Michael Waltrip clinking glasses with executives.
Michael Waltrip Taproom

Michael Waltrip (left) enjoys drinks with fellow operators. 

NASCAR Champion Michael Waltrip Transforms into Restaurateur

The former racecar driver recently opened Michael Waltrip Taproom, which expects to open 100 locations in the next five years. 

With the help of his friends and a glass of wine, two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip transformed from a NASCAR icon into a brewer overnight. Waltrip concluded they would have “a lot of fun making beer.” 

The process began three years ago in Bristol, Virginia, where the Michael Waltrip Brewing Company opened its doors for the first time to produce the Two-Time beer lineup, which would eventually end up supplying Michael Waltrip Taproom. 

Waltrip was on a quest to craft approachable beers that appealed to everyone while providing a stellar sports-bar experience. While he enjoyed operating out of the Bristol location, he knew he wanted to rev up growth. 

Elevatus Brands Partners offered an avenue for expansion with over 45 years of experience elevating emerging brands through franchising. Founder Ken McAllister was instantly impressed with Waltrip’s vision. 

“My goal is to be the engine that helps accelerate [Michael Waltrip Taproom], so it’s a great partnership,” McAllister says. 

Waltrip agrees, stating: “We have 12 beers on tap, Wagyu burgers, and wings that are at a level above anybody else. We want to grow our brand, and Ken is the perfect person to do that.” 

Michael Waltrip Taproom features the Two-Time line of beers and flavors such as MW Bristol Sunshine and MW Talladega “Light”—all nods to Waltrip’s career as a racecar driver. Wagyu beef burgers like the Mac Daddy are also available, paired with truffle fries or tater tots. 

Armed with a full food and beverage menu, the taproom raced to open its doors in Charlotte, North Carolina, in early May. 

The grand opening was strategically held right before race week at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Waltrip says the turnout “exceeded expectations” with a full house of both NASCAR fans and colleagues from Fox Sports. 

McAllister himself got behind the kitchen to help serve guests amid the successful opening. 

“Our team stepped up to provide service to the hundreds of folks that were in our restaurant every day,” Waltrip says. “They knew it was time for us to make an impression … and I’m just so thankful for our management and staff.” 

Michael Waltrip Taproom
Michael Waltrip Taproom

McAllister is targeting the NASCAR circuit as the brand’s core market—Virginia down to Florida, Texas, and beyond. As time goes on, he can see the brand expanding westward, but in this fledgling stage, he wants to start where the “hubs” of racing fans are. 

“We want to start around the Charlotte market and spread out from there,” McAllister says. “We’re going to be able to target anywhere in the Southeast in the next one to three years.” 

The overarching goal is 100 locations in five years, and McAllister is confident this can be done through the conversion of struggling venues instead of ground-up infrastructure. 

The Charlotte conversion only took a few weeks and was a quarter of typical building costs. McAllister said they were able to retain 90 percent of employees—which is priceless in a tight job market—and a vast majority of the previous establishment’s customer base. 

While they are converting, the stores will remain open to retain the original staff and customer base. McAllister knows this is atypical, but it is saving operators time and money.

Michael Waltrip Taproom hopes to expand quickly, from intimate spaces to bigger venues ranging in size from 2,000 to 8,000 square feet. This flexibility offers the brand more room to grow. 

“Our brand tag has a lot more opportunities,” McAllister says. “Mike has great beers and more importantly a lot of passion … the third element is to just go out there and execute.” 

McAllister’s experience with franchising will help the brand reach its ideal mix of 10 percent company-owned and 90 percent franchisee stores. He believes the corporate locations will provide an understanding of strengths and pitfalls as time goes on.

His ideal franchisee would be someone who mirrors the Michael Waltrip image, with McAllister stating: “They need to reflect our passion, views, and goals. We want them to fit with our culture.”

Through the brand’s development, Waltrip is keen on staying true to his original motivators— having fun, drinking good beer, and making people smile. 

“We’re just going to continue to enjoy the ride and see people drinking our beers,” Waltrip says. “Nothing feels better than seeing [people] you don’t know enjoy the beers and appreciate the quality of the product.”