Big MIkes

In this October photo, Big Mike's Bar & Grill owner Mike O'Neil -- flanked by his wife Jocelyn and "Bar Rescue" host Jon Taffer -- cuts the ribbon for an unofficial reopening of the eatery at the wrap of taping for the Spike series. Also shown are Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks, Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser, Mayor Gerard Landry and Louisiana Congressman Garret Graves. 

DENHAM SPRINGS – Big Mike’s may keep most of its recipes a secret, but the local bar-and-grill will share with the entire nation its comeback process after the Great Flood of 2016.

“Bar Rescue,” the long-running docu-reality series on Spike TV, will document the post-flood rebuild process host Jon Taffer spearheaded for Big Mike’s Bar & Grill in the episode “Bar over Troubled Water,” which premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday.

Owner Mike O’Neal has 37 years of work in the bar business under his belt and his wife Jocelyn has worked 25 years in the food service industry. But the flood left them unsure which direction to take.

 “Our house and business flooded, so we really didn’t know what to do,” said Mike O’Neal, who co-owns the business with Jocelyn. “We knew the community was important to us, but we never realized just how important we were to the community, so we felt blessed and realized we had to do everything we can to come back.”

Emily Ashford, bartender for Big Mike’s Bar & Grill, planted the seed when she wrote about the plight of the flood on the “Bar Rescue” website.

“I’ve always been a fan of the show, but I never dreamed they would come here,” O’Neal said this week.

The special will give viewers an inside look at the five-day barnstorm rebuild process of the bar and grill.

It marked the 132nd Bar Rescue for Taffer, but the work on the 10,000-square-foot interior at Big Mike’s stands out in the crowd.

Taffer usually leads the charge on redesigns of buildings which are mostly intact when the construction crew arrives.

The crew members, who arrived on a Tuesday, faced a task like none they had ever faced. By Sunday, they had to get through the meat-and-potatoes of rebuilding the popular bar and grill.

“We had to start from scratch and had just gutted this place five days ago,” he said. “Normally, I start with something and remodel and refinish, but this time it was Square Zero – and that made a big difference for us.”

The crew worked around the clock five days straight to remodel the flood-damaged business.

Taffer considers Big Mike’s a classic example of a neighborhood bar, something he employed in its redesign.

“It needs to be warm, with dark and cozy colors,” he said. “It had to have comfortable seating and 25 TVs – this is sports country, after all.”

Taffer also added a few items to the menu but did not do an overhaul.

He added muffaletto pizza, which has become one of the most popular items on the menu. Plans are now underway to expand the pizza menu, Mike said.

“Jon said he did not want to make a single change on the menu because we already had great items,” Mike said. “He said he generally likes to add something to the menus, and it has done very well.”

Mike and Jocelyn planned to reopen the business after the flood, but the work in “Bar Rescue” took their game plan beyond their wildest dreams.

As part of the project, Big Mike’s expanded from 6,200 square feet to more than 10,000 square feet.

“Each morning Jocelyn and I walk in, we look in amazement,” Mike said. “Never in our wildest dreams did we ever believe we’d be blessed with something like this.”

In the meantime, the business has spiked 30 percent from last year, which was previously the best year in the seven years of the bar and grill.

“The support we’ve gotten from the community has been so incredible,” he said. “We get people from here in town and we get those who make come from out of town to dine here. We grateful for everything we get.” 

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