Once a drinker of mostly big-name beers like Bud Light and Michelob's AmberBock, Tom Slade discovered a taste for imports and craft brews at his local World of Beer.
Now he hangs out in a domain of Belgian Delirium Tremens, German Reissdorf Koelsch and local favorites like Cigar City.
"They've taught me almost enough about beers I never heard of to be a beer snob," said Slade, a 28-year-old mapping draftsman.
Cashing in on the imported microbrew and craft beer craze, World of Beer and the Brass Tap are trying to revive the drinks-only neighborhood tap room that was declared an endangered species two decades ago. Laws that made the corner tavern more liable for their patrons' drunken behavior turned thousands of bars into restaurants peddling pub food.
Tampa's World of Beer, headed by a former president of Outback Steakhouse, and the Brass Tap, a startup from three Wesley Chapel Beef 'O' Brady's franchisees, hit on a formula generating a robust $1.4 million in annual revenue per store virtually from beer alone. And the average patron sips less than two brews a visit.
Both are adding stores. The Brass Tap expects to double to six locations by year's end. World of Beer opens its 25th store this month in Savannah, Ga., and is on track for 42 by the end of 2012. World of Beer sold franchises for 150 stores in 11 states.
No food is only part of an uncomplicated operation. There's no liquor. No smoking inside. No salty snacks. Only a half dozen wines are served and only by the glass. Between 40 and 70 draft beers flow from the taps, plus up to 500 bottled beers at $4 to $9 each. About a third of the selection changes monthly, thanks to 1,900 U.S. microbreweries.
The dark wood and brick atmosphere is kept warm and inviting. Bartenders are trained to chat and share current beer knowledge. Franchisees must showcase live cover bands three nights a week while keeping the volume in check.
The clientele is half women, partly thanks to women who like more flavorful ales or fruity hard ciders, but also because higher prices limit the riff-raff.
"We attract a lot of blue-chip, blue-collar and young white-collar men," explained Ben Novello, chief executive of World of Beer, which was concerned about pricing at its first outlet in a college town. "We drew upperclassmen, faculty and grad students but found Millenials to be a Starbuck's generation. They are willing to pay for quality."
Hungry? Both chains post take-out menus from nearby restaurants and let delivery people serve tables. It has made both chains more welcome in suburban shopping centers with multiple restaurants.
World of Beer is serious enough about its music that the chain hired a music director. In addition to covers with a Jack Johnson/Dave Matthews vibe, bands are free to play some of their own tunes. In the bay area alone, World of Beers book about 100 bands a year. The chain wants to create a circuit for bands that can package a 14-night Florida tour.
"Long term, we want to be part of the minor leagues for musical talent," said Dave Bearce, the chain's music director.
World of Beer also has a loyalty program offering news of obscure beers, events, online chat and contests. About 35,000 patrons paid $15 to join.
The program tracks each beer a member drinks. This summer, a smartphone app debuts that flashes a count of members' "beers tasted" in big numbers.
That appeals to regulars.
"I've tried 80 different beers so far," Slade said. "But it's not enough to put me in the Top 20 leaderboard by the bar."
Mark Albright can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8252.