The former Mugs on Missouri has redefined its brand, focusing on food and service instead of gimmicks and skin.
CLEARWATER — Ever since Abe Moussa, founder of the popular wing joint Mugs and Jugs, left his original restaurant in Pinellas Park to open a new branch in Clearwater, he's been trying to distance himself from the past.
New names, logos and have been the norm over the past ten years at what is now known as Abe's Place Tap and Grill.
But rather than being the result of a marketing campaign gone awry, Moussa explained the changes have all been part of his grand plan.
“I sold the original Mugs and Jugs in 2008, and ever since then I've been rebranding to get away from the “breastaurant” concept,” he said.
“I simply wanted to go away from the skimpy uniforms, because we offer great food and good service in a comfortable environment,” he added. “We don't need a gimmick.”
The process of changing an entire brand has been a slow and steady one for Moussa.
After moving in to what was known as the Stadium sports bar at 1250 S. Missouri Avenue in 2004, he renamed the restaurant Mugs on Missouri, hoping to piggy back on the success of the original.
But Moussa always knew he would move away from being a one-dimensional concept restaurant that catered to a small slice of the population; in fact, he said he tried to change the name of the original location early on, but was met with resistance by his then business partner.
“We were making money, but I was never comfortable with the concept,” he said. “I always wanted to cater to the whole community and not just one segment, which was mostly males.”
Moussa soon dropped the 'mugs' moniker and put his own name on the marquee, but again, he did so slowly so as not to alienate his loyal customers.
Now with the latest change, which in addition to the new name and expanded beer and drink menu includes having the waitresses dress in black slacks and red button-down dress shirts instead of short-shorts and low-cut halter-tops, he believes he is ready to break completely away from his past.
But that doesn't mean he's sacrificing success; Moussa claimed the restaurant is as popular with customers as ever.
“I was just checking the numbers from the past year, and we are up across the board in almost every category except average check size,” he said. “But that's because we don't pressure you to stay here and keep drinking and eating. There's no pressure here.”
The new look has also won over the staff.
“I worked at the old Mugs and I never liked that uniform. Guys were always leering at me and trying to touch me,” one of Abe's waitresses said. “This uniform is much more conservative, and I feel the customers treat me with more respect now.”
Good food has always been a staple at Abe's places – Moussa said they are known for their hot wings and homemade sauces, and he even claims to have invented the boneless wing.
And the restaurant has always drawn a wide spectrum of patrons, from business people having lunch, families enjoying dinner in the dining room, amateur crooners belting karaoke through the sound system and sports fans watching the games on one of the many flat screen TVs.
But now, thanks to a renewed purpose and redesigned concept, Moussa believes he is ready to take his new restaurant to the next level.
“Eventually I would like to grow this concept, open a few more of these in the area,” he said. “But I want the loyalty to be to our brand and our food, not a concept.”
“If you want to watch the game or eat a good meal in a comfortable atmosphere, this is where you want to be. We're an everyday place for everyone.”
Visit their website at http://abesmugs.com.