Welcome back to IBJ’s video feature “Inside Dish: The Business of Running Restaurants.”
Our subject this week is Slippery Noodle Inn, the downtown brews-and-blues landmark that’s a just a punt’s distance from Lucas Oil Stadium and the epicenter of Super Bowl XLVI. Owner Hal Yeagy, who has captained the Inn through every major downtown sporting event since 1984, is busy readying for what promises to be “probably the biggest event we’ll ever have in the city, and won’t be exceeded unless we get the Olympics.”
“I can hardly fathom it; it’s scary to think about,” said Yeagy, who has been told by multiple sources to expect three to six months worth of business over the 10 days leading up to the big game on Feb. 5. For the Noodle, that would mean $700,000 to $1.4 million in gross sales.
“It’s a good time to spiff the place up,” Yeagy said of the Noodle, which sits in a brick structure at Meridian and South streets dating back to 1850. “You want the entire city to make a good impression on everybody, and I want ourselves to make a good impression.”
To that end, Yeagy is spending nearly $300,000 to refurbish and update portions of the club, and create and operate a temporary tent-like annex in its parking lot with a capacity for 1,365 people in 10,000 square feet.
For the last several months, crews have been renovating the larger of the Noodle’s two in-house music rooms, including expanding the stage, and changing out carpeting and sound insulation. Two new rooftop heating and AC units for the room were installed, with a third slated for the Noodle’s dining atrium next week. The two exterior business signs have been repainted, as well as the front barroom. Total cost: about $150,000.
Renting and running the outdoor structure, and adding flooring and staging equipment for music acts (including blues legend Buddy Guy, confirmed for Feb. 4), will run about $100,000, Yeagy said. Construction will begin on Jan. 23, with its opening scheduled for Friday, Jan. 27. Heating the space for 10 days could run as high as $19,000.
With the outdoor annex, total capacity for the Noodle will triple to almost 2,000 people. Correspondingly, staffing will balloon as well. On a typical weekend evening, the Noodle uses about 30 employees. During the weekend of the Super Bowl, Yeagy expects to have as many as 90 people at once tending bar, making food, serving customers and minding the door.
Because the Noodle’s payroll is currently about 60, Yeagy has invited employees of Greenwood sister restaurant Hal’s Fabulous Las Vegas Bar & Grille to take on shifts, as well as friends and former employees. For the last several months, an ex-manager who now lives in California has been working on contract at the Noodle to help prepare for the big event.
In some ways, however, the Noodle is shrinking for the Super Bowl. Yeagy plans to simplify its offerings for ease of preparation and delivery. For example, the Noodle’s 125-item menu will contract to about 60. The number of brands and varieties of vodka will slip from 60 to 10. Still, Yeagy expects daily deliveries from food and drink distributors, and possibly hourly as the event nears.
“During the Final Four in 2010, we had nine beer deliveries on that Saturday,” he said.
Yeagy acknowledges that his food and drink prices will rise about 30 percent during the festivities, and that the cover price on some evenings nearing the game will approach $100. In light of other high-profile Super Bowl events with eye-popping entrance fees, Yeagy believes his prices will be reasonable.
“You’ve got parties that are $1,500 to get into, if you can get a ticket,” he said. “The Super Bowl is corporate America at its best.”
In contrast to Final Four crowds, typically populated by average-Joe, college-sports fans spending their own money, Yeagy expects many Super Bowl visitors to rely on corporate entertainment accounts. “We’re going to have American Express out the ying-yang,” he said.
Business from the Super Bowl could “make our year, and maybe even our decade,” Yeagy said with a grin. But the future for the Noodle, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2013, looks increasingly bright with or without the 150,000 visitors expected in Indianapolis for the Super Bowl.
Gross sales dipped from $3 million in 2007 to $2.7 million as the recession hit the following year. Now they’re on the rebound, totaling about $2.85 million for 2011, Yeagy said. Net income for the year has not been calculated yet, but he expects a profit.
Over the next several months, the Noodle will gain more than 2,000 new neighbors with pocket money to spend. By mid-summer, Rolls-Royce North America plans to move a total of 2,500 employees into an office campus directly across South Street.
When Eli Lilly and Co. employees vacated the campus in 2010, daily lunch sales at the Noodle dropped about 40 percent, from an average of $3,000 to $1,800, Yeagy said.
The office complex “sat there empty for two years," he said, "and that’s why we’re so excited to have Rolls-Royce move into it."
Rolls-Royce and its workers’ purchasing power also have inspired a major policy change at the Noodle. A longtime opponent of proposed city smoking bans, Yeagy decided late in 2011 to toss out the ashtrays and make the whole premises smoke-free beginning Jan. 2.
Rolls-Royce employees and executives who started populating the campus in December dropped hints to Yeagy that they’d appreciate a smoke-free environment.
“There were subtle hints that we’d see a lot more of them if we were smoke-free,” Yeagy said. “Since it’ll be 2,500 people a couple hundred feet away, it’s a good thing to listen to them.
“It was a business decision. I was never against a smoking ban, per se. What I’m against is the government telling me that I have to have a smoking ban. I wanted it to be a business decision.”
In the video at top, Yeagy discusses preparations for the Super Bowl crowds. In the video below, he recounts the storied history of the Slippery Noodle and weighs in on his decision to go smoke-free, as well as current challenges to the bottom line.