Max Moreland Lala’s Little Nugget
; Mean-Eyed Cat
; et. al.Austin, TX
A seasoned industry veteran, Moreland co-owns a number of successful venues in the Austin area, including the Christmas-themed Lala’s Little Nugget, a North Austin institution that has been open since 1972.
The single most important element a bar needs to make it past the fledgling stage
People. I’d almost say it’s the only thing, for me. Things like atmosphere, or design, decor, or location—they may get people in the door in the first place. But the only way to keep them coming back is the people serving the drinks. Without that, you’re dead in the water.
On the most important elements after hospitality
Location and ambience are certainly the next two. If your ambience and your atmosphere is unique enough that it can drive to a poor location, that’s great. And if you’re in a great spot, people will come once. So I put those at 2-3—but a distant 2-3.
On location as a curse
I think location can often be a shortsighted view of how to do things. Yes, realtors always say, “location, location, location.” But you see these places in every city where it just seems that it’s not a bad location, but that location is doomed, like everything that goes in there fails? And you go, Why? That place was good. They had great food, or they had cool this and that. It’s like people have a negative opinion of a location based on previous tenants. Unless there’s an outside source that comes along to help, like, a massive place opens up next door to you with 1,200 tenants, and now you’re right next door to this location. Unless you get something like that, it’s really hard to overcome.
The challenges of standing out from the competition
It’s not the same as what a restaurant can do. At a restaurant, they can make something so unique, nobody else is making it, and you have to go there to get it. As in, You’ve got to go get their fried chicken, or have you have to get the burger there. We can put up a great craft beer list, carry some really cool spirits, and develop some unique cocktail menus, but at the end of the day, that’s not going to be the driving force in any bar. A really awesome drinks list is not going to make up for crappy service—it just doesn’t work that way.
The guiding principle for his bars
Our goal is to always create an atmosphere where someone feels comfortable going by themselves. We want any single person who walks through our door, by the time they walk out, whichever bartender served them should know three things about that person. They should know that’s Nate who went to LSU, and drinks vodka-tonic. So the next time he walks in, there’s his drink sitting there: ‘Hey man, you catch that LSU game this weekend? They looked good.’ We want it to feel like home.