The Red Hot Bar Owner Chris Miller

hosted by
marguerite martin


A photo of four different hot dogs with all the fixins from The Red Hot

About This Episode

Chris Miller from The Red Hot joins us to share about 17 years of running one of Tacoma's most popular bars. He talks about starting bar in Tacoma, all the lessons he's learned along the way, and advice he has for other people with a dream of opening a bar in Tacoma.

Get Personal Guidance founder Marguerite has been a real estate agent in Tacoma since 2005. She knows Tacoma neighborhoods and she knows local real estate agents. She can connect you to agents who are experts in the neighborhood you're looking in, at no cost to you!

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Episode Transcript

Introduction to the Move to Tacoma Podcast interview between Marguerite Martin and Chris Miller of The Red Hot on Tacoma’s 6th Avenue.  

This is Channel 253. Move to Tacoma! On this episode of Move to Tacoma. Those bars, they would serve like hot dogs or like, you know, just bologna sandwiches or just, just something and I was, so when I opened up the Red Hot and I was like, I’m gonna have this tavern. So I gotta be able to serve some food, like that’s a good traditional like tavern food and I didn’t think I would.

Sell that many. Holy. Oh my gosh. That’s wild to hear. Yeah, I was like, I was like, you know Maybe we’ll sell like a couple dozen a week Channel 253 is member supported I’m producer Doug Mackey and I hope you will show your support by going to channel 253 comm slash membership and join. Thank you We’re back I’m Marguerite and I want you to To move to Tacoma.

Move to Tacoma. Move to Tacoma. Move to Tacoma. You like it? Move to Tacoma. Move to Tacoma. Move to tacoma com. I’m Marguerite and this is the Move to Tacoma podcast. And I’m here today with Chris Miller from The Red Hot. Welcome Chris. Thank you. Uh, I’m very excited to have you on the podcast. Uh. The Red Hut is a renowned Tacoma institution now.

Thank you. It’s a 6th Avenue, you know, what’s the, what’s the word, like, I want to say dream story, but a success story, like you’ve been around, I don’t even know, how long is it, over 10 years, right? It’s 17 years. 17 years. Yeah, or, uh, We just had our 16th anniversary. So we’re in our 17th year. Wow.

When did Chris move to Tacoma and why?

Congratulations. Thank you. And I have so many questions about how you have made that possible. Sure. But first, I’d love to ask when you moved to Tacoma and why? I moved to Tacoma, it was either 1998, I think. Um, I I worked in construction. I was a carpenter, and I, uh, whenever I moved to Washington State in the early 90s, I lived in Kitsap County.

Um, and I started building, and so started, uh, working in like Tacoma, Olympia, Seattle, and it sort of became a thing where when I moved to Olympia, I lived there for a short time. I ended up working in downtown Seattle. So commuting, you know, and then working up in Everett and things like that. So I got tired, so I moved up to Seattle.

And then when I lived in Seattle, somehow I ended up working like in Olympia. And so it was like this back and forth on I 5. You know, through all my travels, um, I realized, like, Tacoma was pretty, like, centrally located for Puget Sound, so you could get to, well, in those days, uh, which is weird to say, but you could get to Kitsap County, Olympia, Seattle, 30 minutes, like, pretty much anywhere you needed to be for work, and so I was like, oh, I’ll just move to Tacoma, and, uh, so, yeah, that’s what I did, and, um, just, I was, I used to play in bands and things as well.

And so the band I was in at the time, our drummer, they lived here in Tacoma. So it was like roommate situation. Perfect. And so, yeah, that’s, that’s when I moved to Tacoma. That’s awesome. So you still live in Tacoma, I assume? I do. I’ve been here ever since. Yeah, I’ve never left since. I always liked Tacoma.

Um, it’s different these days, but then, well, I mean. all people who have either long term residence or people who are from here. I was like Tacoma aroma. It’s just like so over hearing that. Um, so like Tacoma, it was like Really looked down upon in, in, and that’s the late nineties. And I know for some people listening, that was a long time ago, but it wasn’t that long ago.

It’s like 10 years ago. So it was just sort of this, you know, underdog sort of place. And yeah, things were priced a lot differently then. And, um, yeah, so I moved here then and, uh, started, I lived in a house in the North end. And, um, Yeah, from there, I just started moving out and I’ve lived in the north end.

What neighborhood do you live in?

I live in Hilltop now. That’s where I’m staying and I love it here. What do you like about your neighborhood? It’s when I lived in the north and I wasn’t a fan. I knew. Controversial. Yes. Love to hear that. Love to hear that. Tell the people. I knew. Just a few of my neighbors. Um, and a lot of people kept to themselves.

Again, I was, um, you know, younger, goofball, drinking beer on the porches, listening to records loud, having band practice at the house, things like that. So, you know, from the outside looking in, maybe that was why. But, um, I was always respectful. I liked meeting my neighbors, but, um, I didn’t really know them or Didn’t really get along with some of them, I guess, uh, and then, um, I ended up, uh, when I, you know, as time went on and, uh, we opened up the Red Hut, I, I immediately moved to Hilltop and I’ve been, hold on, let me think here.

I opened up Red Hot in August of 07 and I moved into my house in May of 08. And I’ve been there ever since. And I like it there because immediately when I moved in, like, my neighbor came to the fence and was like, Hey, who are you? Blah, blah, blah. Like, I can’t believe you bought this junkie house. And, um, Yeah, and then I met all my neighbors and even the neighbors that you don’t know, like on a personal level or don’t know their names per se, um, like if you go on vacation, they’ll be like, Hey, someone was at your house two days ago.

Like everybody sort of like looks out for each other there. That’s awesome. Yeah, it’s pretty like, I don’t know, it’s just friendly. And, um, like I said, I know all my neighbors. And, um, yeah, I don’t know. Just a better. I don’t know, vibe? That’s the word the kids use these days. Uh, yeah, it’s been great. I love it there.

I love all my neighbors and it’s been a great time. That’s awesome. So, uh, we have something in common. My last job, before I started in real estate, I was a union sheet rocker. 1144 in Renton. Yeah. Um, it was just for a year. It was the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life. I was carpenters, 1592, and then 480 later.

How did Chris go from being a carpenter to owning one of the coolest bars in town.

So I’m curious. Uh, how you went from being a carpenter to owning one of the coolest bars in town. How did that happen? So, yeah, so, I was, um, I worked for a couple big companies, uh, did like commercial construction like Union Carpentry and things like that, um, and that was a good gig for a while, but then I started getting into, like, cabinets, finish work, um.

