Unemployed Bartenders Rally Laid-Off Service Workers to Start Essential Services Business for Tennessee Towns
They even drove a cockatoo to Florida.
In mid-March, Memphis entrepreneur Taylor Berger had to close the doors to the five restaurants in Memphis under the Party Memphis umbrella, per the Tennessee governor’s orders. He laid off his entire staff.
"I was really sad, and a little scared because it's my livelihood, too," explains Berger. "I'm not independently wealthy or anything; I had to lay myself off along with everybody else."
On a jog, Berger's mind wandered. "I was thinking, 'What are we going to do next?' Thinking about all of the people I had laid off and the different kind of skills that they have, and the different assets that we still had, like a truck." Skills such as landscaping, vehicle detailing, running errands, tech and cleaning, among others.
He also thought about what their customers were facing, "which was being stuck in their homes."
Berger's solution? What started out as a light-hearted song with musician Mark Edgar Stuart and some of the staff turned into a business idea: Two Broke Bartenders and a Truck, "essentially a platform connecting our customers with our laid off staff, but in a new way."
At the start, Berger thought there would be a lot of running errands and going to the grocery store, but spring in Memphis has "turned it into traditional contracting and landscaping work," he says. "We've got a lot of lawn mowers and weed eaters and we're building fences and decks. We're staying really busy."
Steven Hamblin, who is a bar lead at Railgarten, started looking for other work when the restaurant closed.
"On Tuesday we recorded 'Two Broke Bartenders and a Truck,' and Taylor called on Friday with the new business idea, asking if I wanted to start the next day," recalls Hamblin. "I checked with my family and started that Saturday."
He says he started with any odd jobs that came along, like people who didn't want to get out the house and needed errands run. "I grabbed a bottle of Jameson and some dog treats for somebody." Hamblin also did some debris and trash removal, and then the requests for yard work started rolling in.
"There’s a personal touch: bartenders find connections with guests, and we take that approach with customers, and it does us pretty well," he explains. "A lot of people are still working, just working at home, and they don't have the time."
Hamblin has found that those connections and pride in a job well done leads to repeat customers.
"That’s nice, too," he says. "People enjoy what you do, and make a connection with you."
"It's a little bit different," says Party Memphis Event Coordinator Emmie Gold, who is managing dispatch for Two Broke Bartenders and a Truck. "We're now dealing with lawnmowers and dirt as opposed to balloons and banners."
She explains that requests from prospective customers come in via social media platforms, e-mail, a form on the website, or text. Gold then reaches out to talk through the requests and schedules the jobs with customers.
"Some jobs are small, and I can knock them out even in the same day," she says. "Some jobs require a bigger team or more equipment, and those are usually scheduled two or three days out."
Asked about the most outlandish request, Berger and Gold answer with the same scenario.
"We had a request to drive a cockatoo to a preserve in Florida," says Berger. "It had a giant cage that had to go in the back of one of our pick-up trucks, and a travel cage that sat in the cab in between the driver and his girlfriend."
A month and a half since its launch, Berger says a squad of about 30 bartenders, bar backs, cooks, waiters, managers, bouncers — essentially everyone from the front and back of the house — are working everyday but Sunday. He's also coordinating with other groups in Chattanooga and Nashville to provide similar services.
"More people have come onboard with different skills, we can do more things," he says. "We just brought someone on who can weld and do hardscapes, working with stone and concrete. That has really broadened our landscaping horizons."
Looking ahead to when the restaurants can reopen, Berger envisions Two Broke Bartenders and a Truck will continue operations.
"What I've realized is that we have a dual mission: first, to employee service workers, and second, to create a new service for homeowners in Memphis," he explains, realizing some of the staff are enjoying the work and may want to continue when the restaurants reopen. "Our mission is to be the first call for people who need help with just about anything to do with their home."
"People look at us, knowing we don’t typically do this type of work, but we're out of work and trying to hustle and make things work, and they're willing to give us a shot," says Hamblin. "Overall, they have been pleased with what we've done."