Welcome back to IBJ’s video feature “Inside Dish: The Business of Running Restaurants.”
Our subject this week is Hal's Fabulous Vegas Bar & Grille, a casino-themed restaurant with an old-school vibe concocted
by Hal and Carol Yeagy, the owners of the downtown blues institution Slippery Noodle Inn. Despite their experience building
the Noodle into a national landmark, the Yeagys found themselves back at the bottom of the learning curve with their new eatery,
which has lost more than $100,000 annually since opening in 2006.
"You know how you always have this great idea for retirement, that you're going to have this other job?" Hal
Yeagy, 52, asked with an edge of irony in his voice. "That's kind of what this originally was meant to be to us."
It became a bigger burden than originally anticipated, but a labor of love nonetheless. The Yeagys cut no corners in the
restaurant, inspired by their many vacations to Las Vegas. They spent about $1.2 million renovating and decorating an unused
restaurant property in Greenwood, which cost an additional $800,000 to purchase. Design details included granite bar and table
tops, custom-designed wool carpeting, about $120,000 in high-end light fixtures, and bar stools running $485 each from a manufacturer
that supplies casinos.
Loans covered about $1.6 million of that initial $2 million investment. The Yeagys funded the rest, in part through their
savings, credit cards and selling investments.
Although the Yeagys live nearby, they discovered they didn't have a firm grasp on the dining habits of southsiders. Some
guests balked at the prices, expecting something more in line with a Texas Roadhouse, Hal said. Some turned up their noses
at the policy of allowing smoking at and near the bar. Even the original dress code—no sleeveless shirts—had to
The Yeagys made adjustments over time. They instituted a no-smoking policy in late 2009 and began welcoming young adults
to what had been a 21-and-over venue. They hired a new executive chef in October, leading to tweaks in the menu (although
prices essentially remained the same).
Sales dipped about $50,000 from 2008 to 2009 (see "Notes from the Back of the Napkin," below), in part due to the
ailing economy and increased competition from new Greenwood restaurants, Hal said. But the bottom line improved slightly,
and has shown signs this year of approaching the break-even point.
"I look at things for the long haul," Hal said. "I think it takes a long time to build a lasting business."
In the video below, Yeagy discusses the origins of the restaurant, the surprises encountered after its opening,
and its recent financial performance.