Jon Taffer Dishes On His New Partnership With Costco, And What He Drinks At Home - Exclusive Interview

Jon Taffer has been taking the hospitality world by storm since the first episode of "Bar Rescue" premiered in 2011. Now, Taffer is in his eighth season of the show, documenting how he works to help bar owners save and revitalize their failing businesses.

His larger-than-life personality on television certainly puts "Bar Rescue" top of mind when we think of Jon Taffer, but his experience in the hospitality industry isn't just related to TV. Taffer is a best-selling author, a podcast host, a consultant for countless major brands, and a philanthropist. Taffer also founded Taffer's Tavern, a franchise of taverns dedicated to signature drinks, incredible food, paramount customer service, and innovation in the kitchen.

The latest feather in Taffer's cap? Inspired by the popularity of Taffer's Tavern, a new product line of Enjoy at Home options are coming to Costco. And the first dish is available now. In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Jon Taffer shares all about this new dish, how to enjoy it at home, his must-haves for a great Thanksgiving dinner, his favorite drink and more.

Jon Taffer discusses his first job in hospitality and his passion for the industry

What was your first job in the hospitality industry?

Wow, that's funny. My first job in the hospitality industry was, well, I was a bartender for a very short time when I was very young, but really in college, I started tending bar when I went to the University of Denver. And it was a place in Denver, heck, I don't think it's there anymore, called PT's. And there's a strip joint called PT's, but that's not it. It was a steakhouse kind of place, and that's where I started. But my first real nightlife job was a doorman at the Troubadour in Hollywood, which was quite a way to start.

What is it about the hospitality industry that you love the most?

I never thought I'd be in this business when I went to college and such. When I started working in it ... well, if you do hospitality right, you make people smile all day. And how many people's profession is making people smile? So that's what I love about the hospitality industry, is if you do it right, it's all positive. You make people smile, you give them things they enjoy to eat, things they enjoy to drink, places they enjoy to go. It's all so positive to me that I just love the premise of making people smile and giving them experiences.

Jon Taffer's favorite meal at a restaurant

What is your go-to meal when you go to a restaurant? Is there something that you always navigate towards to try?

Well, it depends. I love ethnic foods, so if I'm in an Italian restaurant, of course, I'll have something different. But my go-to, I hate to be so boring, but my go-to is probably a great steak. Medium rare. 

What are the basic tools that every bartender needs to have?

I think the first tool is respect. And when I say that, I mean, respect of recipes, respect of the customer, respect of the establishment. Great bartenders start with [an] understanding that recipes are really important, and consistency is really important. So I like to hire bartenders that respect that part of bartending and mixology. But great personalities, of course, are always key, and great operators know how to hire people with great personalities and provide them with the environment where those personalities can shine. I'm not into the, "Hello, my name is Jon, how may I help you today?" No, I want my people's personalities to come out. That's the greatest asset everybody has, is who and what they are.

Jon Taffer's favorite drink and how he really feels about hard seltzer

What is your favorite liquor to sip neat or to include in a cocktail? It may be the same, or maybe different for each?

It would be the same. I really enjoy a Godfather as my go-to drink, which is scotch and amaretto. But I love to make it with Jonny Walker Blue, which is a fine scotch, and it's such a great scotch. I enjoy sipping it or mixing it. But I tend to be a whiskey guy.

One of my favorites right now is a hard seltzer. Well, that's me, I have my own Taffer's Seltzer. But it's funny, when we created those seltzers, that started with "Bar Rescue," because I got to come up with five cocktails every week. So we play with all these flavors all the time, and strawberry basil was something we were playing with in "Bar Rescue." And that's how the seltzer thing started, with strawberry basil and cucumber jalapeno, which were "Bar Rescue" flavors. And my favorite seltzer is the strawberry basil. I think that's killer. I love it.

With the number of options on the market for hard seltzers, do you think that more bars will start carrying a wide selection whether on tap or in cans?

I mean, we're starting to see that, like beers, restaurants are starting to carry three, four, five different types of seltzers. What the research shows, and this is interesting, is that people aren't as brand loyal to seltzers, they're more flavor-driven. If you open a case and there's five different brands of seltzers, people tend to pick the flavor they want over the brand they want, which is interesting.

How do you feel about seltzers on draft? 

It doesn't bother me if the water systems are correct. I mean, our seltzer is different than many others, because most seltzers are made with a malt base, almost like a beer, flavored beer, if you will. Taffer's Seltzer is made with a neutral orange wine base, so it's lighter than other seltzers. You don't have as much flavor and sugar in it because we're not fighting the heaviness of the malt. It's a different approach to making the seltzer. And if you taste the two, side-by-side, with another one, you'll see the difference. It's a lighter kind of a product. So for us, it wouldn't be the same out of gun as it would be the way we produce it.

Jon Taffer dishes on his new Costco line

What was the inspiration behind your new Costco line? What drove you to get started on that?

Well, we created Taffer's Tavern a few years ago. And through Taffer's Tavern, we've been producing a lot of food products and we've been playing with sous vide, which is a very high-end Michelin approach to cooking proteins in these vacuum bags and water ovens. It's a really, really unique cooking technique. And we stumbled on this beef shank with our partners, Cuisine Solutions, who's the world's largest producer of products like this. And it blew me away. It's seven pounds, it's got this massive bone coming out of the center of it, and the meat literally falls off the bone. It blew me away.

We realized that we wanted to take some of the great foods that we created for Taffer's Tavern and we really wanted to create an enjoy at-home line so that you could enjoy the foods that we're working so hard on in the tavern at home. This was the logical first choice, especially for the holidays, because it's seven pounds and feeds six to eight people. It's really beautiful on a platter. Think of that in the center of your table, pretty darn impressive when that baby comes out of the kitchen. It's festive when you look at it, it's great for parties and such, it's delicious, it's impressive. And we just thought it was a wonderful way to introduce our product line for the holidays.

