A veteran has taken the plunge into the bar business after his vape shop idea went up in smoke.
Will Ortiz, a retired Air Force surgical technician and Bushwick native, spent six months transforming the space of his last venture on 894 Wyckoff Ave., Creative Vape, into the neighborhood’s barest-of-bones watering hole, using his own labor and money to pay for renovations. He’s baptized the bar in the name of his life philosophy: Luv Story.
“What we wanna do is bridge the gap and create an authentic space,” Oritz said. “There’s not enough of that in this neighborhood.”
He will have to share that mantra with over 50 other Bushwick boozeries, three of which are minutes from Luv Story. Ortiz doesn’t have a small business loan, bartending experience, or proper chairs for customers to sit on — read milk crates here — but there is a beer pong table, cheap drinks, and plenty of luv to go around.
The 27-year-old entrusts his dream of running a bar to two different things, he says: business intuition and the L train shutdown scheduled for 2019. Ortiz hopes that it will dry up some of the competition and lead thirsty Bushwickers right to Luv Story’s door.
“Wyckoff will become a destination in two years,” he predicted, referring to Brooklyn’s only subway station with a transfer point on the L and M lines. “We’ll be here.”
Lasting two years in New York City’s bar business isn’t easy, especially if you’ve never trained to bartend. Drink-mixing isn’t just alcoholic art; it’s a major part of the business involving “target pour cost,” a percentage representing how much profit a bar is making on a drink.
“A typically solid pour cost is around 20 percent,” explained ex-bartender Mike Hardin who now works for Bevspot, a company that offers bar management software. “A lot of consideration should be given to how much one paid for liquor and then how to get their pour cost to a place that makes drinks affordable but also makes the establishment a profit.”
Straight shots and beers are always the worst performers at bars, because unlike mixed drinks, they’re the hardest to skimp on. For Bushwick, where the beer-shot combo reigns supreme among drinkers, that’s good news. For Ortiz, perhaps not so much.
The crackle of a freshly-opened bottle of Evan Williams dispels the fear that the whiskey in Luv Story’s $5 combos is watered-down. Fifteen bucks without tip buys a good buzz, first eyeballed, then poured, from Ortiz’s own loving hands.
The price stacks up against other Bushwick dives. Slugging down a dollar-vodka nip and chasing it with a $1.75 can of Coors is the only way to get a cheaper drunk in the neighborhood.
It’s no secret that many new bars post a loss during their first years. Ortiz doesn’t worry much about that because he hasn’t spent that much. He got his liquor license without the help of a lawyer, a major expense for most new bars, saying it wasn’t as hard as people think.
“The State Liquor Authority was actually pretty helpful,” laughed Ortiz. “I was able to get licensed within 10 weeks; it’s usually three months.”
Transforming the interior of Creative Vape into a bar didn’t cost much, either. The space on Wyckoff rents for about $2,500 a month, although Ortiz wouldn’t say exactly. The young entrepreneur built the bar counter himself out of pine-wood planks that had once showcased pricy vaporizers and e-juice. He paid artistic friends to decorate the walls with love-themed murals. Adding up the paint, nails, a couple of bar stools, beer-pong table and the milk crates used as chairs, Luv Story’s interior design probably cost Ortiz less than a grand.
But for all his enterprising, Ortiz shies from money talk. Getting together and talking about life is what Luv Story is really about, he says. He even offers a 10-percent discount to those who leave their cellphones behind the bar.
“In the end, it’s all about the love,” he said, pointing to a mural of a cactus sewing up the torn halves of a heart-shaped world. “The artwork is a story of love-consciousness.”
While Ortiz’s soul is open, his bank statements are definitely closed.