When a restaurant’s one-year anniversary party plans include tuxedo-clad chimpanzees pouring champagne, you can be sure this place is celebrating quite a few successes. For Kelly’s Chic-A-Boom Room owner Dion Falzon, his restaurant’s success isn’t just about the financials. “I like to do memorable things,” he said. “My businesses have given me the ability to be innovative and creative, so it’s not all about the bottom line. I can have fun with it.”
While the first year can be a hurdle for many restaurant owners, Falzon is already in growth mode with his Dunedin, FL, restaurant. Always striving to continuously improve, Falzon shared with us his secrets to his business success and plans to evolve Kelly’s Chic-A-Boom Room to make it the best it can be for his community.
Your journey to becoming the owner of Kelly’s Chic-A-Boom Room is a unique story. Can you tell us how you got your start in business?
I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was born – I was selling candy in middle school, had a lawn business in high school, and I was delivering Chinese food at the University of Florida just to pay for my classes.
I just hated working for other people, so I did whatever I could do to be an entrepreneur. I was a stockbroker, so I was basically my own boss, I was as real estate guy, I started playing poker and golf every day for money, so I was just doing anything not to have a boss. I was winning so much that I had a nice little envelope, and one of my poker buddies was a business broker. I needed a business, so we finally we settled on a liquor store in 2010 in Hillsboro County, FL.
All of the other liquor stores in the county would close around 10 p.m., the big box chains, and I said why don’t we just stay open later?
So we had a little niche. We started staying open until 3 in the morning, and nobody believed me that it was real, so we changed the name to “3 a.m. Liquor” and it was just gangbusters. Right at 10:01 we’d have a line out the door. And it was fun, I had fun with it. We were in there putting, we’d do free shot Fridays, we’d flip quarters, we’d play foosball, we’d hit golf balls out front, we had great music, and it was super clean.
You know, liquor stores have this negative connotation. I made it look like the Apple Store, and it was just a super monster hit, so I got another one in 2015.
With the success of your liquor stores, you then added food into the mix. Why did you decide to buy a restaurant, specifically Kelly’s Chic-A-Boom Room?
I got to a point where I was able to employ my brother at 3 a.m. Liquor, but my other brother is a chef. A really innovative, hardworking, badass chef. He went to Mexico to study peppers, he lived in Alaska to understand fishing and salmon. He’s a food guy through and through. He was busy running a super successful business in Gainesville, but he wasn’t the owner. He was doing all of the heavy lifting without seeing the fruits of his labor. So, I said “Why don’t you move down here? I’ll find us a spot – you run the kitchen, and I’ll run the bar.”
We were looking at one restaurant, about to pull the trigger, and my broker said “Just so you know, Kelly’s Chic-A-Boom Room, which has been here for 30 years, have shown interest in maybe wanting to sell. They haven’t talked to anyone yet, but they love your story.”
This town, Dunedin, FL, is on the beach. It’s artsy, it’s local, and it has to be mom-and-pop-businesses – there’s no chains allowed. I grew up here, my mother was going to be involved, she helps with the desserts and the florals, and my dad plays music at the restaurant.
So, I told [the then-owners] my vision and they loved it. We made a deal the next day.
Kelly’s Chic-A-Boom Room at that point was already well-known in the community. Since you were taking over an existing restaurant with so much history, how did you approach the business to start aligning it to your vision?
Kelly’s was always known as the breakfast place. There’s an hour wait on the weekend, without fail — doesn’t matter what time of year. My dream was and my goal is to be successful all day long.
We’re changing the culture from this being a breakfast joint and a late-night party spot. Kelly’s Chic-A-Boom Room can be the great breakfast place, a classy dinner place, a fun bar to throw a party – we can be everything. We don’t have to just be a breakfast place. I can change the game.
As Steve Jobs said, “Don’t expect the customer to know what they want.” I’m going to show them that you can come here for breakfast in flip flops, but you can also come here for date night and have an amazing filet and listen to a saxophone player. You can do it all here.