Which also means not working outside. Um, uh, so that was a plus. Do you get to start later than like 6. 30am when you do that too? No, I still started early. But it was, you know, I guess one of those jobs, like if you’re good, like you make some good money and yeah, I made good money, but I was also young and so I don’t really have anything to show for it other than a lot of stories, but, um, so I had, I was doing that, it’s pretty well established and just kind of, I was working for myself and I guess like a hired gun for other people, um, just whenever they would need things, had a pretty good reputation.

Yeah. and network here in Tacoma. And, um, but then I was working for a company in West Seattle and there, um, Safety policies were not up to snuff. Not OSHA compliant? And, um, you know, I was always the loud mouth, like, Yo, you need to, like, tighten this up. This is not, it’s not good. Blah, blah, blah. Like, I always look out for, you know, my crew and stuff.

But anyway, so I was in a work related accident. I had a Pretty horrific spinal injury. And so, that was pretty much it for construction. So, I have like, it’s a permanent depil Not depilitating, um, Oh, I can’t think of the word.

Disabling? No, well yeah, it gets like worse as you go. I have a lot of nerve damage and stuff like that. Anyway, um, so I was laid up for like a year. And I couldn’t really do anything. Um. And so yeah, you have a lot of time to think. And I was just like, I had, you know, I had done carpentry straight out of high school.

So I had like zero skills. Um. And I was just like, you know, what am I going to do and started putting it together.

A family business

My older brother, he had started, uh, like a family business, um, over in Kitsap County. He had ended up moving over there to open up like a bar up there. And I was just like, you know, as most people with older brothers, like when you don’t know what to do, like, well, what did they do?

And so, like, he’s always been, um, Good for that. And I was just like, well, I’m gonna open up a bar too. And that was it. That was pretty much, you know, I, a lot of luck. Um, good credit and family members who would, uh, Take a chance on you, I guess. Okay. So this, this part, I really do want to dig into if you’re willing, because I think, I mean, there’s a lot of people that have a dream of like, I’d love to open a bar, have my friends come in and it’d be so cool.

This, there’s a space in my neighborhood. I want to be the one to. Fill it, you know, the fantasy, right? Okay. And then of the people that have that fantasy, maybe 10 percent start poking around. And of those 10%, maybe 0. 5, 0. 5 percent actually go into a bank or whatever and try to figure it out. And I’m, I’ve always been so curious, like, what are the numbers like on getting started?

You said good credit, but like, yeah. So one thing my parents always established in us was like, um, Hey, uh, and it, pardon, it could be different now because I’m not in that position, but it was. You know, if you have good credit, you can borrow money. Yeah. And, you know, my dad was always like, Don’t miss your bills.

Don’t rack up credit. Which, you know, of course I didn’t listen. But, I ended up fixing that. And, um, I started looking around at it’s spaces. And the f The first, uh, version of the Red Hot we opened right next door to where we are now, and it was 997 square feet. That includes the bathroom. Oh, that includes the kitchen?

That was everything. Oh, I don’t remember it being that small. There was no kitchen, it was all just one room. Oh, God. And, um, so I was just like, okay, I’m gonna put And in those days And maybe I’m wrong. Like, I’m not claiming to be a trailblazer, but smaller bars did not exist in this town that I’m aware of.

Maybe 1022? Were they open yet? I don’t think they were. I can’t recall, to be honest. I know, like, Doyle’s opened up like a year before us, so it was sort of And then Tempest, I think, was after you. Yeah, Denise, yeah. They were bigger than you, too. But And the only reason I say that it, I know it was, it didn’t seem small to me.

I was like, Oh, it seems like plenty of room, but everybody who came in was like, Oh my God, what are you doing? And I was just like, Oh, I’m opening up a, like a beer bar. And everyone’s like, here, it’s not going to work. And I was just like, Oh my God, I had just, my parents had like kind of stepped up and helped.

You know, we had pretty much our budget was on credit cards. Okay, so this is what I want to dig into this. Oh, yeah I mean, okay, so you had good credit so you say okay, so I could borrow money But like how much money do you need to open a bar? You’re saying like we looked around at spaces Yeah, there’s not really commercial realtors that like Take you around town.

How did he find the space for his bar?

It’s not like buying a house, right? So how did you even, can we start at the beginning? I just drove around looking for signs. You drove around looking for, for lease signs in windows, like empty storefronts. Yeah. And then you would just call the sign. Yeah. And people actually answer the phone and tell you how much it costs to rent it.

Yeah. The first place we looked at was, Taco Time is there now, but there used to be a Winchell’s Donuts there. Yeah. Yeah. Just right around the corner. So I looked at that one. That was really small. Um, and we looked at, uh, oh gosh, where else? We looked at some place down by, like, where City Bike is now. City Bike used to be different, uh, smaller spaces that they made into one.

We looked at a space in there. Gosh, where else? We looked in a space that is now I think State Street Pizza? Oh, yeah. I think so. Such a cute spot, too. That is a great spot. Yeah. But yeah, I just called, and the building we’re in now, it’s the same landlord still. They’re just, um, Private company, two, like, brothers, who just own, like, own buildings.

And they were like, yeah, we’ll show it to you. And that was pretty much it. Like, like I said, when I look back, I’m like, I don’t know if I could do it now. It doesn’t always work that way. I definitely couldn’t do it for the budget. Right, okay, so back then the leases were less. Yeah, yes. Oh my gosh, yes.

Shockingly less, yes. And that’s what I mean, like, um, it was just like a sort of a right, right time, right place type of thing. So you make your budget, you say, okay, like Uh, for this space, it’s going to cost us 4, 000 a month or something. So that means I have to sell. It was less than that. It was less than that.

Okay. Uh, so like, I say 2, 000. I mean, it doesn’t really matter. Like the question is like, so you figure, okay, 2, 000, it’s going to cost me 5, 000 a month for labor to have people working in this bar. And so then I need to sell like a thousand hot dogs a month. Like, how do you do that? Yeah. Pretty much like that.

It works like that. Everything was like, You know, again, I had a background in construction, but still, like, the plans I submitted were all hand drawn on graph paper. Everything that But who did you have to submit plans to? The city. The city. Yeah. All, anything that had to be written up, like, I did everything.

And I didn’t do it on a computer, like, I hand wrote everything out. To say to people listening, like, you don’t, it’s not like when you rent an apartment. When you rent the space, it’s like a shell, right? Yes. So then you have to spend the money to build the bar, put in the pumps, put in the kitchen appliances, right?

How did you finance the bar starting up?

