What Roles Do Reputation and the “Food Factor” Play in Tap Room Expansions?

What Roles Do Reputation and the “Food Factor” Play in Tap Room Expansions?

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

The strength of Indiana craft beer can be seen in the continued opening of new breweries and the increased shelf space that packaged Indiana craft beer is finding in stores. Taxman has display stands in Target, and more of the Kroger beer shelves have familiar labels as well.

But perhaps one of the biggest trends in Indiana craft beer recently has been the proliferation of taprooms away from the original brewing site. Chapman’s and Mad Anthony led the way a few years ago, and now Upland has three offsite establishments. More than a handful of craft breweries have additional taprooms to sell beer, including Wooden Bear, Redemption, 18th Street, New Albanian, Flat 12, Three Wise Men, Danny BoyTriton and others.

Recently, Walter and I attended two more taproom grand openings, the first at MashCraft-Fishers, and the second at Book & Brews – Broad Ripple. Both of these craft breweries are experiencing excellent growth and success, but there are a several interesting issues we think give their new taprooms a leg up.

Three Floyds could easily open several more taprooms. Their reputation and experience would almost ensure success in new locations. Photo credit: Brewpublic

Reputation. First, it is of interest to note their venues. MashCraft – Fishers is located in the site of a previous brewery that didn’t flourish (Heady Hollow). Why would someone choose to open a taproom in a place associated with a closed operation? In truth, one of the patrons at MashCraft recently told us that this storefront has had several failed businesses, from restaurants, to nail salons. Yet, all indications are that MashCraft is going to thrive in that same location.

The location for Book & Brews – Broad Ripple is also interesting. It’s three blocks from Brugge Brasserie, less than a quarter mile from Three Wise Men, Triton Taproom and HopCat, and right across the street from Broad Ripple Brewpub! A little competition is good, but that much competition? Did I mention that Plump’s Last Shot is next door to the south? And yet, opening day was packed at Books & Brews too, from before noon to close after 1:00 am (yes, we went twice).

In both cases, one would question whether these are good locations for new taprooms. The early answer seems to be yes, but then the question becomes why. It is quite possible that these taprooms are standing on the shoulders of their kinsman; the established locations for MashCraft and Books & Brews lend a gravitas to the new locations. They benefit from not having to build a clientele from zero. Oh, good beer might play a role as well.

Food experience. It seems that added taprooms most often seem to build on the food menu – very few offer less food or no food when they expand to a second or third location. Books & Brews is an excellent example. The mothership on 96th St. has a kitchen the size of a closet, and then Zionsville had a bigger menu and so on. The menu at Broad Ripple is extensive, with sandwiches, naan flatbread pizza, lots of appetizers, tacos, wings, fried chicken and even desserts.

MashCraft really opened up the old Heady Hollow taproom and raised the roof for their opening – literally. photo credit: Walter

The same is true for MashCraft-Fishers. The Delaware Street taproom has a limited but great menu, with paninis and snacks, but the larger kitchen at Fishers allows for sandwiches, hot appetizer, and multiple snacks. They even serve breakfast entrees on Friday-Sunday. I’m hard pressed to name a brewery that has expanded to another location and not included more, or at least some, food.

For example, Redemption opened their first offsite taproom at the Muncie Mall, a place with no cold room, no kitchen and incredibly limited space, but they do have some food. They considered it important enough that they teamed with a local caterer in Muncie to produce packaged versions of some of their food offerings. MashCraft has gone a similar route; the menu at Fishers was developed in conjunction with 5280 Bistro. Chapman’s Brewing in Fort Wayne did a similar thing by housing their taproom with a coffee and food company.

To me, this begs the question, is food important because craft beer isn’t as strong as it used to be and a kitchen is needed to bring in an audience? Is it that craft beer fans are now pickier and want more options, including the ability to pair food with beer? Or is it like Walter says, “I need the food so I can keep drinking.” The opinion that taprooms are now gathering spaces, with three hour visits not uncommon. This leads me to believe that food is just part of this growing industry. Then again, maybe it’s as simple as an established business having the capital to invest in a kitchen and a menu, and thereby create another revenue stream. It doesn’t always need to be mysterious.

Knowing your audience. Taprooms that are opening nowadays are most definitely family friendly. Both MashCraft and Books & Brews started with family friendly areas, yet when they expanded into taprooms with smaller footprints, they retained under 21 areas. As craft beer fans age, they’re having kids and they’re taking them with them when then get a beer. Walter would be embarrassed if I told you how much our kids know about beer. Let’s just say they could shame most bar employees. The advantage of having an established audience around town or the region means that a brewery can invest in expanding that audience, and they have the capital to make it happen.

The Books & Brews taproom in Broad Ripple is quite a place, especially for those without a place. photo credit: Walter

Certainly, having had a taproom before leads people to know a craft beer audience a bit better, but it goes beyond that. Knowing your audience at one location clues a group in to knowing that a different location might have a different crowd. With this foreknowledge, breweries understand that opening a new taproom means learning to understand that new neighborhood/area. It takes some experienced staff to get this, and this is final advantage.

Staff experience. Finally, offsite taprooms may be all the rage because they benefit from experienced management, ownership, and staff. First mistakes and growing pains that might doom a new venture are often avoided when managers and seasoned staff help out with the new taproom. Mitch and Aaron are a big part of the smooth open for MashCraft even thought they are attached to the Delaware location, and Trevor Boland from the Books & Brews mothership is now the GM at Broad Ripple. Even Molly Grooms, COO of Books & Brews, was on hand for the grand opening, and the Broad Ripple staff said she has been invaluable in opening the new franchise.

All in all, the two openings were massive successes, and we think that while the crowds may eventually thin a bit, both locations are well equipped to prosper in the long term. The factors described above are working for each of the new locations; in fact, the most surprising thing we noted Saturday was the lack of a bar at Books & Brews – Broad Ripple. I knew something was different when we entered and walked amongst the crowd to look around, but it took a while for it to register. Trevor said that the space was just too valuable to build a bar, add bar stools, tap faucets and sink. Their experience led them to choose to use the space for a larger kitchen. See… kitchens indeed matter more in today’s craft beer expansions.

 

Walter’s Words of Wisdom – Women’s restrooms should always be second as you travel down the hallway to relief. The lines are usually longer, so putting them second keeps the line from extending into the public area. But still – in crucial cases it would be better if they were closer.


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