Highland watering hole where Democrats have celebrated and mourned (and sometimes even broken bread with Republicans), said in an announcement this morning that the restaurant is making some changes.

In his letter, Maloof says that diners will notice a modest, across-the-board hike in menu items and the establishment will change hours. (Next time someone fails to understand the role that MARTA plays in metro Atlanta's economy, point 'em to Maloof's announcement. He notes that transit service cuts have made it difficult to staff the restaurant late at night.) In addition, the restaurant and bar also plans to comply with requests from customers and event coordinators and be completely smoke-free by next January.

What's to blame? Maloof says there are many culprits, including the rising costs of ingredients and maintenance, the burden of local regulations and taxes, and an effort to provide health insurance to all employees.

"If we are truly the business I think we are, and you are truly the customer I know you to be, then I know you will understand and continue to support us," Maloof writes.

He adds: "If you value honesty, please know I have been honest with you about our dilemma. It is scary and keeps me awake some nights. These changes are the best answers I have at the moment. They were conceived through lots of thought and meditation. I have not seen an alternative."

The vast majority of responses to the transparent post are supportive, though some customers say they are disgruntled by the smoking policy change. Fret not, we say, the joint isn't losing its soul. Maloof's full letter follows below.

Friends of Manuel's Tavern,

You are not nameless and faceless. You are not just customers. You are family, and as owner of Manuel's I want to share some difficult, upcoming changes. It is my hope that, after explanation, these necessary changes will be more understandable to you, and that Manuel's will continue to receive your support.

Without you, Manuel's would not be in business, and because of our established relationship we consider the impact of decisions on you. Nevertheless, uncomfortable and unwanted decisions have to be made. The changes below are being forced by financial need.

Every year management forecasts and surveys the business landscape and looks at any necessary adjustments to our business model. Most of the time, these adjustments are very small.

However, because of many circumstances beyond of our control, Manuel's is facing some big business hurdles. As a result, small changes are not in our current forecast.

The Dilemma:

Manuel himself did everything he could possibly do to keep our prices as low as possible. A price increase was always a last resort. That same price mentality is true with me today.

Recently, however, Manuel's has experienced the largest increases ever in our cost of goods. For a large percentage of menu items we now pay twice as much as we did a year ago. I cannot think of a single item we buy that has gone down in price.

The cost of regulatory compliance has risen significantly as well. What used to be free from the city now comes with cost. In addition to compliance costs, our property taxes have risen a large percentage.

As the building gets older, more frequent repairs and maintenance are required. The charges for these services have almost doubled.

Manuel's hope is to soon provide health insurance for all of our employees again. We want to be ahead of the upcoming federal mandates. For decades we proudly provided it, but like so many small businesses trying to stay competitive, we were forced to drop it when we confronted years of nearly 30% premium increases and of competing against businesses that did not provide it.

I never liked dropping this commitment to our staff and wished it had been otherwise. Now that the competitive field will be level, we will begin to provide this benefit again. However, it will still require a heavy investment, 40 to 60 thousand dollars a year in early estimates.

I have rushed through the items with you, but here every day the fight against price increases is a tedious daily grind and battle. Everything we normally do to keep costs and prices low is now exhausted, and we are left with no choice but to implement some changes.

The Changes:

Menu price increases will be in effect very soon, always an absolute last resort for Manuel's.

In the past we have favored targeted price increases, focusing only on items with major cost increases. But after running the numbers, this unfortunately is impossible this time. Instead we are looking at mostly modest price increases across the board, which spreads the burden and meets our needs.

However, a few items like our tuna will go up by as much as $1.25 per item. FYI: tuna before the Japan tsunami was around $5.50 a pound, and now I am happy to get it at $11.25 a pound.

In addition to the menu increase, our hours will be changing soon.

We will open Monday - Friday at 11 am, Saturday and Sunday at 9:30 am. Brunch will be served from 9:30 am - 2 pm Saturday and Sunday. We will close at 1 am Tuesday - Saturday and midnight on Sunday and Monday. The kitchen will continue to close one hour before the tavern closes.

The changing of hours helps our employees and helps Manuel's as well. Marta has cut some service routes and reduced hours. This reduction in public transportation has made staffing at night very hard. Reducing our late hours gets people home, increases security and cuts cost.

A plan is underway to be completely smoke free by January 2014. Customer request and event coordinators continue to mention smoking as a problem here. Within a month the only smoking area available at Manuel's will be in the main bar and that will end in January 2014.

If we are truly the business I think we are, and you are truly the customer I know you to be, then I know you will understand and continue to support us.

If you value honesty, please know I have been honest with you about our dilemma. It is scary and keeps me awake some nights. These changes are the best answers I have at the moment. They were conceived through lots of thought and meditation. I have not seen an alternative.

I pray you understand and continue to love and support Manuel's.

Brian Maloof
Owner and General Manager
Manuel's Tavern

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