Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Why are tap rooms popping up in Bay Area Whole Foods Markets?

The Tap Room at the Blossom Hill Whole Foods
Why is Whole Foods Market putting craft beer tap rooms at selected Bay Area locations?

A grocery store isn't exactly the first place that comes to mind for grabbing a pint or two. Especially since no other area grocery stores are opening up tap rooms. With the grand opening of the tap room at  the Blossom Hill Whole Foods in San Jose last October 30th, I stopped by to get a pint and talk with Nate Kaufman, the Marketing and Communications lead for Whole Foods in the South Bay to check the new place out and find out why Whole Foods is getting into the tap room game.

"The tap room part of a larger effort to foster a spirit of education," he explained.  "Whole Foods is known as a place to find the best quality food and a place to learn. The tap room creates a relaxing time where people can talk about beer in a laid back atmosphere."  Nate further explained that Whole Foods wants to create community hubs within their stores featuring local breweries and wineries. "Of course, we'll feature larger regional and even national breweries doing really cool things," he adds.

In addition to beer and wine, the tap room currently serves sushi platters and edamame. A full food menu including made-to-order burgers starts in 2016.

The Tap Room's Beer Specialist Brien
(Whole Foods photo)
It's part of an overall plan at Whole Foods to create tap rooms where ever possible and the local alcohol regulations allow. Last year, Whole Foods opened up the Mission Creek Brewery at their location on The Alameda in San Jose. Since Whole Foods is in the business of selling beer, the tap rooms provide obvious marketing opportunities. "The tap room gives local partners an opportunity to introduce themselves. Our shoppers are inclined to try new things and this place is where they can try new things in a place that isn’t intimidating."

I'll have to agree with that last part. As I sat at the bar, quietly sipping a lovely Almanac Citra Sour Ale, the couple next to me asked the bar tender for something "like Stella Artois". He fielded their inquiry far more patiently than I ever could. The tap list that evening had something for everyone, whether those looking for something eclectic, or those just looking to expand their horizons past Stella Artois

While we can all applaud the mission to create community hubs, let's not forget Whole Foods is a publicly traded company. While I believe hard core capitalism can peacefully coexist with grass roots community development, Whole Foods isn't opening up tap rooms out of the goodness of their hearts, but ultimately to strengthen their bottom line. It's an open question whether a large corporation like Whole Food can create authentic local meeting places, or even if people want grocery stores to be those meeting places, but give them credit for trying to pull it off.

As for me, I'm glad there's one more craft beer option in the South Bay. If big corporations are using locally brewed beer to bring people together, even if is to strengthen their bottom line, it's further proof the good guys are winning

Tap Room at Blossom Hill Whole Foods Vital Statistics

Address: 1146 Blossom Hill Road, San Jose, CA 95118
Regular Hours: 11a-10p daily
Happy Hour: M-F 4-6 p.m., $1 off all draft beers and wines on tap
Seats: 100+ total, with 60-70 on the outdoor patio
Things to do: The venue will be outfitted with Shuffleboard and Cornhole
Food: Artisan cheese and charcuterie, sushi, hot pretzels, gourmet mac and cheese. A full food menu including made to order burgers arrives in January.
Drink: Eight beer taps, two cask ales, and two wines on tap. 90% local beers including brews from Faction (Alameda) and Lagunitas (Petaluma), as well as limited edition craft brews from folks like Fort Point Beer Company (SF) and Santa Clara Valley Brewing (San Jose). Local wines represented as well.

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