Like, so did you get a loan from a bank? You say you put it, did you stuck it on credit cards? Everything was on credit cards. You’re crazy, that’s wild. My parents were crazy. Because that was sort of the thing, I was like, listen, I don’t have any money, like, uh, but I can build it. And even though I’m like, I have this horrific spinal injury, I can, I can make it, I can figure it out.

Yeah, you can go at your own pace. It’s just gonna take me a long time, and you know, had some friends from the industry would come help. Wow. But um, I was like, that’s, like, I’ll put in all the sweat equity. And like, my folks were there right next to me, you know, like, they helped. And when we opened, I didn’t know, really, that we would need staff.

Oh. I was just like, well, that’s just what I’m gonna do. And my parents were like, oh, work behind the bar. And, you know, it wasn’t a thing that any of us had done regularly. Um, and so we just sort of went into it blindly. It was really, and everyone’s like, well, why did you decide on beer and hot dogs? And I was like, I like beer and hot dogs.

I’m like, that was it. And the beer industry in those days was sort of in a formative period. And so I had more knowledge than some, but not as most. In fact, when I opened, um, This is how little knowledge I had. Uh, these three people came in, and they would come in every day, and they’re like, Oh, we’re from the Parkway, and I was like, Oh, what’s the Parkway?

Like, I had no idea. And they were just right down the street. And I had lived in Tacoma for years. For those who are listening that may not know what the Parkway is, that’s where the beer nerds hang out. Yeah, so I was just like, you know, sort of, um, I guess blissfully ignorant, which probably saved me from a lot of things, because if I had known , you know, the ri how huge the risks that I was.

Oh my gosh. Like, I probably wouldn’t have done it. So it was just sort of, again, like there was a lot of luck involved and a lot of just, um, this is what I’m gonna do and I just have to make it happen. And that was pretty much it. Did you reach a point in those early days where you were like, oh, oh yeah. I didn’t think we would, you know, the hot dog thing was just like, um, well I just need, you know, like.

What inspired the beer and hot dogs bar idea?

So, I’m originally from South Carolina. That’s where I, where I was born and where I grew up. And, you know, it’s backwoods as hell there. So kids can go into bars. And so, like, you know, you would go into bars with your uncles or whatever and like, You know, it was just like a thing and like you’d play video games while they were drinking beer and playing pool.

Yeah. And um, I was just like, Oh, remembering back to those days, you know, those bars, they would serve like hot dogs or like, you know, just bologna sandwiches or just, just something. And I was, so when I opened up the Red Hot and I was like, Oh, I’m going to have this tavern. So I got to be able to serve some food.

Like that’s a good traditional, like. Tavern food, and I didn’t think I would sell that many holy. Oh my gosh. That’s wild to hear Yeah, I was like, I was like, you know, maybe we’ll sell like a couple dozen a week How many do you sell a week now a lot Thousand I don’t

Yeah, we sell a lot like for sure But And again, like so I was working, you know You know, pretty much in double every day, five days a week. And then on the sixth day, I would pretty much do all the admin stuff. And like I said, like looking now and then like my cash register, the only reason I had that cash register, cause it was the cheapest one you could get at Costco, you know, it had four buttons like categories and I only used one of them, like, I didn’t know what I was doing.

And, um. So that was it. I would just like worked. Um, I was also recently married. So at the same time as I opened up the red hot, um, and uh, my wife, she pretty much carried me like, and we had a daughter at the time. And so she just shouldered everything paid for everything. So, you know, again, for everyone’s like, Oh, I’m going to start a visit.

Like I made, I was working. Um, Uh, about 16 hours a day, 5 days a week, at the bar, and I brought home 250 bucks a month, or a week. Oh my gosh. 250 bucks a week. That wasn’t like my paycheck. Cause I was like, I have to make something. Like I can’t do the, whatever’s left over I’ll keep, cause as many will find out, there’s, there is no left over.

So you have to like, make a, you know. So I did that for a really long time. And so my wife, she pretty much just carried our new family, so. Dang. Um, and that’s what we did for a long, I think for the first year was like that, uh, just pretty much putting in the work and, you know, some miserable times, but that’s, you know, when you have like a life changing injury or whatever, it’s just like, like, this has to work.

I don’t have anything else that I could figure it, you know, so, um, yeah, and it started working out and like both my parents used to work shifts behind the bar and we hired, um, Like one staff member. And then I was just like, I need more people to work here. Like, I didn’t think it would be like this busy.

How he made the bar business work

So again, like how unprepared and how lucky I got is pretty extraordinary. So I think just, you know, being there constantly and just trying to build this thing. That’s sort of, I, you know, at least in my head, I like to think that’s what helped us get there. But. Yeah, so we just started like slowly growing from there, so we we have very different businesses.

Yeah, I’ve been in business Like 20 years. I know a lot of other like small business people and like what you’re describing that thing of like, I’m gonna go in for business by myself. Yeah, I’m gonna run the show. And then one day you realize like, Oh my God, I have purchased myself a very low paying job.

Yeah. And that pivot point of like, okay. I need to, I need to make this much a month. How am I going to shuffle this around so that it can actually provide? So how did you figure out how to take it from, you know, a job that you bought where your whole family worked with you and your wife was carrying everything to something that provides for your family?

Like, how do you, how do you, how did you, I mean, it’s, you still only have bears and hot dogs to work with, right? So like, how do you change? It was more popular than we thought. And then it was just, um. You know, like, at the time, to, you know, like, the music I played, like, I was, you know, I, my brother was in bands, I was in bands, and so we would just, you know, we played bands that, Weren’t being played at other bars.

We didn’t have a jukebox, you know, we had a cheap stereo and you know That was something that wasn’t available then and so that played like a small part in it And then so people come to listen. Yeah the music and it was just like a different sort of atmosphere which Anybody who opens up? A bar, a restaurant learns is that, you know, you’re not just selling your product, you’re selling an experience.

Yeah. And that’s the only thing that’s going to keep people coming back. So, like, you look at long, like, the Parkway, or if you look at Magoo’s, or, like, you know the experience you’re going to get, and that’s why those bars have been there for that amount of time, so. They’re so consistent. I started, like, okay, this is what I need, I need to do this, I need to, you know.

The important of other bar owners in Tacoma to his success

And then there were people. Um, I’ve said before, uh, but like, um, Jack from the Swiss and Russ from Doyle’s were like incredibly, uh, welcoming and helpful and other people too, but, um, those guys were always just like, even when you didn’t say anything, they would be, you know, and Russ had just started a year prior to, but, you know, I, he was still seen as like a mentor, you know, and he would just be like, um, Um, It’s going to get easier.

