When you’re an artist and went to college for art but make more money bartending, what do you do? Buy your own pub, of course! At least, that’s what you do if you are Kevin Bednarz.
Bednarz always knew he wanted to have his own business. When he was a child, before he knew what a 9-to-5 job was, he put a transistor radio in a cardboard box and started charging other kids 25 cents to turn it on. He wrote on the box ‘will play music but maybe not your song.’ Although he ended up having to give the money back to his disgruntled music customers, the desire to have his own business stayed with him. “I think the biggest thing in everything I do is being creative, whether it’s coming up with a new menu, new event, or new artwork,” says Bednarz.
Bednarz started working at Ashburn Pub as a bartender and manager in 2004. By 2008, he was a 45% owner along with the original owner. When the original owner offered to let him buy the other half, there was no way he was going to turn it down. He went home and told his partner, and she asked how much it was and where he would get the money. He had no idea. “But I didn’t let it stop me. I came up with some very creative financing. I couldn’t get a small business loan, I didn’t have a lot of cash, so I had to finagle and get very creative,” he says.
Ashburn Pub’s Secret Cocktail of Success
Service and staff are the key ingredients to Ashburn Pub’s success. Bednarz has a very low turnover rate among his staff. He contends that most people will work for money but they’ll die for recognition and appreciation. “I think they stay because we reward them and it’s a family atmosphere,” he says. “We treat each other right.”
And in turn, his staff treats the customers right. Just like Cheers where everybody knows your name, long-term staff get to know the customers by name, as well as their drink orders and the cars they drive. They can greet you by name and have your drink to you before you take off your coat.
The other drinks in the mix to make it a success are cleanliness, functionality, and relevance. When a lady goes to the bathroom, it had better be clean. Cockroaches in the bathroom equal cockroaches in the kitchen, but a cared-for bathroom equals a cared-for kitchen. Things have to be in functional working order. A wobbly bar stool here and there is no big thing, but make sure the jukebox is working so he doesn’t have to pull out that cardboard box and transistor radio. After all, it will play some music but it won’t be your music. Make sure the ink is fresh and the checks are printing. Be relevant with tech and social media.
“There’s so many options, especially around here, where people can go,” says Bednarz. “So if they took the time to get in their car, take twenty bucks out of the ATM, drive here, come in, and sit down and eat, don’t take it for granted.”
Social Media Relevance
Speaking of relevance, use social media to your advantage. Talk to those idols that you wouldn’t normally be able to, and talk to your customers as well. Each summer, Ashburn Pub does crab legs. Bednarz once decided to do a contest to trade engagement from the community for free crab legs every Sunday for the summer. The payoff was fantastic and helped bring Sundays from being their slowest day to their best day. “And that was the catalyst, and now we’re doing brunch, and $2 mimosas, and we’re going to do lobster tails soon, so that one little piece of content steamrolled,” says Bednarz.
What’s the Password?
One day, you go to Ashburn Pub and it’s the normal neighborhood pub you know and love. The next day, lights and decor have transformed the place, you needed to have a special password to get in, a witch doctor gave you a coconut drink, and you left looking like a sugar skull. What just happened? A pop-up party! Ashburn Pub does themed pop-up parties every two months. “Now we’re starting to gain momentum, where now I’m teasing that we’re doing another one coming up, and my phone’s blowing up,” says Bednarz. If you want in on the fun, you better get your hands on the password.
On the Horizon — Alexa, Order Me Ashburn’s Special
Art is Bednarz’s passion, but there must be a practical side, too. He can’t sit in the studio all day. “Sometimes I feel like I’m jumping back and forth, which is dangerous,” he says. “So my big goal this year is to really keep the pub momentum going and keep doing new things while spending a certain amount of time each week doing art, and I think that’s going to be super important.” And how long does it take him to make one of his masterpieces? “Forty-seven years,” says Bednarz. It’s a skill set that he’s work on his whole life.
Other goals on the horizon are to keep having fun pop-up parties and fantastic food, and to stay relevant with the current tech. In another few years, everyone’s going to have an Alexa. Bednarz wants the Ashburn Pub’s specials on Alexa every morning. He wants customers to be able to have Alexa order them food from the pub. “Being relevant, that’s what I want to do this year,” Bednarz says.