The struggling Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club has a new lease on life.
It’s set to get a new name. It has hired key staff. And it has a new 30-year lease.
Rick Brown, a commercial real estate developer, bought the Bethesda Theater, then spent millions on renovations and reopened it in March 2013 as Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club. He said the new name has worked against the venue because people who didn’t care for blues or jazz didn’t think of coming to the club for other live entertainment. So he’s changing the name to Bethesda Live, which will take effect in about three weeks.
“It’s short, and it describes what we do,” Brown said Friday. The 500-seat, 15,000-square-foot venue at 7719 Wisconsin Ave. has hosted country, comedy, Motown, rock and Latin music.
Since it opened, the club has struggled financially, and at one point, was for sale for $8.5 million. In June, major investor Ken Welch of Chevy Chase filed a foreclosure notice, but then later that month, the foreclosure was canceled, which started a discussion on settlement, Brown said. The settlement agreement, which included the lease, was signed Sept. 1.
“We’re excited for customers, for our artists and for our 60 employees,” Brown said. “We will be here for the next 30 years. All I have to do is pay my monthly rent.”
In June, Brown said the theater was on a pace to make $4.5 million in gross revenue this year. On Friday, he notched that up to $4.8 million and $6 million in 2017 on the strength of expanding its banquet and catering department for private events. He said Friday he expected 85,000 customers in 2016.
Lorenzo Williams, who had worked at Marriott International as well as at a hotel, has been on board 60 days and already has brought in $600,000 in private party business, Brown said. He said he expected that figure to climb to $2 million over the next 12 months.
“We were an underutilized space for private and corporate events and Lorenzo is changing that,” Brown said.
Brown also touted two other recent hires: Maxx Myrick, as head talent buyer, and Anshia Tull, as marketing director. Myrick has 38 years in the music industry, including at local radio station WHUR where he was director of operations and at Sirius XM where he ran the jazz station, Brown said. Tull has spent 12 years in the music industry.
The original plan had been to hire someone to run the supper club, but that didn’t work out and Brown took over. Although he’s a developer, Brown of Silver Spring said he was raised by a jazz drummer and his mother’s family was in the restaurant business.
“I was raised around it, but I knew the challenges running either a music venue or a restaurant operation,” he said.
Since the opening in 2013, Brown said he’s fine-tuned the hiring process for artists and staffing, so now it’s a smoother operation.
“We lost money for several years. Knock on wood, things have turned around in the last year and we’re very excited about the future,” Brown said.
Disclosure: Bethesda Magazine publisher and editor-in-chief Steve Hull is an investor in Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club.