Starting a successful restaurant can be a tough task for most business owners. This year has been even more daunting.
Dirty Birdies Sports Bar & Grill's three owners threw caution to the wind and decided to battle bad weather, a recession and a pandemic when opening their business. They hope their fun atmosphere and cleaning regime can help carry them through a rough year in Flagstaff.
The business was recently opened at 2285 E. Butler Ave. in the old Porky’s Pub and Country Host Restaurant space near Interstate 40.
The restaurant's owners feel Dirty Birdies can work, especially in such a busy location. But the business has been open for about a month, and the owners already know it's going to be difficult. In addition to reduced revenue, the restaurant owners are having to pay increased hazard pay for employees and are looking at the upcoming minimum wage increase to $15 in January.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Steve Alvin, one of the three Dirty Birdies owners. “But right now we’re really running those numbers.”
Karan Patel and Kunal Patel are the other two Dirty Birdies owners, and Karan also owns Whispering Winds and Econo Lodge hotels in town. Alvin has owned the Northern Pines restaurant across the street from Dirty Birdies for 19 years, and formerly owned The Horsemen Lodge before recently selling it.
In short, the team has plenty of experience making businesses in Flagstaff work. After Porky's and Country Host left in July due to repeated financial setbacks, the landlords were worried the empty building would be another drain on their already hurting resources.
Mike Patel, managing partner of Jai Shree Hanuman LLC, is the landlord of the Dirty Birdies location, the Roadway Inn and Suites behind the new restaurant, and many other Flagstaff hotels. Mike said they felt fortunate to find a tenant to take the place during the pandemic.
“I’ve been extra helpful with them, with what their situation is, because I can’t imagine how they’re trying to survive operating a restaurant and a bar during COVID, with all the restrictions and limited capacity,” Mike said. “I’m surprised they took this initiative, which is good for us, but we’re hoping it works out for them. We’re trying to do our best to be supportive.”
The co-owners knew the landlord, and wanted to help fill the space for Mike while making some money of their own with Dirty Birdies.
“We felt that with our experience and what we could do, and what we know, we could make this successful for him and for us in the long term,” Alvin said.
The former Porky’s and Country Host establishment needed a lot of work before it could reopen after closing in July 2020, the owners said.
The landlord put thousands of dollars into plumbing repairs. The Dirty Birdies owners also spent thousands on new kitchen, dining and bar equipment. The owners explored bars in Phoenix to get a sense of what their sports bar and grill could be.
“We were surprised at how much work place this really needed,” Karan Patel said.
The owners said the building is worth the investment, because the area is one of Flagstaff’s busiest parts of town east of Milton Road.
They consider the area a middle point in Flagstaff, and think it isn't too far out of anyone’s way. Additionally, the handful of hotels and gas stations assures there will be plenty of mouths driving by the area in need of food and drink.
Flagstaff locals have many options on the west side of town for bars, wings and sports, but the owners felt those have been overrun with college students. They hope Dirty Birdies could add another sports bar option that was a bit too far for college students to frequent.
Dirty Birdies added more televisions than the bar had before, and plans to add a second bar attached to the kitchen.
They’re hoping to get their guests in the door by enticing them with happy hours, specials and a good atmosphere. The specials require a dine-in business purchase of a drink for offerings including 99 cent wings on Mondays, $5.50 flatbread pizza on Tuesdays, or $1 ground beef tacos on Thursdays. Dirty Birdies also has a breakfast, brunch, happy hour and dinner menu.
“We’re looking for that blue collar worker, who wants to go out and have a beer and go home and enjoy themselves,” Alvin said. “We’re looking for the person who’s traveling, maybe staying at the Holiday Inn, a businessman or whatever, who wants to sit down and watch a sports game.”
The owners focus on cleaning up to COVID-19 standards. They decided to shut the doors at 10 p.m. to ensure people don’t get too rowdy at the bar. The original plan was to stay open until 2 a.m., Karan said.
“That’s $2,000 to $3,000 extra we could be making on a Saturday night, but it’s not always about money,” Karan said.
A challenging year
This year has been rife with challenges for small business owners.
With the dry winter season, tourism down, jobs unstable and social distancing impacts on winter festivities, people aren’t going out as much as Dirty Birdies needs.
The landlord's hotel behind the business normally fed a steady stream of clients to the restaurant. But this year the Roadway Inn has been seeing less foreign travel and domestic travel hasn’t been able to make up the difference.
The hotels’ room revenue is down 40% from 2019, Mike said. The area has more than a thousand hotel rooms that relied on foreign travel through tour buses. He said just one bus could occupy as many as 20 rooms, and until those come back, business just won’t be the same.
“I can understand the vaccine only being available for U.S. Americans, but what about other countries? Are they going to have a vaccine by summer, like Europe and China?” Mike said. “We get a lot of foreign travel and depend on that.”
Mike was working the front desk at the Roadway Inn Monday as he said the company has had to cut jobs and hours. They aren’t happy about having to make the decisions they've had to make, but said they're running out of options. Similarly, Dirty Birdies owners are looking at their expenses and trying to make it month by month.
Both are doing what they can to keep the lights on.
“Everything is hard to digest, so we’ll just work ourselves a lot more, cut costs where we can and manage things better,” Mike said. “We’ve trimmed our staff quite a bit, probably half of what we used to have last year.”
The business sector expects slow income from the upcoming months due to snow and winter temperatures. Dirty Birdies owners said they expect to eat costs in January, February and early March.
“Everybody is slower in town,” Mike said. “Cases are getting higher and higher too, so people are hesitant to travel, and I don’t blame them.”