Era of soft launch is over, says brewpub pioneer

Social media means brewpubs or taprooms have to be ready to hit the ground running on their first day of operations, according to an American brewpub pioneer.

Karl Strauss Brewing Company co-founder Chris Cramer said the landscape had changed considerably for brewpubs since his company began trading almost three decades ago.

“When we started in 1989, you used to be able to open a brewpub operation and do a soft opening…. [and] not tell anyone, and you got down the learning curve,” he said at the recent Craft Brewers Conference.

“Nowadays with social media, people know you’re open the day you open.”

Cramer said that as a result, Karl Strauss now invests very considerably in training its employees before it opens the doors to a new brewpub, of which it now has ten in California.

“Last year, we opened up two new high volume brewpubs, one in Anaheim, one in Downtown Los Angeles,” he said.

“We brought on more than 300 new team members. If you walk into those brewpubs today you wouldn’t know that those team members have only been with us for a few months, you’d think they were working with us for ten years.

Karl Strauss’s new Anaheim brewpub

“We have made a conscious decision in our company to train at a level that very few people do. The reason is the world has changed so dramatically.”

Why we don’t advertise
Cramer, who is immediate past chair of the Californian Restaurant Association, said Karl Strauss is likely in the top 0.1 per cent of hospitality businesses in the US, in terms of the investment it makes in training prior to opening.

“We don’t do any advertising for our brewpubs at all, it’s all word of mouth,” he said.

“What we do instead is we train for weeks and weeks to make sure the guest experience when they come in on the first day is going to be at the level that they would get from any of our brewpubs that’s been open for a decade or two decades or more.”

Cramer said the company has also created very strict hiring profiles for new candidates, as well as extensive training materials.

“We have somewhere around 200 little different training packets that take people all the way up from entry level positions to being general managers or chefs in our company,” he said.

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