John Husler admits his much-loved acoustic showcase in Normal Heights called Lestat’s West has not been profitable for six years. “We’ve been losing from $50,000 to $80,000 a year,” says co-owner Husler about the fifteen-year-old showcase adjacent to his coffee house on Adams Avenue.
“That had to be addressed. I am not made of money. I could not sustain that level of loss we were losing on [Lestat’s West]. With the money we lost, you could have bought a condominium in San Diego.”
There was one whole month of no music at Lestat’s West. Longtime soundman/booker Louie Brazier indicated on social media two months ago it was curtains for Lestat’s West and live music.
And although Husler admits, “We were prepared to close it up,” he says there’s been a change of plans and a new business model in play that he hopes will keep Lestat’s West open.
Lestat’s West is no longer booking shows for which it hires the bands and is on the hook to cover the performer’s guarantee. Brazier has in essence become an in-house promoter and must survive by the success of his bookings and the profits each show produces. Brazier works out door revenue proceeds with each artist and must now make sure each headliner draws a crowd.
“It’s a new collaboration,” Husler tells the Reader. “Louie is now paid by the success of each show. We are now just the venue.”
Brazier will be responsible for the two or three nights a week Lestat’s West hosts featured shows which have a cover charge. Lestat’s West once had live music seven nights a week. Husler says he is open to hosting more showcase nights should Brazier get the business back on track. The two weekly open mic nights (one music, one comedy) will continue at Lestat’s West.
“I believe Louie is now motivated and will make sure each show is promoted more effectively,” Husler says. He hopes the fact that Brazier is highly appreciated by local artists will help him orchestrate successful live gigs. “He is loved by everyone. Things like that are valuable…This should have happened since the beginning.”
Husler says he just wants Lestat’s West to break even. “I’ve never tried to make money off the artist. I’ve always just wanted it to be cost neutral. I am still willing to pay the rent and insurance and keep the lights on. I am willing to take a smaller loss. I think this way my losses will be greatly reduced.”
It’s harder than it was a decade ago for an acoustic-centered venue like Lestat’s West to thrive, says Husler. “The big change is that people now get their music on their phone. Millennials see less benefit to go to a show when they can get their music on their phone any time they want.
“But I honestly think Louie can make this work. As long as he stays focused, I don’t think he’ll let this collapse.” Husler points out it was Brazier’s hands-on, pro-artist commitment to Lestat’s West that made it a regular haunt for such noteworthy locals artists as Gregory Page, Jason Mraz, Anya Marina, and Greg Laswell.
Meanwhile Husler continues to operate his three coffee houses, including Hillcrest and University Heights locations, which employ some 50 staffers. He says he is looking to opening other Lestat’s, possibly in North County.