THE GANG’S ALL HERE: Appalachian State University fans enjoy a watch party at The Casual Pint, top, while, bottom, from left, Ashley Blalock, Bryan Smith and Johnny Belflower enjoy a quiet moment at Tasty Beverage Co. Photos courtesy of The Casual Pint and Mike Bromer
With so many businesses in the Asheville-area brewing industry being homegrown institutions, outsiders setting up shop in town are often met with a degree of skepticism from protective, hyperlocal customers.
Such was the case for the father-son team of Brad and Cameron Rogers in early 2018 as they established an Asheville location of The Casual Pint, which at the time had just over 20 other franchises scattered across the country. But as craft beverage fans have gotten to know the loyal locals running the taproom and bottle shop, they’ve embraced the business as the community institution it strives to be.
A former banker, Brad was the chief credit officer for a group that did small-business lending nationwide, and in February 2016, he received a request to finance a Casual Pint store. Already looking for a professional opportunity that he and Cameron, a recent graduate of Appalachian State University, could undertake together, Brad read up on the company. Three months later, he and his wife, Sissy Rogers, signed a franchise agreement, and in February 2018, they opened the store at 1863 Hendersonville Road with Cameron as its manager.
“With the banking background, the operational model was appealing,” Brad says. “Every store learns from the previous one. [Cameron and I] visited about a dozen of them before signing to see how consistent they were. [Cameron] knew beer, I knew business, but neither of us knew about opening and running a business. It’s not easy, but the operational part has made it better.”
Launched in Knoxville, Tenn., in 2011 by another father-son duo, Jon and Nathan Robinette, The Casual Pint opened its first franchise in 2014. The current network of 28 stores in eight states shares information and advice through an intranet and a monthly owners call.
There are also front-of-house and back-of-house managers for the entire company, so when issues arise, owners can reach out for solutions. The Rogerses pay for access to that communal assistance with a monthly fee.
All Casual Pint franchises feature the same design scheme and use uniform point-of-sale software. They also offer the same menu of six standard bar food items (e.g., chicken wings and pretzels). Otherwise, each location is truly independently owned and operated.
“The events we do, the people we hire, the beer we buy — it’s all our decision,” Cameron says. “But having the support and the system is a big help.”
He and his father considered World of Beer and The Brass Tap beer bars, but both franchises involve a full restaurant, and the Rogerses wanted to foremost run a beer store. The freedom to customize the space and tailor the 35 taps and wall of packaged beer to their customers’ preferences was likewise appealing.
In the same way they gradually overcame patrons’ false assumptions that they are from Knoxville, the Rogerses maneuvered stigmas in working with local breweries. One such success story is their account with Burial Beer Co., which took six to eight months to establish.
“It took some of their people coming out here and seeing what we do,” Cameron says. “Some people will look at a franchise and just say, ‘I’m not going there because it’s not local.’ But people who come in here typically don’t leave with something negative to say.”
Door No. 2
While the operational box of The Casual Pint gives the Rogerses the confidence to run their store, Brad applauds entrepreneurs like Johnny Belflower, owner of Tasty Beverage Co., who are willing to strike out on their own. Belflower opened his first bottle shop in Raleigh in 2011, and as the business grew to where expansion made sense, he opted to build a second store in Asheville rather than go the franchise route.
“Most weeks, I spend at least eight hours in the car and am working a couple of days at both shops,” Belflower says. “I often answer ‘Where do you live?’ jokingly with, ‘In my car on I-40 around Statesville.’”
Drawn to a brewing community that he calls “second to none,” Belflower opened Tasty’s Coxe Avenue store just in time for AVL Beer Week 2015. Overall, he feels his business has been embraced in much the same way as the additional locations of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., New Belgium Brewing Co. and White Labs. Many of his weekly customers were born and raised in the area, and a good number of regulars work at local breweries.
The inaugural Brew Horizons Beer Festival is set for Saturday, Feb. 23, at the U.S. Cellular Center. It’s presented by the nonprofit Green Built Alliance, which also produces Asheville’s Ciderfest NC event. Proceeds will help fund the group’s Blue Horizons Project clean energy resource hub.
The festival will feature about 20 Western North Carolina breweries and cideries along with live music and food vendors. Asheville-based breweries compose roughly half of the current lineup, though regional operations rarely seen on the local front — including 7 Clans Brewing of Cherokee, Currahee Brewing Co. of Franklin and Mica Town Brewing Co. of Marion — will also be in attendance. Mead maker Wehrloom Honey of Robbinsville is also on board, as is Asheville ginger beer brewery Ginger’s Revenge. Visit brewhorizonsbeerfest.com for details and tickets. — Tony Kiss
“I didn’t personally experience any backlash from residents or breweries over Tasty Asheville being our second location, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there with those sentiments,” Belflower says. “I think most people understand how exceedingly different the implications are between Tasty Beverage Co. coming to town, compared to a corporation like Anthropologie or Ben & Jerry’s.”
Regarding franchises within his industry, Belflower is familiar with The Casual Pint and has visited a few Craft Beer Cellar locations. “I thought they all were well-run shops and elevated the craft beer industry,” he says. “I’m glad we didn’t choose that route for growth, but I’m not going to knock them for it either.”
Belflower adds that he supports Unchain Asheville’s mission, and with the exception of “an unhealthy addiction to Bojangles,” he almost exclusively shops and dines at independent businesses.
“The Asheville store’s revenue is reinvested as locally as every other local business, and our profits will never leave the city,” he says.