Now we serve until 2 in the morning, which I’ve always used that late-night angle because other people aren’t willing to do it. I’ve got the people there, so we’re making money 19 hours a day.
I went in and basically changed everything.
Not changed, improved.
It was known for breakfast, so we didn’t mess with breakfast. All we did was upgrade some of the ingredients, so now our corned beef is actually brisket. We put in a bloody Mary bar. We bought the parking lot and built a beautiful back area with fire pits. We made new bars, put in booths, upgraded the dinner menu, and put in healthier options. All our meats now are grassfed, our chickens are cage free, we’re using local farmers the best we can.
Every opportunity we have to use local, use something greener, that’s the decision we’re going to make. We got rid of straws, all of our to-go stuff is biodegradable and recyclable, and we’re using green cleaning products. We’re just going super green and the community is embracing it, they’re appreciating it, so I’m trying to be a leader in this town.
As a restaurant owner, you also are a leader to your staff. Coming in as a new owner, how did you manage your employees and help them adjust to the changes you wanted to make?
I have 68 employees, and I’ve promoted probably 10 people from within. When we took over we didn’t fire one person, we gave everybody a fair shot. And the ones that didn’t make the cut, they fired themselves, basically. Because we’re asking them to be excellent.
Everybody’s taken a lot of pride in it. People that do a good job get promoted. I had a guy who have been there 10 years who was just bartending. He loves our vision and the way we do things and approached me about a management role, so we promoted him.
So, I’ve got my crew – I’ve got my brother, my best friend is the GM, and his cousin is my bar manager. I’m trying to make myself not necessary, and it’s hard to do as an owner. I’ve learned that from my liquor stores, because you want to just micromanage every little detail, but once you kind of give that up, then you can think big picture. What’s our five-year plan? What’s our next move?
Can you share with us what some of those big picture plans are that you have in store for Kelly’s Chic-A-Boom Room?
Starting in 2 weeks we’re building a beautiful outdoor tiki deck and behind it is going to be a Vegas style cabana for VIP events. When I bought Kelly’s, that space was a parking lot. I went and met with the city, and I told them my dream. The man who makes the decisions is super pro-development, so he loved my story. He granted us the ability to buy the parking lot from the city as long as we made it something beautiful and I lived up to my end of the bargain.
So, we’re doing a tiki deck out back and then the second that’s done, we’re moving up. Upstairs right now is just storage and the office is just way too big for the restaurant. It’s just a bunch of clutter.
We’re going to build a speakeasy on the second floor. I’ve been traveling around the country checking out different speakeasies, and the whole key with these speakeasies is how you get into them. We’re working on this James Bond door with maybe facial recognition or a thumb print, limited people in there, no phones, no televisions. More of the old school craft cocktails, and then we’ll have the ability to go on the roof through there. We’re really busy on the weekends, so any more surface area I can add would just help on my big days.
We’re sure your innovative ideas to improve and expand your business won’t stop there. Making all of these changes can be costly, though. How has your partnership with Rewards Network helped you with these improvements and why did you choose to partner with us on our Dining Credits product?
[Rewards Network Account Executive Jason Aquilar] came in and broke down the business model, and I’m all about win-win in transactions. It’s all about the value, right? He broke down the system and I didn’t really see any downside.
I get approached every day and I’ve kind of insulated myself from the daily salesmanship, but Rewards Network was the one company that really seemed to provide value. You offered money up front to help me build my business and then pay [the future receivables balance] on the backend. You don’t even miss that money, so now you’re enabling me to just build my businesses.
With Kelly’s Chic-A-Boom Room, that money is paying for this tiki deck, which in turn will create more revenue. I already talked to Jason about re-upping with Rewards Network because it was such a great success and I’m going to use that money to build the speakeasy.
I couldn’t be happier with the service, including the ability to see the customer reviews because they’re prompted to leave a review. I get candid, honest feedback. You know the gold is in the constructive criticism. I take these comments super seriously, and I analyze every one. I may not be able to respond to them all, but I read them and I definitely use it as fuel to get better.
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