Walking into the Tavern – a bar nestled in the heart of the Haymarket – you would never know that the space has been anything other than the warm, inviting establishment it is today. With childhood pictures of regular customers lining the walls, dark wood, impeccably clean and comfortable – a place that offers an instant welcome.
The space is a good reflection of its owner, Matt Taylor, who confidently fills the role of young entrepreneur and owner of two Haymarket businesses. A path he didn’t set out to take, but one that has provided a place to grow and directly impact the city of Lincoln.
When Matt started college, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but figured that the Finance Department at UNL would provide some essential tools to learning about business and managing money.
While finance seemed pretty straightforward, the actual work he experienced during an internship proved to be tedious and far from the type of work he was looking for.
It wasn’t until midway through his education that he took a job checking I.D.s at The Bar and found a surprising connection to real-world business. Each night, he left energized by the person-to-person interaction and the money he was able to earn.
The owner, Neal Grummert, turned out to be the best business mentor Matt could have asked for. Neal took a serious approach to the way he ran things and had thoughtful business practices in place – constantly investing in his employees and keeping an eye on what was going on in the Lincoln business community.
Matt rose quickly in the ranks at The Bar, gaining experience in each role, and eventually becoming the general manager. The Bar provided a place to apply what he was learning in school. After classes, Matt would head to work and sit down with Neal, discussing things like product placement, profit and losses, and even business culture. They were always looking twelve months ahead on how to develop the business.
In 2009, just after Matt had graduated from college and was finding a good rhythm at work, he felt the ground drop out from under him when his boss unexpectedly died. The loss of his mentor-friend and end of their shared plans left Matt floating aimlessly. He applied for all sorts of of jobs and tried to find firm foundation.
Eventually Matt met with his dad and cast a vision for a downtown bar in the former Crescent Moon Coffee building. His dad loved the idea and agreed to the proposal, putting up his home as collateral for a line of credit.
Over the next two months, the space was overhauled and filled with high top tables and bar stools. Matt wanted to create a place geared toward the 25 and older crowd who wanted something different than the college bar scene. It was an idea that took hold quickly.
“After four months, we had made back our initial investment. It was a good time to start a business… I think now is an even better time with all of this opportunity.”
Matt’s success propelled him forward, and in 2013 he decided to launch a second bar, The Other Room, just behind The Tavern. Through his travels, he had witnessed the revival of the speakeasy type bar in big cities and decided to bring the idea to Lincoln.
One of Matt’s liquor representatives, Miles Kos, introduced him to Jill Cockson, an award-winning mixologist, whose reputation helped provide an instant clientele and the passion for her craft matched the vision Matt had for the business. Jill formed a menu of unique specialty drinks while Matt designed the intimate space, complete with hidden door.
Owning two different bars gives Matt the opportunity to offer quality drinks and distinct experiences to people visiting the Haymarket. He values the conversations he has with whoever comes through the door and sees this engagement as the heart of his business.
“A bar can be an interesting human behavior experiment. Every day, I meet all kinds of people – from the homeless man coming in asking for change, the traveling salesman who has decades of experience or the person sitting at the bar who has been married for years. It’s a constant exchange of story, experience and learning what has worked and what hasn’t.”
Matt looks toward the future and is always considering how he can grow and improve. He listens to podcasts and reads articles focused on small business and entrepreneurship. He regularly sits down with other small business owners from around town with no agenda other than conversation and learning. He also sees the wisdom in taking his time to make sure he’s taking good care of the people and businesses he’s currently managing.
Like the historic buildings Matt occupies, his work ethic and priorities point directly to the past. To a mom who daily encouraged him, to the boss who believed in his ability and trusted him with big responsibilities, and a dad who borrowed against his home because he believed his son could make a dream happen.
On a daily basis, Matt reflects on this spirit of generosity and continues the legacy of believing that a good business keeps people at the heart of the process. His story is not only adding to the positive growth of the business community in Lincoln, but to the character and reputation of the city – as he brings attention to the things that really matter.