Derek Brown’s Essential Tips for Opening Your Own Bar

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Derek Brown wants you to think—no, really think—about why you want to make the leap from bartender to bar owner.

“My first word of advice…is dig deep: Why do you want a bar? Is it for money? Fame? A place to party? Or is it because you want to work endless hours and replace the bar back on Tuesday when he calls out 10 minutes before his shift begins? You really have to check your gut here.”

The celebrated co-owner of numerous Washington, D.C. bars, including Mockingbird Hill, Southern Efficiency and Eat the Rich, Brown understands firsthand that being a bar owner is more about grit than glamour.

“If your reason is because you love the idea of creating your own nook in the world and no hassle is too much then—ding, ding, ding—you have the right idea. Money, fame and parties aren’t forthcoming. But skipping your own pay and hearing someone complain about their meager $300 shift behind the bar is.”
Reality-check aside, Brown has four tips that will help lay a successful foundation for any aspiring—or fledgling—bar owner.

1. Build a strong team.

“Make sure you enjoy the company of your core team and that they believe in your vision. You will have to work through some pretty stressful issues and that requires both resilience and a little humor. My team is goddamn tight. I would go to war with them—but then we have also been at war among ourselves. What healed us is our vision and common goals. That, and we truly care about each other.”

2. Find the financial middle ground.

“Familiarize yourself with all costs associated with opening. Then raise more. Once you open, having unpaid bills can be a drag on your daily operating expenses. But don’t raise too much. You have to pay it back, after all. It’s tough to establish a specific metric. Try to create a financial model. It won’t be 100-percent accurate, but it can be informative.”

3. The bottom line doesn’t care about your fancy garnish.

“Being a good bartender has nothing to do with being a good entrepreneur. It doesn’t mean it won’t help, and I suppose you could abstract a few qualities that they tangentially have in common. But I’m talking specifics: You need to learn accounting, finance, marketing, employment law and more. You need a crash course in being an MBA or—in my case—work with two of them.”

4. The buck stops with you.

“When your bar back accidentally cuts open his leg with a broken bottle jutting out from a trash bag he was swinging into the dumpster, you better damn well have some first aid nearby. And know your claim information. That you make a great Sazerac, or have a super-neato shake won’t help a potentially life-threatening wound. Take this part seriously: You’re responsible for every soul on the ship.”

Locations: Washington D.C.
Series & Type: Bartenders OnlyBar Talk
Appears in 7 Collections

From our Friends



  • amywineva posted 2 years ago

    Dear Truth Teller: Please allow me to pass along a little intel in response to your comments about one Derek Brown.

    For starters, if you insist on having the handle Truth Teller, then I suppose it’s best to, well, tell the truth.

    Secondly, what’s with all the disparagement? Your comments read more like a personal attack, than that of matter and proof. Does Derek have a PR firm? If so, perhaps we all should consider hiring them; because whoever is doing the work is doing a phenomenal job. His businesses, his employees, and yes, Derek as well have been getting a lot of credible publicity in recent years.
    Ironically, I was at Mockingbird Hill enjoying a glass of Tio Pepe a few months back with a woman I contracted out Beverage-PR work to (let’s just say her name is Sara). Derek stopped by to say hi, and Sara asked him who handles his PR. Typical person in public relations….. always looking for new business development. His response was modest – and he said he handles the PR for his businesses himself.

    In the future, I suggest doing a little research before you slam someone that is talented and hard working. Also, practicing an attitude of gratitude verses negativity is better for all of us. Cheers!

  • Truth teller posted 2 years ago

    This is a hilarious read! Thank you for posting this, I really need a laugh today. Now for those of you who know the real Derek Brown understand why I'm laughing at this and for those of you who don't; well I'll break it down right here.
    1) Build a strong team: by what he means is, hire a PR team to take several photos of you "working" and post it all over. Steal other people's ideas and make it seem like they're your own and make sure you screw over everyone that has helped and taught you along the way.
    2) Find the financial middle ground: by what he means here is, make sure you can sucker enough people into believing you are this image that you painted of yourself in the hopes that the investors you take the money from wont be smart enough to do actual digging into who you are.
    3) the bottom line doesn't care about your fancy garnish: now this one is kinda my favorite of the 4 because he mostly made his name on all his idiotic garnishes. Again, hire a good PR team and nobody outside the DC area will ever know.
    4) the buck stops with you: now this one is a little tough because it does show some truth in what it takes to open a bar, insurance, but also it comes back to whether or not you have an idiot as a barback who pulls bags out of the trash can and who doesn't use the trash can itself to hoist it up and toss everything out. But luckily if anything happens to said barback our hero Derek Brown will be there to save the day, hahahaha just kidding!! He won't. Alright have fun blowing sunshine up someone's butt who clearly doesn't deserve it. Bottom line, hire an amazing PR team and rely heavily on them to make you look good and like you're doing great things for your community when you're in fact, destroying it.

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