Editors Note: This is an independent review, Sommbeer.com did not receive any compensation for this article. Quotations are intended to be accurate but I can only write so fast.
From David- Founder of Sommbeer:
Corporate Adam / Local Adam
When a corporation wants to have a national reach and maintain a local feel what do they do? At worst they mandate standards from a central office. At best, they provide support and expertise that only concentrated corporate resources can provide while allowing local establishments to have autonomy. I was therefore excited to learn more about one of my favorite franchises, “Champps” when a marketing representative from their parent organization “Last Call” reached out to me.
It’s a unique environment at Champps. I’ve been there with a gang of rowdy friends eating before a hockey game. I’ve also been at the same restaurant, dressed in suit and tie, interviewed thoroughly for a position in the automotive business.
Often there’s a simmering tension within national organizations. The main office wants control, standardization. They want it done “right” and don’t want to leave it to the whim of the “local guy”. The local guys, scattered all over the country, want the freedom to put their stamp on things. The Last Call group however, seems to pride itself on supporting local flavor.
I had the unique pleasure of interviewing two employees (both named Adam) from the “Last Call” organization that runs companies as diverse as Fox&Hound and Champps. It was a fun look at their approach to craft beer as one representative worked at the Corporate office and the local rant things on a local level. From outward appearance they couldn’t be more different. Corporate Adam is a classically trained culinary expert and certified cicerone. Local Adam is a self taught craft beer aficionado with an impressive resume built on experience from some of Detroit’s most influential bars and restaurants. A classically trained corporate guy and a self taught local guy. The common passion between them both? Their love for craft beer!
Adam Harkless – The Corporate Guy
Adam moved from Ohio to join his organization in Dallas, TX. He is a former chemical engineer that grew up in a family of French chefs. He ended up going to culinary school as a “back-up plan”. His experience with beverages actually started with liquor and wine, craft beer was the last step 7-8 years ago, In fact he is a certified sommelier. While he currently lives in Dallas, not far from their craft beer epicenter in Deep Ellum. His roots are actually in Ohio.
It was in Ohio that he learned to embrace the virtues of a “scratch kitchen”. A scratch kitchen, I learned, is a true foodie paradise. Unlike some chains that only warm-up or fry existing canned and frozen food, the “Last Call” family of companies supports true cooking in each of their local kitchens. At Champps, one of the restaurant chains owned by this corporation, they don’t buy pre-made blue cheese dressing or sauces – they make them. I can tell you first hand it makes a difference, the food is fantastic.
As odd as it sounds, this local food “processing” is ideal for Adam. Part of his job as both a culinary and craft beer expert is to find recipes that can be made at each restaurant utilizing their local craft beer. Interesting to note that there really isn’t a national craft beer so his recipes suggest a “style” of beer over a specific “brand”. As each region has different breweries, each dish will invariably taste different. These local difference are celebrated at “Last Call” and as I learned is a guiding principle for Adam as the “corporate guy”.
Sommbeer: Why don’t you mandate which taps are in place at each local restaurant? Why not push the national craft beer?
Adam: For one there really isn’t a national craft beer with perhaps the exception of Boston Beer. We also believe strongly in local control for craft beer. When customers travel to a new town they want to try the local unique beer.
Sommbeer: But you’ve got to have contracts with the big brewers, how do you manage/balance big brews with local craft beer?
Adam: We do have contracts and they tend to alter their beer groupings. InBev was pushing Goose Island last year for example. So here’s what we do. We split the taps. A restaurant that has 30 taps would have 15 dedicated to Miller, Coors, Bud etc… the other 15 taps would be local picks.
I was impressed when Adam told me this. Half the taps are at the discretion of the local bar manager!
I then warned Adam I would ask him a few craft beer themed questions….
Sommbeer: What beer secret do you have that your friends don’t know about you?Adam: I always know where to find cask beer! I want the true cask ale that has been aged in the cask. The best events are tapping parties at bars where you can see the actual cask.
Sommbeer: Do you have a beer order when you drink? For example always starting with an IPA?
Adam: I really don’t it. Sometimes I group it by color. If I’m drinking sours, I do tend to start with something “less sour” and end with more (Gose).
Sommbeer: What is the next trend in craft beer?
Adam: Lower alcohol content. While the ingredients are expensive and that may be a factor, the real drive is so people can have a few beers without getting too tipsy. The brewers will still brew the heavier beers and will need to, to maintain credibility with the craft beer crowd, but lower alcohol will become the next trend I believe.
I then went to my local Champps, which is under the corporate umbrella of the “Last Call” organization (and under the “influence of the Adam Harkless the fella I had just interviewed).
The guy that runs “my” restaurant in Livonia, MI is named Adam too,
Adam Mitchell – The Local Guy
Like a lot of us Adam started as a home brewer after his journey from PBR, “Old Detroit and Boston Beer. He personally favors the darker stuff. Like Corporate Adam, he has a strong body of knowledge regarding food and the food industry. In fact, he has helped to establish some of the Detroit area’s most influential restaurants; Lilly’s Seafood, Tribute and Slows BBQ in Detroit.
He too talked about the national vs. local taps and was justifiably proud of his “locals”.
Sommbeer: So I understand you get half the taps to select for local beers
Adam: Yes and I like to have good local representatives for each style. Customers try “Raggedy Ass” and I ask them if they like that Birmingham taste.
Adam: We had “Scottie Karate” here the other night …
Sommbeer: What! I wish I had know that’s one of my favorite old ales.
Adam: Yep, turns out the beer was named after a musician named Scottie Karate and I had the chance to meet him.
Adam: I also like to have variations on a similar style like a Clean vs. Dirty IPA.
Sommbeer: Clean and Dirty IPAs? Any examples?
Adam: Yeah, I’d say “Raggedy Ass” is a Clean IPA nd “2 Hearted” is a Dirty IPA.
The clean IPAs are crisp and straight forward whereas a dirty is malty earthy.
It’s important to represent the IPAs well as they are 40% of the craft beer market.
Sommbeer: So what’s the latest trends
Adam: Sours are definitely the latest craze. I’m really liking Hopotermia from Alaskan Brewing and they are energy conscious focusing on renewable energy. Isn’t it amazing that we can get fresh Alaskan Brewing beer but struggle to get Floyd’s from Indiana?
Sommbeer: So what annoys you about the craft beer world?
Adam: Lack of continued support from breweries for their seasonal beers and our archaic distribution laws in Michigan.
Sommbeer: Controversial question: Do you think Oberon changes every year?
Adam: Absolutely! We’ve had some kegs that we’ve had to return. I guess its been an issue going from small to big batch brewing. This is a good year for Oberon (I agree).
Sommbeer: Final question; What do you want people to know about your bar?
Adam: They can come here to enjoy a beer without being overwhelmed. When you go to some bars with 50 taps it can be crazy. Here, you can choose from a limited but well defined list of beers.
First let me state that I want Adam’s job. Either Adam, Corporate or Local would be just fine with me, they both have fun jobs from my perspective. Local Adam happens to be a Michigan Craft Beer geek just like me so perhaps he has the edge. Both Adams however, have an incredible passion for craft beer and fine food. The irony, despite their different organizational perspectives, is that they are both committed to Local Craft Beer and I’m convinced they have both helped build their business.
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