B.J. Lowrance’s love of live music led to The Royal’s June 2020 opening. Its signature cocktails are most popular with customers, including premixed bottle and draft versions on rotation. The bar and live music venue’s interior provides its own show: pink walls, a green bar lit by a chandelier, and decor inspired by French cafes and film director Wes Anderson. It’s the first solo operation for Lowrance, who previously co-owned Pasta Express and 425 Downtown LLC.
Here’s our interview with B.J. Lowrance.
Tell us about your first year-plus in business, the high points and the challenges.
It was slower than I’d hoped, but it also outsold my projections. It was honestly kind of a blessing because it gave me time to rethink and revamp and read. I changed the bar area three or four times already, so it’s giving me time to do that, which has been nice. The biggest challenge I’ve had is being able to do live music. That was the whole point of opening here was music, and I’ve only just now been able to start really going after it. Now I’m pulling back on the reins again. I’ve already had two shows cancel or postpone for the coming months.
What’s surprised you about the business?
How important the patio has been. And working with my neighbors has been really important. Me and Skully’s [Ramen], we play off each other really well, which I didn’t expect. Same with Artistree [Pottery] and Fleur [Floral Studio] — we’ve been working together, which wasn’t my plan at all when we started.
Tell us about your menu. What’s popular?
Cocktails are still the best sellers. The bottle cocktails, we change those now three times a year. Then the draft cocktail is more just on a whim. Rogan Howitt from Golden Girl [Rum Club] and Good Spirits [& Co.] came up with bottle cocktails. It’s a long drink. We “prebatch” and bottle it and then top it with soda water to serve. Being a venue, we need to go quick. It’s not like a cocktail bar where you’re sitting and expecting it to take a while to get something that’s got so many ingredients in it.
You recently announced Dani’s Flour Pot Bakery will operate out of this space during your off hours. How did that partnership come about?
I was looking for some desserts to sell here. I tried making some myself, and that’s just not what I do. Dani started making these mini pies for me. And then a month or so ago, she texted me asking about a building behind us for sale. I was nosy and asked why; she said she was looking for more of a brick-and-mortar spot. And I said, well, I have a building that’s empty for half the day. It’s two different businesses operating out of the same space. She’ll be open from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and then I’ll be opening my normal 4-11 p.m.
What have you learned about yourself in opening and running The Royal?
Being able to trust yourself. Before, I had business partners that we would go back and forth until we came up with a plan or a solution. Being able to trust that what I’m doing doesn’t need to be run by somebody else. It’s my idea; it’s my problem to solve. Also, it’s a very different amount of time that I’ve worked. Going from the restaurant, I was on my feet for 10 to 12 hours a day with my hands on something, whereas here I’m on my feet for maybe six hours and then the other four to six hours, I’m booking bands or working on marketing or doing my taxes. Working in the business isn’t what I have to do all the time.
What has been your biggest business shift since opening?
Being more cocktail driven. In this area, you have Cherry Picker [Package & Fare] that’s so wine driven. I didn’t want to focus on that as much. Tie & Timber [Beer Co.] is obviously very beer driven. I knew coming in I needed to focus more on liquor-driven sales, but I didn’t realize how important cocktails specifically were. I’ve had a little bit of experience with cocktails, but not a ton. It’s been a lot of learning on the go and looking up recipes. I’ve got a little bit of a library (at the bar) and then just looking stuff up on the web.
Tie & Timber is expanding their cocktail menu and has a live music focus, too. Are they your competition, or does their business boost yours?
It’s beneficial to all of us, too. I get a lot of people that will go down there and have a few beers, come down here and have a cocktail and go across the street and get a glass of wine. It’s almost like a mini pub crawl. And you have Team Taco that has great margaritas. This is a very friendly competition.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for a bar or restaurant owner?
Plan for the worst and hope for the best. Put money in savings every week. You never know when you’re going to end up with no street in front of you and who knows how the night’s going to go. [Editor’s note: The city of Springfield is in the midst of a traffic calming project along Cherry Street that’s expected to last through October.]
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