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Blast & Brew wants pour-it-yourselfers


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California-based Blast & Brew is up to nine locations, and features the tagline, “Craft your food, craft your beer, craft your experience.”

Build-it-yourself Neapolitan pizza and burgers, a wall of pour-it-yourself craft beer with “beer geniuses” recommending ideal pairings, an in-store experience designed to evoke social media posts, a real estate strategy focused on urban locations and brand positioning splitting the difference between casual and fast-casual—California-based Blast & Brew is an upstart pizza-focused franchise hitting more than a few millennial buzzwords.

“It’s going to be fun if nothing else,” said Mike Reynolds, chief development officer of sdMilano Restaurants International, parent of Blast & Brew, Me-n-Ed’s and Piazza Del Pane Italian Cafe. “I love building things, I love making franchisees successful and profitable—it’s a fun thing to watch and, when it works, it’s amazing.”

The first Blast & Brew opened in early 2016 in San Luis Obispo, California, and is now up to nine locations, with many more coming as part of a conversion of existing Blast 825 Pizza locations into this new concept. Milano feels it is better differentiated from the Pieologies, Blaze Pizzas and PizzaRevs of the world.

Reynolds and Milano CEO John Ferdinani feel Blast & Brew is distinctive enough to require its own category—“fasual”—which they define as a place for diners to come in for a “down-and-dirty, high-quality lunch or dinner,” but also a place designed to create a social experience that encourages diners to hang around, like at a traditional public house. The goal is appealing to millennials and baby boomers in equal measure.

 “The whole atmosphere is summed up by our tagline: craft your food, craft your beer, craft your experience,” he said.

Bartenders out, geniuses in

If that overly polished mantra elicits a cringe, don’t turn away your Warby Parkers just yet: the Pew Research Center confirmed last fall that millennials surpassed boomers as America’s largest generation that’s just starting to reach its years of peak purchasing power.

With a wall of craft beer taps, consumers are given an RFID-equipped bracelet or card giving them access to the taps, which are metered to ensure perfect—not overly generous—32-ounce pours. Nearby iPads provide additional information on each brew, adding to the experience, along with the ability to post directly to social media from the taps.

In a surprisingly candid quip, Reynolds said the pour-it-yourself taps have a “self-serving benefit” to the P&L, as customers—rather than owners—will pay for their own spillage, providing a meaningful cost advantage for the restaurant.

In addition, so-called beer geniuses in every location are trained in the nuances of noble hops, alpha acids and IBUs. The concept founders hope this on-the-spot training will also lead to additional tweets, snaps and Instagram posts.

“This person will be the beer equivalent of a sommelier,” Reynolds said. “They have a good understanding of the palette and understanding the pairings of the food, and also not being high brow about it … to make the experience fun and educate a guy or girl where they can go back and have great party facts.”

Pouring their own beer “starts a nice domino effect,” Reynolds said, which leads to customers posting about the experience online and providing the brand with first-person, authentic advertising that doesn’t cost the company a dime.

Co-founders focused on creating a dining room that deviates from the current trend of sharp lines and shiny subway tile that’s taken over the dining rooms of many franchised restaurant brands. Their focus for Blast & Brew includes warm colors, curved edges and heavier chairs to appeal to a diverse cohort.  

Expecting a 70/30 mix of food to alcohol during the day and 60/40 at night, when the happy hour crowd will skew the numbers, Blast & Brew’s concept is designed to be approximately 3,000 square feet. For its upcoming expansion, Milano is focusing on growing the concept in the southwestern U.S.—and hoping to attract franchisees who primarily fall into the multi-unit crowd.

Perhaps its franchise sales team should slap on some beads and feathers, pile into a Microbus and make the pilgrimage downstate to Coachella. You never know what kind of do-it- or pour-it-yourself fun they might find, in addition to the enlightenment that can only come from the right combination of desert air and Bon Iver.

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