buddakan-logo3rd and Chestnut,
Philadelphia, PA.

There are a lot of ways to look at our experience at Buddakan – it was either our greatest learning experience or our biggest failure. Maybe both.

A note on history – a lot of the inspiration for Buddakan came from the Blue Bar in the Delano Hotel in South Beach, Fla. If you go there, you’ll see similar booths, a similar community table, and the exact same wood – jatoba (Brazilian cherry). Stephen Starr, the owner and driving force of SRO (Starr Restaurant Organization) loved the wood and installed it in Buddakan.


It’s hard to imagine how successful this restaurant is. It serves meals 14 hours a day, and is open 2 more hours closing, and 2 more hours opening. That’s 18 hours a day, leaving only 6 hours a day to do the work. Although we didn’t know it at the time, that wasn’t our main obstacle. Our main obstacle was – we didn’t know exactly what previously had been applied to the floor. We were told they were using oil, and from what found in the supply room, they were. From what we were told, when the restaurant was opened, the wood floors looked absolutely wonderful, and continued to look great for another couple of years. At that point there was a change in maintenance, and a greasy buildup occurred. When we were first contacted, the floor was constantly sticky, despite 2 hours every morning of buffing by their maintenance people. They had been oiling the wood floor every day for years and there was a severe buildup.

Buddakan - After Phase III

Buddakan – After Phase III

Buddakan - After Phase I and Phase II

Buddakan – After Phase I and Phase II

Buddakan - Before we started

Buddakan – Before we started

We did a test area in the back hall – which was the greasiest and dirtiest of all of the areas. Our “SandFree-boni” had finally arrived and we were thrilled to see how great the SandFree process worked in that hall. In a matter of minutes, the SandFree-boni removed all of the grease and dirt. We applied the super-glue, and then the matte-finish urethane. After 2 weeks we checked the floor to see if it had performed perfectly. It had and we received the ok to continue.

Next we did the 1500 foot bar area. Our start was delayed by Patrick Swayze, who happened to be in Philadelphia that night and reserved the community table for his entourage. About 2 in the morning they left, although not before we made sure he knew that he was witnessing wood history with the second running of the “SandFree-boni”. I think the women in the restaurant were more impressed with Patrick than he was with our SandFree-boni. We weren’t that impressed with Patrick either because we couldn’t start until 3:00 AM. Regardless, by 7:30, the 1500 feet were done. By noon, less than 5 hours after we finished, lunch was being served.

There were 3 areas left to do – a seating area by the window, the community table area, and the seating areas by the kitchen. Each night we did another area and the floor appeared to be performing great. We had accomplished our goals – the wood was beautiful, the maintenance was going to be greatly reduced, all of the work was done in after hours, they hadn’t missed serving a drink, and there was no dust, no odor, and no downtime.

But “all was not well in Muddville.” Blisters began to appear only in the seating area near the window. And, they got worse. It’s hard to believe the floor on the right was beginning to fail.

We came back, 2 nights later, and began testing the floor to see what had happened. To our dismay, the urethane was coming up in sheets, everywhere, in that 1 seating area only. There was no adhesion between the urethane, the super glue, and the wood. It took a lot of testing, but what we determined was that at some point the maintenance group had used an acrylic-based, wax polish in that one area only. The wax, although not present on the very surface of the wood, remained in the crevices. When the bonding agent went to penetrate all of the little holes, it could not bond to the wax. That’s what led to the failure and to the addition of another “node” in our “wood refinishing decision tree.” If there is wax present, after Phase III, we add a Phase 0 to dissolve the wax.

Finished Project

Finished Project

Buddakan was a great learning experience and taught us how to deal with wax and acrylic-polymers that don’t permit urethane bonding. Phase 0 is now a standard step of the process.