A look at Oliver's Old Towne Tavern in Laurel with co-owner Lenny Wohlfarth. (Luke Lavoie/Howard County Times video
When Randy Carmichael and Lenny Wohlfarth bought Main Street Sports Grill in March 2014, the venue formerly known as Oliver's Old Town Tavern, it was a hole-in-the-wall bar, and not in a good way.
There were literally holes in the walls and the floor, said the new co-owners, who noted several other infrastructures issues including wasted space, dilapidated conditions and deteriorating infrastructure.
"I don't want to disparage any previous owners, but it was pretty beat up, both the customer base and condition of the property was on a little bit of hard times," Wohlfarth said. "It was not its glory years."
The condition led the pair, both Laurel residents, to pour $215,000 into renovating the property, more than four times what they paid for the business.
They hope the physical makeover, along with an overhaul of the service model, will serve as a springboard to relaunch the business, which they say has potential to become both Laurel's neighborhood sports barn and a family-friendly tavern.
A grand opening for the relaunched Oliver's Old Town Tavern is scheduled for Jan. 24.
"We feel this place can really be something," said Carmichael. "And the results we have seen since remodeling is that, it's not just a bar anymore. ... It's a nice, comfortable friendly place to come now."
The owners said the first step toward achieving the goal was upgrading the infrastructure.
"It would've been very difficult to build up business with the condition of the property. We could have had the greatest food, the greatest service, but if the place looked the way it did it wasn't going to be feasible," Wohlfarth said.
In addition to fixing the walls and the floor, the rehab included setting back the bar, which the pair said took up an inordinate amount of space, and opening up the flow of the establishment. It also included cleaning up the work flow in the kitchen for the staff, many of whom have worked there for decades.
The new establishment can seat approximately 100 people, where the old place had a limit of around 68, according to the co-owners.
But there was still more to do. The pair said the biggest thing was bringing a level of consistency to the business, both in terms of business hours and the menu. It's now open from 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 1 p.m. to midnight on Sundays.
"If we are going to do something, we want to make sure we follow through on that," Wohlfarth said.
Wohlfarth, who serves as the manager of the bar, said another key focus is customer service.
"This bar is very much a regulars bar, and making sure those people who come in four or five days a week are appreciated [is important]," he said.
The bar will keep its sports-centric focus, supported by more than 18 television screens, as well as a darts area used by a local league and a poker night. There is also occassionally live music and DJs.
While neither Carmichael or Wohlfarth have experience in the restaurant industry – Wohlfarth has 20 years of business experience having owned a video store in Silver Spring – they are uniquely qualified to diagnose and correct the issues plaguing the bar.
Before purchasing it, the pair were part of the regular crowd – Carmichael said he's been frequenting the establishment for 30 years, while Wohlfarth has been a customer for around 15 years.
Their local ties have bred a focus on the local community. Wohlfarth said they buy their rib eyes from the nearby Laurel Meat Market, and look to support many local businesses and institutions, like Laurel American Legion Post 60, also located on Main Street.
"There's a point of pride that the neighborhood bar is relevant and is an important part of this area," Wohlfarth said.
Alicia Fields, an employee of the city of Laurel's economic development office focusing on Main Street, said the improvements to the business have been a boon for the community.
"It has definitely been a boost," she said. "It holds a lot of nostalgia for a lot of people, and people are very excited about the reopening."
She added that having a local ownership group is "really exciting."
Fields said the business is eligible for a number of city economic development grants, which includes up to $10,000 for startup businesses, a matching grant for new signage and a grant program that reduces fees for building permits.