Like, you know, you didn’t want to even say anything, but he, he could, I’m sure see that look in my eyes, you know? And so, um. Yeah, so we pretty much just started to do things that would, you know, make that experience better. And so when we hired staff, we didn’t hire servers. In fact, when we started, I think everybody I hired was a barista.

Yeah, and it was just to do something different because, you know, most baristas at that time, because it wasn’t like the coffee culture there is now. Um, but, you know, they were very customer focused and things like that. And so, and again, our space was small and it was different and, you know, this thing that People’s like, it’s so tiny.

No one’s gonna come to this closet bar, which and in my head I’m like, but on the East Coast like these pocket bars are pretty common and kind of appeal, isn’t it? Yeah, and like also that’s how You know, like I want to open up a bar restaurant. Why can’t lease? 5, 000 square feet I can rent 997 though, you know and just kind of like make that happen.

So like our capacity when we started was 24 people So 24 people How do you, and you’re open six days a week, how do you, how do you make a living off of 24 people at a time? I fit more than 24 people. Interesting. Off the record. Yeah, off record. We had one night and we had 104 people in there and I was like, I was like, this is unsafe.

And not okay. So you start doing things differently. But, um, it just became like, again, you know, what else happened at this, um, Dockyard Derby Dams had just started up. That’s where I met my wife. And so like, We would like. And this is the roller derby team for those listening. So they were, you know, grassroots at that time, too.

I mean, not that they aren’t in now. Yeah. They had just started and so they were like, we need a space to do events. Well, go with Chris. And so, you know, I got to do events with them. And those were like some of our first events that we had done and, um, So that was like a big help. And so then it was like this big group of people who maybe aren’t into beer or maybe aren’t into hot dogs were exposed to our place.

And then, so we started, you know, doing other things like that and just word of mouth. And again, um, you know, at that time there wasn’t, there wasn’t the Bar culture or food like restaurant culture that we have now So there wasn’t a lot of space like 6th Ave then was like not what 6th Ave Was or is like it was a lot different and um, so Yeah, it was just again.

I’m not Not downplaying anybody’s work, but like we lucked out in a lot of ways and we lucked out with, you know, who we hired and how they treated people and, you know, um, I guess just tried to, um, we came at it from a customer standpoint where it’s like, where would I want to hang out like this? So that’s what I, you know, that’s what I’m going to create.

And we’ll just do all this wacky stuff and listen to this. And I don’t know, just. Yeah. So that’s sort of what happened. It just kind of like took off. So we did that. And then, you know, uh, you would get a write up and like the TNT, like Sue Kidd is another person who helped us out tremendously. And she championed us.

And so that, you know, I know when you get a write up in the paper now, like it’s great for business and help, but like then it was. The internet wasn’t as prevalent as it is now. You didn’t have Instagram influencers doing food reviews all the time. No, no, there was no influencers. But, um, so Sue would write and then it was just like, man, you could, some days it would just be like so busy and you’re like, what happened?

What caused them to take off and be found by the Tacoma Community in a pre-social media era

Like somebody wrote something. Dang. And so, so Sue Kidd was always like a huge help. Um, and then like the Weekly Volcano. Yeah. They would do write ups and stuff and that’s like. That’s when, like, Matt Driscoll used to work there. Yeah. Yeah. Matt Driscoll, who’s now the head of the editorial board at the News Tribune.

So, and then there was also just the community of Tacoma, which is another reason I stayed here. And so, then there was, we sort of got latched on by, I don’t know the correct term, but like the creative class, I guess, at the time, and a lot of people who were, Civic minded and like proud of Tacoma and a lot of those people it’s not around anymore, but there used to be a thing called Exit 133.

Oh, yeah, and there was a blog about Tacoma. Yeah, I wish it was back it was such a great resource, but um a lot of the people there like Kevin and James Stowe and the beautiful Engel guys and You know who were organizing Like, they used to have the Frost Park Chalk Off, which was organized. That was started by Ari Anderson and Kevin.

Yep, yep. And, um, I remember they started like, um, I don’t even, it wasn’t Didn’t they have like a nerdy drawing club? Was that, was that at your place? I don’t know if that was at your place. I don’t remember. But a lot of people who were early on I guess like fixtures on that website or that blog message board type thing Ended up I remember a whole group of them came to the red hot one day and they you know This is the infancy of social media.

Yeah, and so all of them wrote, you know, so things like that were And it was just, our name was getting around fast. And it was just, you know, like this unique sort of weird little bar, um, on 6th Ave in Tacoma. And so that’s where we started, like, gaining traction. And then I was like, okay, now I need to hire more people.

Which then, I think, like, you know, it was like, We talked out of that space, I think at eight people and I was like, wow, we’re big time, like eight people and that includes me, you know, so I was like, well, for 900 square feet, that is. Yeah. So it was just, you know, kind of, kind of crazy. And then also getting the word out again, social media wasn’t around.

And I remember, um, Twitter had just started. And I remember, well, I was like, Oh, I’m gonna get a Twitter account. And then people are like, What, what are you doing? Didn’t you used to tweet the beers? Yeah. Oh, that’s right. Yeah. Every, every time we tapped in UK. Yes. Yeah. Because I, you know, we didn’t even have a website then.

Um, we have a website now where our beers. It’s like a real time tap list, so you can look at it, and whenever we change a keg, we change the website. But then, we didn’t have that, and so I was like, well, I’m just gonna, um, I saw like bars in California doing it. But like, nobody was really on Twitter then. It was just like, and it wasn’t, you know, what it became or what it is now.

Um, but people were like, that’s such a waste of time. Like, you know, and I was just like, no, this is going to be something like, and we started doing that and then we like, Facebook was always sort of. like a necessary evil still is. Um, but yeah, so we started doing that. And, but yeah, the tab changes, hashtag on tap tack.

That’s what we used. And, um, so it’ll always be like, um, put on so and so. And then in parentheses replaced so and so so you would know what beer was gone. And I remember a lot of the veteran bar keeps at the time were upset because they’re like, no, because now people know that their favorite beer is off.

They’re not going to come. And I’m like, no, like that’s you’re missing the point. You know, we’re just like, I’m trying to keep people checking the beer weather. Yeah. Like liquids, you know, so yeah, I think all those things sort of help, but definitely. A lot of luck, and not just luck, but like, I lucked out with good staff who were just into it.

Yeah. You know, and wanted to, like, were pretty pumped on the idea and, you know, kind of what we were doing. So, and still to this day. Definitely, if anyone’s thinking of opening a business, your number one resource will always be your staff. And like, if you don’t take care of your staff, you’re, you’re not going to succeed.

