The concept began as Red Arrow Tap Room in 2016. Three years later the company filed its FDD under the Tapville Social brand. The chain is roughly 10 percent corporate, and that should increase to 20 percent in the next few years. The rest will be franchise partners. Tapville targets customers—primarily women aged 24–49—strictly through digital advertising.
Approximately one dozen locations are open, mixed between brick-and-mortar restaurants, nontraditional kiosk locations, and mobile taproom units. Tota expects the chain to more than double in size to 30 outlets by the first quarter. Nearly 80 stores are in the pipeline. Many of those franchise leads came from investors who saw the company’s crowdfunding campaign on Start Engine. The concept raised more than $1.5 million, from 2,400-plus participants. The unit growth for the rest of 2022 is aggressive, especially considering the macroeconomic environment, but Tato says Tapville has preordered equipment inventory to avoid delays.
The brand started in Chicago, and now has outposts in Texas, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Markets in development include Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Florida, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Indiana, Nevada, and South Carolina.
“There are certain markets that we're targeting, but we do get leads that pop up in certain markets that we evaluate,” Tota says. “So our strategy is to be very market focused, but then there are great operators that pop up that we take those opportunistic leads. We have a cluster of stores that are opening in the L. A. market, and it wasn't like we were targeting that market. But they just popped up, so it made a lot of sense for the demographics of that market.”
The typical streetside restaurant is suburban and 5,000-5,500 square feet—intentionally sized to make it easier for customers to walk toward the tap wall. The kiosks are all based in shopping centers, outlets, and traditional malls. The three existing mobile taprooms drive around Chicagoland, Western Connecticut, and Central Texas.
“It creates a three-dimensional territory map. You think about a brand, they can only sell in a certain area because of territory restrictions in their franchise agreement,” Tota says. “We can go three concepts deep because we might sell a restaurant, but then somebody might buy a kiosk at the local mall that doesn't cannibalize off that restaurant and complements it. And it could be a different operator a few miles away. So now when we're selling franchises in the market, we have three different territory maps that were selling off of versus one. So it's a way to really dominate the brand in a particular market, but also find a lot of great operators that can operate and may have different interests.”
Tota’s bold statement on the industry is that self-pour concepts are either dead or heading toward it. And he believes it’s because the focus is on marketing the innovation instead of emphasizing the guest experience—that’s where Tapville will win.
“I think there's this new evolution of a concept out there, and you have technology on top of it—I think it's going to be something that all restaurants need,” Tota says.