Suds on tap, but the food is delivered

A look at World of Beer, a craft beer pub chain run by former Outback Steakhouse execs

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include attribution of World of Beer's founding by Matt LaFon and Scott Zepp.

Two former Outback Steakhouse executives are leading a beverage-driven concept that involves no food prep. World of Beer, a craft beer pub chain based in Tampa, Fla., teams up with nearby restaurants to deliver food to customers, rather than prepare items in-house.

World of Beer chief executive Ben Novello, Outback’s president from 2004 to 2006, and franchise operations chief Jim Pollard, a former Outback regional joint venture partner, were tapped in March 2010 by brand founders Matt LaFon and Scott Zepp to expand nationally the beer pub LaFon and Zepp began in Westchase, Fla., four years ago.

To feed its customers, the chain, which offers hundreds of quaffs from around the globe, outsources the food work to restaurants, such as Lime Fresh Mexican Grill, a fast-casual Tex-Mex chain in Fort Lauderdale, which delivers food to its pubs.

For instance, at World of Beer’s Orlando location, the pub partners with Jimmy John’s, Houlihan’s, Jersey Mike’s, Pei Wei, Wing Zone, Bangkok Square, FreshBerry, Ruby Tuesday and Broadway Pizzeria.

At the Westchase World of Beer location, nearby eateries such as Tijuana Flats and Burger 21 deliver orders to pub patrons.

“It’s good to know we support each other,” said Anthony Zupo, general manager of the Tijuana Flats near the Westchase World of Beer. “They order a lot of appetizers.”

The Tijuana Flats restaurant delivers chips and salsa, burritos and tacos to that World of Beer unit.

“It’s a great partnership. We should be next to each other in every market that we open in,” said Lindsey J. Crowley, who runs the Burger 21 restaurant, which is owned by Tampa-based Front Burner Brands.

“We could never offer that variety of specialty beer products,” Crowley said. “But what goes better with a beer than a [hot] dog or a burger? We fit perfectly together.”

Novello said World of Beer is looking into serving food, but for now the chain will rely on partnerships with fast-casual pizza, burger, Mexican, sushi and sandwich concepts.

“The uniqueness of World of Beer is that people dine differently. It’s a takeout food experience and preparing food might complicate things,” Novello said. “We don’t want to become a Yard House.”

Nick Vojnovic, former president of the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s sports pub chain and a partner in a new Greek restaurant chain in Tampa Bay, said with Novello’s strong restaurant background, it’s logical to think about an in-house menu.

However, the logistics of retrofitting pubs with kitchens and food preparation areas in buildings designed for storing and drinking beers could be complicated, Vojnovic said.

“Part of the beauty of World of Beer is the simplicity and focus on the beverage side of the segment,” he said. “To add food into an existing facility could be hard to do.”

World of Beer currently has 13 sites and seven more under construction in Florida, and has signed deals for 128 new units in 11 states, Novello said. The chain also has franchise agreements for new units in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

“We’re ramping up for a very big fall,” Novello said.

Contact Alan Snel at [email protected] [3].
Follow him on Twitter: @AlanSnelNRN [4]