Unless you’re like some huge corporate entity with enough money that it doesn’t even matter. But, yeah, so. That’s sort of where, I think, what we forged in the earlier days that we still carry with us. But yeah, that, the sort of, uh, extenuating circumstances that I just sort of You know, or we sort of lucked out on, um, as we went along the journey and, uh, that’s, yeah.

That’s great. Doug is giving me the sign that we need to take a break. Okay. We’ll be right back. Hi, this is Eric Handberg of Channel 253, and I want to thank you for listening to this podcast and all of the podcasts that we have in the network. Yeah, this is producer Doug echoing that thanks and also saying that if you would like to support us with the membership Please go to channel comm slash membership and join its 4 a month or 40 a year And it pretty much is the sole reason that we can come to you now with podcasts We are listener supported you can help keep the microphones running 4 a month 40 a year channel 2 5 3 comm slash membership if you want to check it out and again if you’re a member Thank you.

Move to Tacoma! And we’re back. So we’ve been talking about the late aughties, 07, 08, 09, the start of your, of your bar keep career, and how different Tacoma was then, how different 6th Ave was, how different the social media atmosphere was. What is the same?

That’s a really good question. Um. Nothing. Here’s like, here’s the skeptic in me coming out. Is the city’s willingness to work with, um, I guess entrepreneurial minded people. Like people like me who were just. Some goofball who was like willing to, you know, like a lot of people who want to open up businesses is like, you have an idea that you believe in and you’re just like, I’m just going to do it.

But this, you know, there’s so many roadblocks that. Are there that I guess made sense at it. They still do. I think a lot of them are put in place to, you know, to keep everything on the up and up, but there’s a lot of things that I think could be revisited or put in place for someone who wants to open a business.

And it’s like there has to be a better. Sorry if I’m getting off topic, but no, I mean, I’m imagining you’re talking about like permitting. Yeah, permitting and you know, uh, yeah. Here’s the thing, people in all of our 17 years there have been like, Why don’t you serve french fries? I hear that shit. Sorry. I hear that all the time and it’s like because to have friars we would, our space isn’t built out for friars, which means we would need a bigger grease trap.

Right. And to do anything of size we would need a grease vault. Now this is what was told to me by the city. Things might have changed, but I doubt it. Anyway, it was like, I mean, to even think about it, it was going to be 50, 000. And like, that’s an excruciating amount of money for anybody. Yeah, how do you make that back one fry at a time?

That’s what I mean, I’m like, you know how many french fries I would have to sell to make back, you know, that investment? And then, that’s also something that stays, because it’s buried in the ground outside. And it’s like so if your business doesn’t make it you can’t take it with you. Yeah You know what? I mean, and you’re still gonna be on the hook for it And so things like that, but a lot of people who are like, I’m gonna open up a restaurant and they’re like I’ll just have I’m gonna do french fries and then you’re just like, holy hell Yeah, like it there’s a lot more to it and it’s not just The fact of getting it in, you know, this grease system put in, but it’s like now you’re looking at, you know, permitting, and then you’re also getting into land use with however many, what your capacity is and what you’re used for that building, how you’re going to get your certificate of occupancy, and there’s like all these things that are stacked, but like there’s no like morning.

It’s like, hey, if you’re going to get into this, yeah. Here, like you need to know this first, because a lot of people will, you know, will have their space leased, will have their plans approved to move in, but not their operating plans, like not their, you know, mechanicals and things like that. And now it’s like, now you have this roadblock.

So it’s like change your business plan, your menu, or, you know, things like that, or come up with something on the fly. By the way, you’re still paying your rent. You know, that doesn’t stop. So it’s like, I’ve seen a few businesses in town that have succumbed to that. Um, us, like, again, I don’t know how we ever made it out, but when we moved from our small space to our big space, Um, so there was no accessible entrance.

And then the way, so I was like, okay, well, I’m going to put in a ramp at my front door. But, and there are You know, being a carpenter, there’s, you know, those ramps have to be, like, a certain length for however long, you know, to get however high they’re going. Okay, so it’s not going to be out the front door because there’s easements for the sidewalk, and the sidewalks are public property.

So you can’t encroach on that, and so, okay, I’ll put it out my back door. Well, my back door, there was a step up, so it ended up, like, I had to The building had to be outfitted with a new parking lot. Okay, so that was like, huge cost. And our building owner, this is another thing, a lot of people like, it depends on what your lease is.

A lot of people’s building owners are like, Oh, I’ll just invest that in my building and keep it. A lot of building owners will just be like, Oh, well, all the tenants are paying for that over the stretch of, you know. Through your triple nets and that’s a whole other thing. Anyway, so they’re almost done so I’m like freaking out about this parking lot, you know, increase.

Literally all the equipment was done grading and they’re about to pave that sucker. And someone hit something in the dirt and it was an oil tank. And it was a 800 gallon oil tank that was buried right outside our back door. For people listening, that’s because they used to heat with oil. And so there’s all these decommissioned oil tanks all around.

Or some of them are decommissioned. Some of them are just there and nobody knows they’re there. yeah. So we had, you know, so then that’s now an environmental thing. So, you know, back in the day, you used to be able to just fill them up with concrete, but they don’t let you do that. There’s a process. So, you know, you don’t have any warning of that.

And I think, you know, it’s something that could be like, Hey, if we run into issues with the land, like, or maybe if you’re going to sign a lease, you should have something in place that’s going to protect you or things like that. Um, so that, you know, then what else we had to do? I had to earthquake proof the building when I moved over there because we are going to have a capacity of 75 and that changed the use of the building.

So who, how many people could occupy the space more or less? So, and then the city was like, well, you have to, um. Make it earthquake proof, and you might as well just do the whole building and not just your space, which, I mean, makes sense from a city point of view, but not from, you know, I was like flying high, I was like, hey, we’re able to expand, I have this amount of money that I can do it with, again, purely on credit, uh, and bam, then we get hit with like all this, um, Structural that we had to do and like, oh, it was just insane.

And then, oh, we’ll put in a new, we had to upgrade our gas line. We had to put in a new gas main for our entire building. And it was like, well, in case another restaurant opens, that was the reason given to me. And I was like, this just isn’t. This just doesn’t make sense, you know, like I’m having to upgrade to make all these upgrades for my business.

Why am I doing them for? Potentially and this wasn’t coming from my you know, my land my landlords are great Like yeah, they’ve been great partners to work with but it was just like these are all things that came from the city And I’m like these there are things that should have been discussed during plan review Yeah, things like that and even plan review.

