Less than a week on the job as top executive of World of Beer, Paul Avery already has a hefty to-do list, starting with adding food at every location, a major shift for the chain that allows customers to order food from nearby restaurants.
Then, by the end of the year, he wants to double the number the locations to 76 and open the first company-owned bar.
Ambitious by most standards, Avery has the muscle to do it. He spent 20 years working for the Outback Steakhouse chain, rising to chief operating officer of OSI Restaurant Partners, which owns Outback, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar and Roy's.
He's also pretty rested from the daily grind of restaurant work. Since retiring from OSI (now Bloomin' Brands) in 2009, he has spent much of his time opening Carsmetics franchises in the Northeast and volunteering with Friedreich's Ataxia Research Alliance, a charity near and dear to his family.
Avery bought controlling interest of World of Beer (for an undisclosed price) with the intent of duplicating the success of Outback, which grew from three restaurants when he started to more than 1,400 in 19 countries. Avery worked with World of Beer owners Ben Novello and Jim Pollard at Outback, and both will continue to play major roles in the company.
Avery, 53, sat down with the Times on Friday at World of Beer's main offices to talk about his vision.
Why add food?
We've gotten a number of comments from customers about having the ability to order food in-house. Some states will require a minimum threshold of food sales, so in order for us to entertain those states, we'll have to achieve that threshold. We'll have to put in larger kitchens without losing our focus as a great craft beer experience. My vision is to have upscale bar food that's interesting, flavorful, memorable. Food that complements the beer.
Why did you decide to join World of Beer?
I've been in restaurants and the hospitality industry since I was 15, so it's my DNA. It's what I love. I wasn't looking for something, but I've known two of the four owners/founders of the business and have been watching it for a number of years. I used to think maybe World of Beer is a fad. It may come and go. But the craft beer trend has been increasing in terms of demand and consumption. It's not a fad. It's here to stay. The manner in which World of Beer presents it to customers is really unique. Today, they have 36 opened and there's a strong demand from franchisees about growing it around the country.
Did they call you looking for a CEO?
Actually, I was in touch with them. Some of my friends had become franchisees of World of Beer and were doing very well. My first introduction was an inquiry about being a franchisee in the Northeast. I started the due diligence process and became really intrigued with the business to the point where I said, "If you have any interest for an investor coming in, I'd entertain it."
What do you like about walking into a World of Beer?
The footprint is a nice, small size. The average is 3,100 square feet. They are easy to operate so you can deliver a quality experience consistently. People love the variety of entertainment that we have throughout the week. I think the look is attractive — not upscale, not downscale, but comfortably in the middle. When you go to a place called World of Beer, your expectation about the staff knowledge is high, and they deliver on it.
What kind of beer do you drink?
I like wheat beers, some Belgian and German beers. I love the Chimay they have. I'm not so much of a dark beer drinker.
You were one of the highest-paid executives at OSI for a while. Did you take a big pay cut coming to World of Beer?
Oh, yeah. (Laughs) I haven't had a paycheck in several years. This is about the love of the business and the thrill of growing something new that has great potential. About building a team around it and watching it grow.
How long do you plan to stay?
I've never looked at a career or effort as short term. I'm looking to stay at this for an extended period of time and watching it grow and being an integral part of it. Who knows what the future will dictate, but my thought today is to be a long-term player in World of Beer.
Would you like to take it public?
There are a couple different scenarios. One of them would be to do an IPO (initial public offering). Another would be for a private equity group to come in. There has already been significant interest from private equity and larger restaurant companies. If we run this thing right and have the success we're hoping for, various options will come.
Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.