As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, Craft Beer Cellar is a strong and growing franchise. The brand they’ve created is one that consumers have come to associate with a positive beer buying experience. Though, even with such a great brand, every store is different. Each Craft Beer Cellar looks similar, but still has its own vibe and atmosphere. This may be because of a unique layout or special decorations, but mostly it comes from the people that own and run the store. The staff beer geeks create a customer experience that goes above and beyond what consumers have come to expect when buying beer, and every store is an opportunity to enjoy the Craft Beer Cellar experience like it’s the first time.
One of the latest additions to the Craft Beer Cellar family has been open for a month today, and it’s been pretty monumental. I say that not just because it shattered the Grand Opening sales record for the franchise when it opened its doors on August 6th, but because it opened in none other than Washington, D.C. Located a couple of miles away from the White House and less than a mile away from where Congress passes our country’s laws, I reached out to store owner Erika Goedrich to ask her some questions about how this important store fits within the Craft Beer Cellar franchise.
What made you want to open a Craft Beer Cellar store?
Erika: I’ve been kicking around the craft beer world for almost 20 years, mostly as a hobby, though I did work at Old Dominion Brewpub in Ashburn, VA (prior to it being bought) and started a craft beer rating and recommendation website with a friend (before untappd was cool). I am super passionate about craft beer, not just for the beer, but the history, and entrepreneurship, the people, creativity and ingenuity, the individuality yet the community. For a long time, I thought about opening a craft beer bar, but the food side was never of much interest to me, and it seemed a bit more than I could handle.
A mutual friend introduced me to Kate and Suzanne at SAVOR before they opened the Belmont store. I met them again at another mutual friend’s wedding as they were beginning to franchise. I started to pay closer attention and visited the Belmont store when in Boston. I was amazed because we didn’t have anything like CBC in the DC area that I was aware of. DC area breweries and bars were stepping up their game, but the retail side was lacking…too often I found beers on the shelf that were out of date, the hospitality and knowledge weren’t there.
I knew I wanted to own my own business, just not sure what. And then one night I was at a bar and a customer must have been wanting wine but didn’t like anything from the small wine selection, so the bartender gave her a sample of something. The customer thought it was really good and asked what it was. The bartender’s response was, “it’s beer.” I had to stop myself from banging my head on the table. The poor customer never found out she was drinking a framboise; would never be able to ask for it again. And so I decided that I wanted to open a craft beer store, and follow a model where great beer selection, hospitality and education are at the forefront.
What would you say is special about your Craft Beer Cellar location?
Erika: Beer, particularly craft beer, brings people together. And it’s not just about the beer, but about the people and experiences and memories built while drinking beer. I’ve decorated the store with pictures of people doing different activities while enjoying beer. I want people, whether they consider themselves to be craft beer aficionados or craft beer novices, to feel welcome, like they are entering a friend’s house. We want to teach as well as learn – certainly we don’t know everything. We want to explore more of the craft beer world alongside our customers and industry partners. We want to foster a community around craft beer.
Since you are familiar with CBC, the fact that the entire store is available for mix-and-match won’t shock you. But it’s a novel concept in DC; “revolutionary” is what one customer called it. We changed the law in DC. I appreciate that the ABRA Board was willing to review our request and ruled in our favor, as it’s the consumer who wins because of this. They get to experiment and try various beers and breweries without having to commit to 4 or 6 of something they may not like.
What is the craft beer community like in DC?
Erika: It’s welcoming and supportive. Opening a business in DC is not easy, and everyone (from people in the industry to people in the neighborhood) have been helpful, friendly, patient and all-around wonderful to work with.
It’s evolving. DC Brau, DC’s first package brewery, just celebrated its five-year anniversary earlier this year, so we’re all still very young and learning. No one has all the answers. We (CBC DC) certainly don’t. But everyone is hungry to learn and to push and support everyone to be better. That includes consumers, who have embraced the mix-and-match, and are asking about tastings and other educational events, because they want to learn and explore.
What is one thing you think everyone should know about Craft Beer Cellar?
Erika: We’re passionate about craft beer and we want to share that passion with others. We’ve been both applauded and criticized for putting a per-person limit on rare beers that we’ve had. Our goal here is just to make these beers accessible and available to as many people as possible and be fair in the process.
DC has what’s known as “gray laws”, where if a distributor does not have a beer available or in the quantity needed, you can go out and get it yourself and pay an import fee. It’s why you will find beers not distributed here on some shelves and taps. Customers have asked us to get some of these rare beers this way. As we get our feet more solidly under us, we will be reaching out to various breweries. But we will use this only with the brewery’s knowledge and permission. And we will continue to be fair in our pricing of these beers.
What are some of the craft beers on your shelves now that you'd recommend?
Erika: We’d be here all day. And it all just depends on what the customer is looking for or what I’m in the mood for. I’d recommend that people continue to take advantage of our mix-and-match and explore different beers and different styles. Try multiple beers from the same brewery. Try multiple beers within a style. I’d even recommend going back to a beer you had years ago, and may have loved or even hated. Our palates evolve and change over time, as do breweries. So your opinion of the beer may change, or you may fall in love all over again.
You can tell from Erika’s answers that she is truly passionate and knowledgeable about craft beer. I would certainly describe Craft Beer Cellar as a revolutionary franchise, and I know that whenever I am in DC I will be stopping into her store. So next time you’re exploring the monuments in our nation’s capital, make sure to visit the store stocked with some of our nation’s finest beers. It is your patriotic duty.