I only knew about because I had been building my entire life Yeah, there’s all these like Dark corners of how you actually have to go about it and, um, I don’t think a lot of warning is really given to a lot of people and especially when you’re just, you know, just some average citizen of Tacoma that wants to, like, cut out your piece and try to make it and then it’s just like, you know, again, you’re already financially in it and now it’s like now you have to decide on the fly and I’m like really, you know, if we’re going to be a city where, you know, I see a lot of time our city is, well, you’re in real estate, you know, like, how do you sell the city?

It’s like, look at all these great independent businesses, you know, like that’s the thing that does it. That’s the fabric of Tacoma, you know, and it’s like, uh, yeah, well, we should, um. Foster that. Yeah, it’s the tension, right? Yeah. It’s because, you know, that’s why people move here. That’s why people stay here.

That’s why people who grew up here stay here, right? Because it’s special. It is. So other people come because it’s special. Yes. And then that makes things more expensive. Yep. Which makes it hard to keep things special. Yeah. And the government agencies figure out, wow, it’s way easier to work with like a private equity firm or a corporation than it is to work with some guy that hurt his back and wants to start a bar.

Yes. It’s way easier to work with those guys. Yeah. And they’re bank financing. And so the systems get set up for, not for people that are, like you say, entrepreneurial locals that want to have a dream. And again, I’m not, you know, the city has also been good to work with on a lot of things, you know. Um, but I think if you’re going to sort of, um, foster this, um, you know, what you’re going to sell as a city in this sort of like fabric of, you know.

all these people who are invested in Tacoma just because it’s a great place to be. Um, there needs to be a little bit more Heads up, I guess. Now again, I’m not a city planner, or I don’t know the ins and outs. So funny, because I’m thinking, I think I need to have a city planner in here. Yeah. I think we need to talk about this.

I’d Like, I totally get it. You know, and there’s some things, like, I’m just probably ignorant to the fact, but But that’s the thing, right? Through my years in construction, and through my years as a business owner, and talking with other business owners, and business owners who Didn’t get to open. Well, and what could be done to demystify this more?

And I’m sure if you have men there, they’ll be like, Oh, but don’t you know about this PDF or this program? And it’s like, actually, no, nobody seems to know about it. So let’s talk about it. You know, I think now, like I haven’t had to pull a permit in a long time, but you used to be able just to go down there.

I don’t think you can do that anymore. I think it’s all online now, which makes it even more confusing. In fact, uh, my one good, when I was trying to open to get the new space opened, um, It was like, nobody would call me back. I literally just needed, like, I had done the checklist. I’m just waiting on every, for final approval.

And, uh, they’re like, oh, we’ll get back to you. And I was literally just like, you know, polishing the bar. And like, what can I do? Because you’re spending money every day. Yeah, I’m waiting to open. And I had the other space open at the same time. And so, finally, I, I just went down to the city, the county city building right there across, is it from, what, um, I can’t remember the name of it, Cider, Cedar?

Cedar and Cider. Cedar and Cider. Sorry about that. No, no, no. It’s been a long day. On Market Street. Yep. And I just like went to the permit counter and I just sat there and I was, you know, I’m a big goofy guy. And so I was, you take up a lot of space and I remember they’re like, Oh, well, um, they’re not here right now.

They’ll be with you. And I remember that day I was like, I’m going to wait right here. And they were like, yeah, you can have a seat. I was like, no, I’m going to stand here. Like I go, I’m really sorry. I’m not trying to make your day harder, but I’m pretty much on my last leg here. Like this city was hot dogs.

Someone needs to talk to me. I was like, I need approval now. And then they’re like, he’ll see you right now. And I got, you know, so it’s just like weird things like that. So there’s definitely good and bad, uh, things with the city, but I definitely think a lot more. Great businesses could be opened if there was, you know, an easier path.

I think, you know, we have programs like Spaceworks that are That’s what I was thinking. Yeah, you know, are trying to make that process easier. And there’s lots of great business that is coming out of there. And I’m like, that should be a bigger thing. Like, that should be a way bigger thing than it is. And that, you know, the city should realize, like, you know, it’s not corporations opening up businesses.

That, you know, like, you need to make it accessible for whoever, goofballs like me. So it occurs to me that we’ve been talking for quite some time. Yeah. I have not actually asked you to say, what is the Red Hot and what is the experience of eating there? Like, how would you describe it to somebody who hasn’t been there?

I’m just talking like everybody who’s listening has been to the Red Hot, which I assume 99 percent of them probably have. But if somebody has not yet been, what happens in there? We sell beer and hot dogs. So, for this reason, it was a good two years before I ever came because I’m a vegetarian. So I was like, oh, well, I’m not going to go to a hot dog place, obviously.

And everybody’s like, no! They have vegetarian hot dogs! So it’s not just like, meat sticks. Nope. We have a lot of vegetarian stuff. We have a large vegan menu as well. Vegan menu at the hot dog place! Um, and we will be adding to that. Probably in March. Um, I don’t know. We sort of, I think,

I guess one of the ideas, too, when we started was like, let’s take a simple idea and just Do it really, really well. Like go really deep. Yeah. Yeah. Like really deep. Yeah. Like, you know, I never went to college. How many different kinds of hot dogs are there? Like there’s like a lot. There’s like 20. We really don’t have a lot of time.

We don’t have enough time. Like the amount. I was about to say, I never went to college, but the amount of hot dog knowledge I have is pretty ridiculous. You have a doctorate in hot dogs now? It’s kind of ridiculous and, and, you know, beer as well. Like, it’s just so. However deep you want to take it, and that’s, you know, we We use like a, so our hot dogs, people are like, well, I can go to 7 Eleven and get a hot dog for a dollar, like, well, go ahead, like, hey, you know what?

I’ll eat a 7 Eleven hot dog too, but I know what I’m getting for my, you know, 2 or whatever they are. Oh, you don’t know what you’re getting, which is part of the charm. That’s part of the charm. Uh, so we use, um, like an all natural. Cased hot dog all beef naturally cased hot dog, which is essentially it’s like it’s a sausage So it’s gonna snap when you bite into it and things like that And it’s not a lot of the mystery meat that you find So in I guess is that thing like well, why is it?

You know, this much for a hot dog. Well, it’s not just all the guts and the elbows and you know, like it’s pretty much just like a meat processing plant who’s processing like beef brisket and like whatever the scraps they can’t put in that Like all the trimmings they’re gonna put in the hot dogs and things like that so it’s not just like mystery meat and gristle and weird stuff and um That’s what you’ll get, like, in fact, that’s a thing like in the hot dog industry, when you have a hot dog that is not cased.