How do you suggest people serve the dish? What are some sides or any wine pairings or drink pairings to go with it?

Yeah, well obviously, a nice red wine goes very, very well with it. I'll let people choose a nice red that would go with it. But you drop it in the oven, it's a little under two hours to cook it, and then it comes out ready to go. What we've been doing, we put it in a platter and we surround it with vegetables and potatoes, red skin potatoes, yellow potatoes. We'll have three different types of potatoes, and then we'll mix it up with cauliflower and broccoli and all of these vegetables, all along the side. And when the shank cooks, and you cook it in a baking pan, it leaves wonderful juices on the bottom of the pan that turn into a great au jus. It's a great family meal, which is exactly what we wanted it to be. We wanted to create something that people could enjoy together.

Must-haves for a great Thanksgiving, according to Jon Taffer

What are the main components that you need for a good Thanksgiving dinner?

Ooh, first of all, family. Probably what you want and what you don't want. Let me start with what you don't want — politics. So, no political discussions this year, I think is a very smart way to start it. But I think you need a couple of great proteins for a good Thanksgiving dinner. I think obviously a turkey is appropriate, but I'm a big believer in that second protein, whether it's a ham, whether it's a tenderloin roast, whether it's a beef shank. But I always think it's great to have a beef item along with the turkey. I'm a big believer in doing a roast and a turkey together, which makes for a great Thanksgiving. And I'm a traditionalist, I love the green beans with the onions on it. I love the sweet potato with the marshmallow on top. There are certain times in our life where tradition really works well, and I think Thanksgiving dinner is all about tradition. I tend to honor that tradition for Thanksgiving, just add the second protein.

What about pie? Pecan or pumpkin, or both?

Boy, I'm not a pecan guy so much, so I would go pumpkin. But to me, again, the greatest, most American thing of all of course is a great piece of apple pie.

Jon Taffer's favorite cake and the meals he loves to cook at home

What is your favorite dish to prepare at home? Do you like to cook?

Well, I do. I love to cook at home. One of the greatest parts of my job is I get to work with a different chef every week, and I get to work with some of the greatest chefs in America, so they all teach me things. I go to my kitchen and I say, "Okay, this is what Tiffany Derry did last week, I want to try to mimic it." And so I've learned a lot. I've gotten pretty good. I make a pretty mad shrimp scampi, I make a great cacciatore, but I've got to tell you, I challenge anyone to grill a better steak than I.

What is your favorite birthday cake?

My favorite birthday cake? Oh man, I'm a white cake coconut guy. Nice, fluffy, yellow cake.

Coconut frosting as well?

Oh yeah, big time.

What makes the kitchens at Taffer's Tavern restaurants different, according to Jon Taffer

You've mentioned before that the kitchens at Taffer's Tavern restaurants are set up differently than standard restaurants. What is different or revolutionary about them?

Well, it's all very computerized for one. But what we did in Taffer's Tavern, and we started this pre-pandemic, about three years ago, we realized that the restaurant industry has had labor problems for many years. This is not new.

We've always had problems finding employees. Pre-pandemic, this was an issue. During the Trump administration when unemployment got really low, it got disastrous for us, we were really hurting just before the pandemic hit. So, I said, "Boy, I've got to figure out a way to replace some people with technology, because I can't get the people. I have no choice." We tried to create systems and computerization processes in the kitchens that would standardize food preparation and lower our need for people and training. So, working with a company called Cuisine Solutions, we created a very high-quality sous vide distribution line for our product. All of our product comes in these sous vide bags that's cooked sous vide.

We can take a piece of meat, sous vide it, season it, put it in a bag and cook it to a perfect medium-rare in our water ovens. Then we can take that perfect juicy, medium-rare piece of meat that cooked in its own juices, and then we put it into a customized oven that chars the outside of it and finishes it off perfectly. When we're finished, it's pretty spectacular. But it also is half the cooking time than a normal restaurant steak, it's more consistent than a normal restaurant steak, and it's really flavorful. We stumbled on a really unbelievably fast, efficient, and delicious way to prepare our foods. Every oven, every piece of cooking equipment is computerized. Times are all preset by computer and the product is 100% consistent coming in, the cooking is consistent, so it's 100% consistent coming out. It's really very cool.

And consistency across all restaurant locations as well, it sounds like if you're using the same technology.

Absolutely. You bet. What used to be days of training is now hours of training. That's a big deal. And where we used to need seven people in the kitchen, here, we only need three people in the kitchen. And getting people today is so hard, so as an industry, we have to solve these things.

What is your opinion on ghost kitchens? Do you think we'll start seeing more of this concept pop up. We're starting to, but do you think it'll take off even further?

I think it will. When we look at the power of delivery today, before [the] pandemic, for a lot of companies, delivery on many of these fast casual chains would've been 5% of revenue maybe. People are anticipating that post-pandemic, when everything sort of levels off, we're still going to be at 20 to 30% delivery. Think about that, what used to be 5% of revenue is now 30% of revenue. So that makes ghost kitchens more attractive. Because the problem is, imagine this, if I have a full restaurant, and 50 delivery orders come in, I could get overloaded. And so delivery puts a production burden on a restaurant today that it never used to have, so ghost kitchens could be solutions for that. It's also an opportunity for brands to have a presence in the city for just delivery without having to invest in a restaurant, right? So you can have Molly's Pizza anywhere, just in a ghost kitchen, no restaurant, have your website and your delivery service and you're in business.

You can now find the first dish from Jon Taffer's new "Enjoy at Home with Taffer's Tavern" line, the Signature Beef Shank, at Costco.