Craft Beer Bar Franchising Faster Than You Can Order a Brewsky

Food & Drink

An interior shot of Brass Tap, a fast-growing franchised craft beef outpost.Courtesy of Brass Tap

Most cities and towns these days possess their own craft brewery.  They’ve multiplied like burger joints, but most are singular breweries.  And there’s there The Brass Tap.

Currently there are 46 Brass Tap’s that have opened in 17 states, with many in Florida where it originated.  It expanded by 7 outlets in 2018 and has plans for 11 openings in 2019, so it’s growing fast.

According to the Technomic’s ranking of the 500 largest restaurant chains in the U.S., revenue at the Brass Tap jumped 25% in 2017.

While many emerging restaurant chains own many of their outlets and try to maintain strict control to ensure quality, Brass Tap found that the quickest way to growth could be summarized in one word:  franchising.

Of its 46 current locations, 45 of them are franchised and one is company-owned. That way it can proliferate quickly and let the franchisee invest the bulk of the capital.

And that capital costs from about $790,000 to open a Brass Tap to about $1.3 million, based on size and location.

Brass Tap is owned by FSC Franchise Co., the majority of which is owned by private equity partner, Capital Spring.

Here’s what Chris Elliott, Tampa Bay, Florida-based CEO of FSC Franchise Co., said about the Brass Tap’s growth.

The Brass Tap expanded revenue by a 25% rate in 2017.  What were the keys to grwoth?

Elliott: The primary thing was opening additional restaurants.

The Brass Tap is described as a craft beer bar.  How would you describe it and its atmosphere?

Elliott: I’d describe it as adult social gathering spot, that’ s anchored by craft beer. We’re trying to create a place that you’d want to meet with your friends after work or on the weekend to watch a game, or stop by after work at happy hour. If you’re a beer aficionado, there are 60 craft beer taps that are constantly  changing, so there’s always something new to try. We’re trying to create a place  that doesn’t feel like a chain.  It could fit in any neighborhood in the city and be the place where you go.

Describe how the craft beers differ at each of your 46 locations.

Elliott: Our in-house beer expert Matthew Stock makes a tap recommendation based on what is selling in that part of the country, but we love to focus and feature local and regional brews. For example, if you  open in Vacaville, California, south of Sacramento, we know all the regional options that you could put on tap, and we recommend showcasing the best of what’s available regionally and locally.

What’s the role of FSC Franchise Co, in Brass Taps’ growth?

Elliott: We attract potential franchise owners of the brand. We use our company store to do all the R&D and training. We have a brewery and taps.

What are the criteria for franchisees?

Elliott: The best franchisees are people who are hands-on, pay close attention to detail, and are people-oriented. They’re not someone who plans on being a passive investor. Active operators are the most successful franchisees.

Early on Brass Tap decided that franchising was the fastest path to quick growth. Why?

Elliott: Interestingly enough, I can’t tell you why.  But many people like the bar business and want to own a bar. Maybe they watched too much “Cheers.” It’s the social aspect;  they like going to bars.  If they have a favorite bar, they want to create that.

How do you choose locations?

Elliott: It’s a kind of technical question. We have an outside third party that did a statistical analysis of market where beer bar do well and that created a formula we use. We go to the market and see the competition. We have a formula that puts all the numbers in, we’ve discovered that second-tier markets do really well. Not a big city, but a suburb of a large city or a good-sized town.  Part of that is because there’s much competition in big cities.

Some restaurateurs feel that franchising enables you to grow, but you can’t control the quality.  How do you do it?

Elliott: That’s a good question.  Two primary things we do: we try to build a system for the recipes for the food and the drinks. If the owner follows those results, they’ll do well. We have regional franchise consultants who visit the stores frequently.  Also our third-party company tracks down every social media comment on every Brass Tap.  We tell the owners:  here’s what your customer is saying about how you’re running your bar.

Who’s the target market?

Elliott: When we designed the concept and because it was craft beer, we thought it would be millienials.  If you follow the formula, we attract boomers, millennials, Generation Xers, and females. There’s something for everyone including the food.

Describe the food at Brass Tap.

Elliott: The food is about 35% of sales, and beer and wine the rest.  We want to be better than ‘it’s good for bar food.’ It’s designed as the same quality at any restaurant and in some cases, better. Our best sellers are prime ribs nachos, prime rib sandwiches and gourmet burgers made with chuck, brisket and short ribs. When we first opened, we didn’t have chicken wings on the menu, and the customer asked, ‘Where are chicken wings.’ Now it’s on the menu.

How much do they spend?

Elliott:  The typical check is about $25 a person.

Best ways you’ve found to generate repeat business.

Elliott: Social activism is critical, and the biggest night of week is trivia night on Thursday night.

Loyalty programs? 

Elliott: It’s called Brew Crew and tracks every individual beer and how much money you spend.  Once you pass $50 you get a prize and $100 you get more.

Any long-term thoughts of going public?

Elliott: That has never been talked about but doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

What are the 3 keys to growth in the future?

Elliott: 1) Finding the right franchise partners, 2) Finding the right locations, 3) Continue to innovate on the bar scene and improve food, cocktails and beer offerings and stay one step ahead of the competition.

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