Essentially what they do is they put all of the weird shit, weird stuff. Sorry, and, uh, blend it all up, emulsify it into a paste, stuff it into a casing, cook it, smoke it, and then take it out of the casing. Okay, you’ve just brought me to the pits of hell. Tell me what your hot dogs are again. Take me back out!

Take me back out! That sounds terrible! They’re essentially just like a single cut of meat, but they’re, um, they’re cased like a sausage, and they stay in that. You know, and you also get into Like, mechanically separated. If you ever, like, go to the grocery store, and you look on the back of your, you know, hot dogs, they’re all perfectly shaped the same, and it’d be, like, mechanically separated.

That’s where they get large chunks of things and put them through a grinder, and Soft stuff comes out on one side and the hard stuff comes out on the other, and sometimes they mix up, so that’s just like a really ill sort of way to process your food. You don’t want that. Yeah, so, um, it’s just, but, you know, again, hey, I love all hot dogs, and to me, again, why we tried to make it, you know, uh, an experience.

To, to go there, and is, it’s like, you can eat like a really crappy hot dog, but, you know, like at a ballpark, so delicious, you know, so I can appreciate all of them, but what we do at the Red Hot is try to serve like, hey, this is pretty much the best hot dog, in our opinion, that we can source, um, and that’s what we try to do, we just try to do, like, the best, we try, hey, you know, This ketchup’s good.

Well, we’re gonna make our own ketchup or this, you know, we we buy store bought ketchups as well But you know a lot of our sauces a lot of the other things we you know We do like Italian beef sandwiches and cheese steaks, you know on certain days of the week, you know We don’t just go by like Stuff we like get sirloins and we roast those and there’s like a it’s a couple day process Yeah, we slice it like it’s involved, you know, so we try to take like simple items But just like really focus and try to make them as you know, the best that we that we can so that’s sort of you know what we go for same with beer like and it’s not just the product but How we, you know, we hand wash all our glasses so that there’s no detergent buildup.

We do like cold rinsing so that the yield is better and that you have a better pour, you know, things like that. Just like we try to focus on like, here’s something, how can we make that better? And that’s what we try to do. So that’s sort of just the premise of what we do. So before we go, I would really love to ask, like, what advice do you have for somebody, like, starting out like you were back then?

I think you’ve given us a pretty, like, realistic take on, I mean, even for you back then when things were better, like, how hard it was. But, like, what would you tell somebody who’s like, you know, I want, I want, I have, I have a dream. Sure. Uh, one. Uh, check out the process a lot harder through the city, like protect yourself and your money through like what’s it really going to cost.

Talk with your landlord about, you know, or perspective landlord on, you know, how your lease is different. Learn what, um, triple nets are and how they are accrued. That’s a long. Topic to get into but and what’s even scarier is that some triple nets are figured differently It depends on who you go through.

So All those costs like really pay attention and look into it. And um also I only claimed I don’t know how to run a bar or restaurant. I only know how to run the Red Hot, or at least I try to. So I don’t claim to know everything. I’m just, I know what I, from experience only. But I think a lot of people have that, even who aren’t open, are like, Oh, do you have any advice?

I’m just like, yes, social media, social media, social media. It’s like, it’s free. And people talk about you. Yeah, and a lot of people are like, well that’s not really my thing. I’m like, well it needs to be your thing. Yeah. And it’s like, um, you know, and hey, we’re still learning. Like, we are posting on eight platforms now.

And it’s, people are like, well I’m not getting a lot of traffic. I’m like, did ten people look at it? Because that’s 10 people for free that wasn’t going to see it, you know. For sure. It’s just your time. People are like, oh, TikTok, that’s just not my thing. It’s like, TikTok needs to be your thing. You know, this is how you’re going to foster a group of people who are interested in what you’re doing.

And it’s free. Like, it’s just shocking to me that people are like, Oh, it’s just, it’s not going to do it. I’m going to go spend a thousand bucks on a quarter page ad. Which works, you know, and like, I, it depends on like what you’re doing and what you’re putting in your quarter page ad. Like, I think print media can still work in a lot of ways.

And, you know, like, I think too, we’re seeing like a resurgence back in, in media, not only in print, but like, you know, like. Blogs are absolutely coming back. I mean in a big way. From your lips to God’s ears. Yeah Hey You’ll see like we’re and we’re doing more trying to do more things, you know at the red hot to you like you’ll see Different media coming out from us this year and it’s just like you can never stop.

That’s what you know I don’t work behind the bar anymore I’m like a desk jockey pretty much. But I think that’s interesting. Like when you say like my advice for somebody is like, you know, know your numbers, like really learn the business, but also like embrace the marketing side of the business. No matter what you do, you’re a marketer, right?

Yeah. That’s really interesting. Yeah. Like, it’s really shocking to me that, and I know I, I’m sure I sound like a 48 year old dude, but it’s like, it’s free. Like, there’s so much, anything you do in operating a business costs money. Everything. I mean it’s, But that’s one lever you can pull that’s just your time.

You know, and it’s, yeah, and it’s like pretty, and you can even see, um, Like look at some of the newer businesses in Tacoma and there’s like side piece kitchen. Oh god I’m obsessed with their social media So good. It’s like I remember Haley who is one of the purveyors of side piece She was like, oh and in years when my body can’t Take the kitchen life anymore.

I mean, I was like, you should be teaching people how to do social media. Absolutely, for restaurants. Like, they’re that good. They are next level. And I think a lot, you know, and it’s tough even, you know, I, we do a lot of social media, but we’re not as personable as like side piece. That’s just because that’s how we started.

And it would be like pretty obvious if we changed our voice at this point. But like, I mean. They’re like a masterclass. Yeah. Like, Everybody follows Sidepiece Kitchen on, uh, Buddies Chicken and Waffles. Because they’re like friends. They’re Instagram friends and they like talk to each other. Yeah. Oh, I’m obsessed with them.

And so, um, but you know, there’s a lot of other businesses too. And like, you see businesses that have been around for a long time that are starting to embrace it too, which is good to see. And it’s like, which is, you know, like we all have our regs and, You know, people who are, you know, who constantly support you, but, you know, you’re a business too.

You’re going to need, you know, new people. Yeah. And so you should always be open to like, and that means younger people. And it’s like, I have. No problems, uh, admitting, like, I’m 48. I don’t know what a 24 year old is into, but, like, I try to understand, you know, and try to, like, well, this, you know, how to appeal, I guess, sort of, and just sort of being, you know, I, we just try to be as open as possible with it, you know, with what we do.

