The Tampa Bay Brewing Co. in Ybor City is trying to tap further into sales of its popular craft beers by opening as many as five microbrew pubs in the Tampa Bay and Sarasota markets.
The microbrew restaurant, which moved to its spot at Centro Ybor in November 2006 after 10 years at nearby 1812 N 15th St., is evaluating locations in St. Petersburg, north Tampa/Lutz, Brandon, Sarasota and Wesley Chapel, said David Doble, who owns the brewery with his mother, Vicki Doble.
"We have always wanted to make it in the game through volume sales, not (increased) profit sales," said David Doble, 31, who is also a pilot. "We have to expand to make the model work."
Two shopping centers have approached Tampa Bay Brewing about opening pubs in their plazas, but Doble declined to identify the sites. He estimated it would cost $1-million to $1.2-million to open a single microbrew pub.
The Dobles' microbrew pub license prohibits the owners from selling their nine house beers off the premises, which is why beer fans can't find Tampa Bay Brewing Co. ales or porters in retail stores. So if the microbrewery is going to sell more of its craft beers outside of its Ybor City pub, the only way is to open more brew restaurants. The beer would be brewed on-site at each new pub.
Tampa Bay Brewing produced 801 barrels of beer from October 2006 to October 2007, up from an annual average of about 600 barrels, David Doble said.
By charting an expansion, the Dobles are bucking a national trend. Microbrew groups declined slightly nationwide from 2006 to 2007, dropping from 67 in '06 to 65 in '07, said Paul Gatza, director of the 1,100-member Brewers Association, the craft brew trade association.
The number of brewpubs associated with brewery groups also dropped in 2007, falling to 318 last year from 330 in 2006, Gatza said.
But Gatza, who noted he's familiar with the Tampa Bay Brewing Co., said the bay area market might be ready for a microbrew expansion.
"When I think of Florida, it's an area that has a lot of responsiveness culturally to craft beer," he said. "If they chose a spot in Florida, they may have chosen the right one."
Gatza said opening more microbrew pubs will mean Tampa Bay Brewing Co. brewer Dave Nicholas and David Doble will likely assume more management tasks and less hands-on beer brewing.
Bryan Harris, operations director for 10 Hops Grill & Brewery restaurants in Florida, welcomed his rival's expansion.
"The more the merrier. The big part is that Americans are drinking and demanding better beer," said Harris, who has worked for Hops for 17 years.
The Tampa Bay Brewing Co.'s expansion plans are reminiscent of the surge in Hops microbrew restaurants in the Tampa Bay area before their owner retrenched and closed several locations. Hops has microbrewery restaurants in Palm Harbor and Bradenton, but five previous ones in the Tampa Bay area and one in Lakeland were closed, Harris said.
Hops is planning its own changes, working on a rebranding that would change the name of its 10 Florida brewpubs to Big City Brewery, Harris said. The first conversion is expected in Gainesville, Harris said.
Both Doble and Harris said the Tampa Bay market is ripe for more microbrew sites.
"We've been able to prove it's not a fad," Doble said. "This country is all about choices. Why not have a choice of beers?"