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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 11, 2015 3 years ago

Craft peer

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Experience has fueled World of Beer's current expansion. Will it be enough to create the next big chain?
by: Michael Hinman Tampa Bay Reporter

Two years ago, craft beer specialty bar World of Beer had a respectable 30 locations around the Gulf Coast and Central Florida.

But the company wanted more. So the founders brought in former Outback Steakhouse executive Paul Avery as president and CEO to make it happen.

Avery has been busy.

World of Beer is expanding its footprint by some 30 locations each year, mostly through franchising and partnerships. It got some assistance in that strategy in January, when it signed a deal for $25 million in franchise financing with suburban Philadelphia-based Benetrends Financial.

Tampa-based World of Beer has also expanded the options at existing locations. That includes a new lunch menu Avery says will attract families.

“When we're looking for locations now, we're looking for places that not only will give us that night-time crowd, but the daytime customers, too,” says Avery, who was COO at OSI Restaurant Partners from 2005 to 2009. He oversaw operations of several brands in that role, including Outback Steakhouse, Bonefish Grill and Carrabba's. “We just opened our second location in The Villages, for example, and that is an area that is heavily lunched. So these were market areas we certainly didn't want to miss.”

Adding a lunch menu is simple for locations still in development. But it also means renovating and restructuring existing locations. Known as its “tavern fare,” the menu will include sandwiches, chicken wings, and even an oversized Bavarian pretzel.

Avery wouldn't share how much World of Beer is spending to add the lunch menu, except to say the cost of retrofitting can be considerable. Avery hired local culinary consultant Mark Adair, a longtime executive chef who was lured from California to take over Bonefish Grill, to help with the menu.

“For many people coming in to have lunch, this is their introduction to our entire concept,” says Terry Haley, World of Beer's vice president of marketing. “It's important they have that good experience, so that they'll think of us in the evening, too.”

World of Beer was founded in 2007 in Tampa's Westchase neighborhood. It currently operates more than 70 taverns in 20 states, including 32 in Florida. The timing of the initial opening, and the more recent growth strategy, has been fortuitous because the popularity of regionally produced craft beers is on the rise. Craft beer sales accounted for nearly 20% of overall beer sales last year, according to the Brewers Association. And at $19.6 billion in total sales, that's a 22% growth over the previous year.

Diversifying offerings beyond craft beer will help World of Beer in case the shine does wear off — though Avery isn't overly concerned about that. “People today, in particular those in the late and millennial generation, are looking for their own culture, and to find their own flavors,” Avery says. “That's not going away anytime soon, but even if it does, we simply have to reinvent.”

Avery has been in an early growth position like this before: Back when he joined Outback Steakhouse in 1988, the chain had just opened its first location in Tampa. Two decades later there were more than 1,000 locations and Outback was a global brand. The experiences there are fresh for Avery, who has run his own hospitality management consulting business since he left OSI.

“You never want your development to get ahead of your people,” he says. “Too many others have made that mistake, but we're not going to be one of them.”

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