So on our social media, but, you know, things I, I can’t stress social media enough. And it was such a, a boost to us, like that goofy Twitter account, which we don’t use anymore. But, um, that’s another story, but, uh, it was like huge. And like people be like, Oh, I saw your Twitter, saw your Twitter, saw your Twitter, like constantly.

And then, you know, when Instagram came around, I was like, Oh, we better get on that. And people were like, you have to post pictures like every day. Well, yeah, that’s what you do, you know, and just like, um, so you can see too, you know, again, going back to a lot of the accounts in town, um, it just really, You know, you can put forth like a pride in your business in what you, how you represent yourself and things like that.

So again, that would, as far as people who are trying to open up a business, you know, again, just be careful with the city and with your landlord. And like, you know, these are. Contracts that you’re not getting out of once you sign them like that’s it. There’s no Like, oh, I made a mistake. Oh too bad Uh, but yeah, I think the biggest would be you know anything You know, you’re in real estate, like, social media, that changed the game for you guys, too.

Oh, yeah. Like, in a huge way. Yeah, well, and in a town the size of Tacoma. Yeah. Like, you’re really just, like, extending that sort of everybody knows everybody thing. You know, you’re just maintaining more relationships at once. Yes. And that’s amazing. Just, yeah. So, that would be, like, my big thing, yeah. I just can’t recommend it enough.

Well, thank you so much for coming on, Chris. Thank you. I think a lot of people are going to be really interested to hear how it all works behind the scenes. And, you know, not to be like Mr. Uh, nice guy, but I’ve always Anybody trying to open up a business in Tacoma is like free to because the city, um, you know, I think of one thing that’s changed.

Um, I’ve always been an ardent supporter of local business, but now more so than ever, ever since like shutdowns happened three years ago, like, um, independent business owners of Tacoma. It’s been a trial. And, um, so, yeah, supporting local businesses, and this is not a ploy to get people to come into my business, but any, Any local business.

Any local business. Whatever you’re buying, uh, you know, to me, my philosophy, if anything I need for work, If I, if I can’t find it on Sixth Ave, I look in the neighborhood. If I can’t find it in the neighborhood, I look in the city. If no one in Tacoma makes it, I look in, you know, Puget Sound area. If I can’t find it in Puget Sound, I’ll look in Washington State.

Like, I try to keep my money as close to Tacoma as possible. And that’s like, that’s a huge, huge benefit, especially for people like myself and all the buildings around us that are independently owned. It’s like, that money stays In, you know, in our neighborhoods, in our cities, and, um, so, it’s like I hate, you know, I’m not, and that’s not to say, um, businesses that come from outside Tacoma here, it’s like, that’s great, as long as you’re putting your money back into Tacoma, you know, are you living here in Tacoma, are you, you know, hiring people here in Tacoma, but like, if you’re, You know, uh, if you open up a business and you’re out of state, and that money just comes and goes, like, I just, I have a hard time, you know, supporting that, but, you know, but also, like, how do you support the staff that work there?

So, it’s like this Catch 22, but, you know, that’s what I’m, I’m getting at is, um, You know, yeah, I, and I think a lot of business owners too, like, if you have questions, you know, we’re not, it’s not really a competition thing, it’s like the more, uh, independent businesses there are in Tacoma that are serving food and things, like, that’s great, like, that, that, it can only be better.

That was awesome. Thank you, Chris. Thank you. If you like this podcast, check out, move to Move to is a neighborhood guide, blog and podcast to help people in Tacoma Pierce County and beyond find their place in the city of destiny. More information. At Movetotacoma. com.

Degenerating? Is that the word you’re looking for? Degenerative! Ah! Degenerative. Yeah. I’ve been hanging on to that for a while. Oh Doug, you could have said something. No, no, no, no, no. Yes. Movetotacoma is part of the Channel 253 Podcast Network. Check out our other shows, Grit and Grain, Nerdfarmer, Interchangeable White Ladies, Crossing Division, Citizen Tacoma, What Say You, We Are Tacoma, Flounder’s Bee Team, and Taco Man.

This is Channel 253.

Show Notes

Chris Miller from The Red Hot joins us to share about 17 years of running one of Tacoma's most popular bars. He talks about starting bar in Tacoma, all the lessons he's learned along the way, and advice he has for other people with a dream of opening a bar in Tacoma. He shares about working all over the Puget Sound as a Union Carpenter before deciding to get in the bar business.

How The Red Hot in Tacoma Started

After an injury forced Chris Miller to reconsider his career path, he decided to take a big risk and start a hot dog bar in Tacoma. His brother owned a bar in another town, so he took the leap and decided to open a bar in Tacoma. He talked about driving around Tacoma and just calling signs in windows until he found his 6th Avenue location for the bar. "I started looking around at spaces and it was 997 square feet, that includes the bathroom." he says, "In those days... smaller bars did not exist in this town. It didn't seem small to me. But everyone who came in was like, 'What are you doing!?'" He shares about how starting out it was just him and his parents working in the bar. He didn't have a business loan or cash, so he took a risk and put everything on his credit card to open. "I thought I don't have any money, but I can build it," Chris said. "I had some friends from the industry who would come help. My folks were there right next to me." "People always ask me how I decided on beer and hot dogs," says Chris. "I just like beer and hot dogs!" The success of The Red Hot surprised him. "I thought we'd sell like a couple dozen a week." He worked a double 5 days a week and did admin stuff on his days off. He emphasises that he was working at the bar constantly and brought home very little in the beginning. "My wife carried our family," he says. "I think for the first year it was like that. Putting in the work and some miserable times." It started working out after a year, and they hired their first staff member. He didn't realize how busy it would be once it took off, so staffing up was the next challenge. Over time The Red Hot went from being a small family owned business to a very successful bar- winning Best Hot Dog in Washington State. From hiring baristas instead of servers to having a tiny bar, Chris talked about how the things that made them different set them apart.

How to Open a Bar in Tacoma

Chris talks about how much more expensive leases are in Tacoma. It makes things much more challenging for regular people wanting to open their own bar. He had help from other bar owners in Tacoma, especially the folks from The Parkway and Doyles. "There was a lot of luck involved," he says. "If I'd known how hard it was going to be I wouldn't have done it." From signing commercial leases and learning what triple nets are to dealing with the permit department at The City of Tacoma, Chris shares about all the lessons he has learned in the past 17 years. He worries that it's only become harder for someone like him to open a bar in Tacoma, and that is not good for the fabric of Tacoma. "Spaceworks should be a way bigger thing than it is," he says. "We need to make it accessible for goofballs like me!"