Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club had a number of highlights in its first year. It opened last March, generated more than $800,000 in ticket sales, hosted 225 acts, and entertained more than 36,000 people.
Despite this, owner Rick Brown said it didn’t turn a profit. The music venue and restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue struggled in its first year with opening costs, delivering quality service, cost overruns and marketing, according to Brown.
He even considered changing the name because the club attracts a variety of acts outside of the blues and jazz world, including country singers, comedians, pop singers and rock bands. He decided against a change after consultants told him the name is gaining recognition.
“We have a ton of people who still don’t know we’re here,” Brown said. “That’s our biggest problem.” It’s something Brown, a real estate developer with 40 years of experience, is hoping to address.
This year, Brown is preparing to host more private corporate events and has opened the space up for bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs, as well as weddings. The club recently began a Sunday gospel music brunch that offers a drink and breakfast buffet for $35. This month a new author series kicks off that will include presentations and book signings with popular writers.
Even with all this activity, Brown says the club will maintain its typical schedule of live music five nights per week and two nights for private events.
That’s a good thing for the community, given the theater’s history. The Bozzuto Group, the state and the county spent $8 million to renovate the venue before it opened in 2007 as an off-Broadway theater only to quickly close.
After Brown acquired the shuttered theater, he spent $4.5 million to add a bar, lounge area, table seats and a dance floor. The changes—and downtown location complete with 400 parking spots—are working, according to Brown. He said the musical acts that have played the club love the setting and the sound. That’s a statement backed up by Frank McComb, who played the venue on April 13 and shared his appreciation on Instagram.
As for the club’s second year, Brown said the business is on track to break even.
“Failure’s not an option,” he said. “We know this will be very successful. We’re now building our momentum.”
Disclosure: Bethesda Magazine publisher and editor-in-chief Steve Hull is an investor in Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club.