Monday, September 14, 2015

Want to Buy a Jazz Club?

An ad has been prepared for Craigslist that begins with this:

“Kansas City bar and restaurant for sale. Great design and ambiance. Located in 100-year old historic building where jazz great Charlie Parker once played.”

Broadway Kansas City, which opened two years ago as The Broadway Jazz Club, is for sale. Owner Jim Pollock plans to keep the club operating for at least another two to three months with a reduced schedule, including the New Jazz Order Big Band on Tuesday nights, shows on Fridays and maybe a few other nights each month. The menu will shift to cold plates exclusively.

How did it come to this? Pollock prepared a timeline history of the beleaguered club. Here it is.

The Life and Times of The Broadway Jazz Club

Honoring Charlie
May 2013 – My nephew, Neil Pollock, calls from Kansas City to see if my wife and I would be interested in becoming minor partners in a jazz club which would feature Cajun food and Kansas City jazz, both favorites of my deceased brother, Charlie. We encourage the idea.

The Pitch
June 2013 – Neil arrives in Washington, DC and presents a prospectus and business plan for a club named Jardine’s.  Other partners in the venture include a former manager of Jardine’s and friend of Neil’s with food service background.  Our CPA reviews the figures and deems them reasonable. We agree to become 30% investors.

Opening Pains
July - November 2013 – The Jardine’s name is under proprietary ownership, so we must register a new name, The Broadway Jazz Club.  Design modifications and decor at 3601 Broadway suffer delays and false starts as one contractor or another botch the job. Instead of opening in August, renovations continue until the end of November and require more money than initially forecast.

The Dew is Off the Rose
December 2013 – The club’s opening week is quite successful – as it should be given the thousands spent on a publicist – but staff bickering seems to set in immediately and New Year’s Eve unmasks the fact that the kitchen and wait staff have not had an appropriate shake-down period. Things have not improved by Valentine’s Day.

Uncle, Can You Spare a Dollar
From the beginning, it was obvious that estimates of operating costs had been low. A myriad of state and local assessments, taxes, utilities and fees had either not been foreseen because of lack of due diligence, the fact that no records existed from the previous tenant, or just plain oversight. The minority partners soon became the only source of additional funds. Our ownership percentage began to grow monthly.

Inventory Uncontrol
In addition to spiraling infrastructure and overhead costs, inventory costs for food and alcohol were out of control. The bar followed no regimen, internal controls did not exist, there was no manual of operation for staff members or management. But two or three groups of very capable musicians were paid each night, the music was good, and there was a party going on.

Shareholders Report
May 2014 – My wife and I came out to Kansas City to assess the situation. Even without prior business experience, we could identify glaring faults in operations, highlighted by the fact that a daily accounts ledger had never been kept. If it had been, the confusion that marked management level considerations between what were club funds and what were personal expenses, at least, would have been recorded.

Baptism by Fire
June 2014 – The club’s general manager refusal to respond to a lengthy report and set of recommendations generated by our May visit led to his release. Margaret and I came to Kansas City to support our nephew in running the club. Little did we know it would be a four month stay, resulting in our learning more about supper club management than we ever wanted to know, becoming majority owners of The Broadway Jazz Club, falling in love with the music and its performers, uncovering an embezzlement scheme perpetrated by our payroll company, trying to enforce internal controls and bring inventory and revenue in line, and taking remedial steps to train and realign staff in an effort to shore up a dwindling clientele base.

Better to Sell
October 2014 – Believing we had righted the ship, we returned to Washington, DC.  Things at the club deteriorated rapidly and by November we were back, this time for six months. The idea was to sell the club and transition to new owners as 2015 opened. Consultants convinced us, however, that one cannot sell a club that is closed. So we invested yet more money to keep it open, turn over the staff, do new training and present a fresh, vibrant look to the Kansas City jazz audience in 2015. Despite these efforts, and the accommodating cooperation of our landlord, the catch-22 problems of the supper club model lingered on: Restaurants and bars make their money on customer turnover while jazz club patrons come to sip, nibble and listen for the entire evening. Without generating income, the club cannot adequately compensate its talent, so it begins to cut corners, hiring trios instead of quintets. In a city where good jazz musicians play at several venues nightly, a particular musician’s draw is affected by the number of nights he or she performs each week.

Let’s Try a New Model
June 2015 – From the beginning our business plan and liquor license were predicated on supporting our entertainment costs either through the sale of food or by charging a cover (or by a combination of the two). After a year and a half of tweaking the model, we decided to try a new model, seeking to cover entertainment costs through bar sales, re-branding the club accordingly and appealing to a different demographic as a result.

And the Conclusion Is?
August 2015 – The Broadway is still for sale, and several entities continue to consider purchase. In some cases, those interested will remodel the premises and begin a different business. Other interests will keep the location identified with the Kansas City music scene. From our perspective, we would like to see the locale continue to be associated with the marvelous musical traditions and local performers we have come to know in Kansas City. There are other permutations and combinations that might even keep us associated with the club, of which we are now the sole owners.

Pianist Max Groove is among those interested in the venue. His vision: An urban club open from 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. with a refreshed menu.

You will not meet a nicer or more generous couple than Jim and Margaret Pollock. Jim says he is striving to keep the club “a supporter of Kansas City music” and to see the location contribute to “the development of midtown as an arts and entertainment district.” But he concedes that “the club has never made money. It will be a bargain basement sale.”


  1. Where do you find details regarding the sale? Who is the contact?

  2. Anon, email me at kcjazzlark(at)gmail(dot)com and I will send you the contact information. I do not want to post personal email addresses or phone numbers publicly without permission.


Comments are welcome. If you prefer, you can reach me directly at kcjazzlark(at)gmail(dot)com.