Leather recliners, HD TV and plenty of beer. Sound like the ultimate man-cave? Add handcrafted American food, trend-forward design and a bevy of smiling waitresses and you’ve got the ultimate neighborhood watering hole, a.k.a. Brick House Tavern + Tap.
“Our success is predicated on the premise that ‘everyman’ is aspirational to one level, so we’ve elevated every element of the concept to make it better than your average tavern, but still very approachable,” says Ray Blanchette, CEO, part of the team that converted the first Brick House from an underperforming Joe’s Crab Shack in 2008.
Yes, the atmosphere is welcoming, but with high-ceilinged exposed-brick spaces and cushy, neutral-colored seating. Sure there are TVs—at least 20 of them in every unit. If you want a beer to go with that game there’s 70 or more to choose from, from $2 PBRs to 100-oz. beer bongs (classed up from your college days) and cask-conditioned local ales served through a manually operated “beer engine.”
And if it’s a prime rib sandwich you’re in the mood for, the Brick House signature Big Boy Prime Rib is slow-roasted, hand-shaved and served with housemade green peppercorn jus, smoked provolone and frizzled-to-order onion rings. Brick House is all about “I get it,” then providing even more.
As for the Brick House girls, Blanchette’s daughter was 19 when the first one opened, and “it had to be a place where I’d be happy for her to work.” That and the amped-up quality of virtually every other element may be why this fast-growing brand attracts a customer base that’s 30 to 40 percent female—Brick House may be “dispensing happiness to the common man” but it’s scripted as a local pub with great food.
Part of the group that purchased Joe’s from Landry’s Restaurants in 2006 and started turning it around, Blanchette saw the emerging “gastropub” segment—ground successfully proven by the likes of Yard House and BJ’s Restaurant and Brew House—as potential for a portfolio management strategy. Many of the details were group-brainstormed: How can we make this idea better, without being intimidating?
From indoor and outdoor bars with fire pits to built-in cup holders for the recliners, Brick House is what Blanchette describes as “everyman’s country club.” The name refers not to the 1977 Commodore’s funk-disco classic, however, but to the iconic tap-house image. The fact that the carefully recruited and painstakingly trained all-female serving staff can customize their uniforms to their own comfort level—plus the fact that the company employs a Director of Culinary (30-year industry veteran George Atsangbe) to continually refine the menu—keeps the concept squarely out of the Hooters circle, a comparison that frustrates Blanchette.
“Our brand is about food, service and a welcoming ambience,” he explains. “If the first location had failed as a Joe’s because that concept was too special-occasion, we wanted to create something that was all about everyday usage and value, done just a little better.” Multiple service areas and a menu heavy on signaturized comfort food classics like bacon-jalapeno deviled eggs, Kobe burgers and whiskey-glazed pork chops, plus a robust schedule of special events and promotions, positions Brick House for repeat business.
“We’ve repositioned Joe’s around food, and it’s just as important at Brick House,” says Blanchette. Parent company Ignite Restaurant Group is expanding both concepts (some in twinned locations), casting a wide geographic net—the company now counts 17 units from upstate New York to Galveston, Texas, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida—to “prove the portability” of the brand, according to Blanchette. And while the CEO declines to provide details, this is clearly a house built for growth.
|2010 Systemwide Sales ($000)||$34,000,000*|
|YOY Sales Change||209.1%|
|2010 U.S. Units||14|
|YOY Unit Change||180.0%|
|2010 Average Unit Volume ($000)||$3,600,000*|
|Future 50 Year||2011|
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