Michael and Cheryl Alfano have zero reservations about bringing in their new general manager at The Comedy Catch. She's been in training since she was a teenager.
This year, their daughter, Danielle Alfano-Roth will take over leadership of the longstanding comedy club.
"Being in the industry from such a young age, and making so many industry connections, and knowing the business from the front of the house to the back -- we know she'll do a great job taking The Comedy Catch into the future," says Michael.
Alfano-Roth literally grew up working in the club. She remembers the time comedian Jeff Foxworthy was in the car when her father dropped her off to school.
This was the early 2000s, before the success of Foxworthy's Blue Collar Comedy Tour. He had been in town to peform several sold-out shows at The Comedy Catch.
For a while, her father worked two jobs -- at the comedy club and also at WDEF-FM radio station. He would often drive comics to the studio for air time to help promote upcoming shows.
One morning, her father chauffeured both of them -- Foxworthy to the radio station and Danielle to school. None of her schoolmates recognized the comedian, she remembers. But even then, she knew the experience was something special.
After college, Danielle spent some time in Syracuse, New York, working as a waitress at the The Funny Bone comedy club. There she would occasionally meet comedians who remembered her from Chattanooga.
Ralphie May was one of them. May, who was born in Chattanooga, rose to fame after participating in the first season of television stand-up competition, Last Comic Standing.
But her really outrageous comedian stories? Those aren't fit for print, she laughs.
In her new role at The Comedy Catch, Alfano-Roth will take over business operations including staffing, managing the bar, booking comics, handling ticketing in the box office, social media networking and scouting for new talent. Her father will still have a presence, standing by to make sure the crowds remain well-behaved.
Already, Alfano-Roth has played an integral part in helping navigate the family business through probably its biggest financial challenge to date -- surviving the global pandemic. Truthfully, she says, they weren't sure the club would survive.
Sales and attendance figures still haven't returned to what they were prior to the pandemic. Filling the room doesn't come as easily as it once did, as crowds are more apprehensive about tight seating arrangements. But in an unforeseen twist of fate -- the Alfanos also aren't as eager to reach those numbers as they once were.
"To make it, we've had to become lean and mean," says Michael. Over the last couple years, the club was forced to raise prices on food, alcohol and admission. And it also meant cutting back on a lot -- the number of shows, the number of employees, financial compensation to comics and employees and building maintenance and equipment.
For the second time in three years, the Alfanos decided to reduce their menu. At the Station Street location, they're surrounded by great, full-service restaurants, says Michael, and they can't compete with that.
Typically, club goers will dine out, then stop by later for drinks and appetizers. And honestly -- doing away with that extra inventory and labor has reduced a lot of stress.
"Financially, we've tightened our belt and learned how to operate with less and still be profitable," says Michael. "So I feel like we've found our 'happy place.'"
He also points out that profits aren't their only measure of success.
"The connections we've made are more than business relationships. We do things with our customers. They're our friends. We connect with them. ... And those connections aren't more important, but they're as important as the profits," he says. "That's really the heart and soul of this family-run business."
Comedians Ken Sons and Les McCurdy opened the original Comedy Catch in 1985 at Dr. Sages above the downtown Holiday Inn, then later moved the business to Brainerd Road. Michael and Cheryl Alfano bought the club in 1987, and expanded the business twice. The Alfanos, who later divorced but remain as business partners, relocated the club to its Station Street location, where it's now known as The Comedy Catch at The Choo Choo.
Comedy Catch hours
Open every Friday and Saturday, and every other Wednesday or Thursday (thecomedycatch.com)
Backstage Bar hours
Open after 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday; closed on Mondays (backstagechattanooga.com)
Michael Alfano's Top 10 Comedy Acts of All-Time
1. Jerry Seinfeld
2. Jeff Foxworthy
3. Ron White
4. Larry the Cable Guy
5. D.L. Hughley
6. Paula Poundstone
7. Ralphie May
8. Brian Reagan
9. Carlos Mencia
10. Etta May