When Paul Avery came on as CEO and president of World of Beer in 2013, he soon realized—contrary to the brand’s name—that just having a craft beer–focused tavern with an extensive number of brews wasn’t going to result in true staying power.
Stocking shelves and filling kegs with unique and hard-to-find options was becoming a common notion for competitors, and World of Beer, with its 500 bottled beers and 50 taps at each location, wanted to leave a larger imprint. “It needed more attributes to sustain its relevance long term,” Avery recalls. That’s when food entered the equation.
Nearing the end of 2015, World of Beer Franchising Inc., which began in the Westchase community of Tampa, Florida, in 2007, numbered 78 locations distributed across 21 states, with a concentration along the East Coast (and the Southeast specifically). Over the past three years, the entire chain has been transitioning from a beer- and wine-focused model to one that offers spirits and food as well.
The benefit of adding fare to the menu was immediate. “It was very evident to me that there were significant opportunities associated with putting a food program into it, along with spirits, to broaden the appeal,” says Avery, who joined World of Beer after more than 20 years with Outback Steakhouse and OSI Restaurant Partners, Inc., serving as the latter’s chief operating officer. “The World of Beer business model, when I got engaged, was to offer five to seven menus of local restaurants right in the immediate area.”
At that time, customers could simply call and place an order to a nearby restaurant with their table number and the food would be delivered. “Some locations had tremendous volume from neighboring restaurants,” Avery says.
Then, World of Beer decided to take ownership of its food program and brought on experienced chefs in David Belliveau and, later, Mark Adair—who had experience working with Bonefish Grill. Soon after, the beer-focused tavern unveiled a significant new food menu and a spirits program unique to the brand.
There were some challenges with adding food to the concept, especially in terms of logistics. Given the small footprint that was often available in many of the existing World of Beer franchise locations, it was difficult to add extensive kitchen space. The square footage had to be optimized and high-performance kitchens were required to enable a small team to move a relatively large volume of food.
Much of the menu, codified as “tavern fare,” revolves around shareable appetizers, including wings (with house-made sauces), flatbreads, and a signature German pretzel. The entrée section includes a Chimay burger, Guinness-infused bratwurst sliders, and healthier salad options.
The program was made mandatory for all new World of Beer locations. In fact, the food and spirits additions have performed so well that the company decided to transition most of the existing World of Beer locations to begin serving the core menu.
“A number of locations didn’t have the square footage, or the right [permissions] from a lease-agreement standpoint, to be able to introduce food,” Avery explains. “So we’ve actually relocated a number of the older ones into what we think are better locations that are more suitable for a food program.”
All but a handful of locations have switched over to the full-service format at this point. At the World of Beer Easton location outside Columbus, Ohio, franchise partner Darren Greene recently made the switch to the full-service format, opening the location’s kitchen in July. To accommodate a kitchen, they built out the second-floor mezzanine with an additional 700 square feet.
“It’s a pretty compact kitchen,” Greene says, “but very efficient. We had to be creative on what pieces of equipment we could use, and ceiling height was a challenge.” Regarding the second-floor kitchen, he jokes, “Our staff has gotten into really good shape going up and down the steps.” Fitness improvements notwithstanding, the addition has also proved really good for business: The staff has doubled, now totaling almost 50, and both a kitchen manager and service manager were added to the management team.
The transition also included the build-out of an extra 900 square feet on the first floor, with a variety of enhancements on the beer side, including the addition of a cask engine and an infusion tower—essentially for adding spices, fruit, and other ingredients to different beers, as World of Beer often works with local brewers to develop recipes. The location also ramped up its selections, with 15 more taps than the typical 50 taps that is the threshold offering—along with 500 bottle selections—for the brand.
Despite all the modifications, the restaurant was able to remain open the majority of the time, closing only a few days. “We have a great, loyal following that we didn’t want to lose during the construction process,” Greene notes.
Nothing was lost, and much was gained: The Easton location opted for the fuller version of the World of Beer kitchen model and menu, allowing it to offer menu items like burgers and steak frites. “The response has been overwhelming,” Greene says. While food sales haven’t been quite as high as hoped in the initial months, the spot’s overall growth has been higher than expected.
“Not only has the fact that we have food been very well-received, but the quality of the food that we have has been extremely well-received,” he says.
Of the previous service model where customers called outside restaurants to deliver food, Greene adds, “Some people found that really neat. Other people didn’t enjoy the fact that there had to be two transactions. And they really didn’t like that they had to be the ones placing the order.”
Surprisingly, the restaurant still honors its old system, allowing customers to bring in outside food. “That was how the concept originated and what it was built on initially, and we didn’t want to alienate those people who liked it,” Greene says, noting, however, that such transactions rarely occur more than once a week.
At World of Beer North Hills in Raleigh, North Carolina, the switch to offering food came at an important time, as the location was struggling to keep pace with a nearby full-service competitor. Operating partner Ken Grossman was initially cautious about the shift. “It’s kind of hard to mess up a vodka cranberry,” Grossman says, “but it certainly is easy to mess up some food.” He credits the World of Beer menu program and the company’s training for the successful transition to a more intricate service model. “I understand why everything on that menu is there,” Grossman explains.
Bringing on an additional staff of eight servers and 10 cooks, the team prepared and sampled all the items on the new menu with corporate trainers, talking through each one. “That really helped with the transition—the staff understanding what we’re serving,” Grossman explains. “The way you greet tables is a change. The way you ring it up is a change. How you get the food to the table is a change.”
While the transition hasn’t been without its challenges, there is little doubt as to whether Grossman would do it again. “The food is what’s brought me back to being able to compete with the vast amount of [restaurants] in the area. My sales have skyrocketed with the addition,” he says, noting that families will now swing in for the German pretzel.
Similarly, the World of Beer Towson opened near Baltimore in mid-September with the new full-service format. The 4,600-square-foot location has about 40 employees and about 150 seats total, including the bar area. Development partner Matthew Earl notes that the original plan did not include food, as the initial discussions started in 2012. However, he explains that the way the food menu was rolled out made him very comfortable with the full-service concept, and the restaurant has received positive reviews from customers. “The food and spirits really broaden the appeal and get more people in the door,” Earl says. “The focus is—and always has been—on the beer, but the [food] complements that focus.”
World of Beer added 22 locations in 2015, and the company expects to add another 35 domestic spots this year (about 30 percent of which will be company-owned). Newly added states like California are just coming online with their first franchise units, as are China, India, and the Philippines. Two, possibly all three, international locations are expected to be open early this year.