German-inspired beer hall Bay Street Biergarten opened little over a year ago in a time where a handful of brew-centric restaurants were coming to the Lowcountry. Upon unlocking their doors, Bay Street was an instant success. Throngs of thirsty revelers flocked to the massive space to mingle, watch sports, and sample the extensively researched pretzel program. The restaurant was so popular, they easily nabbed the So Hot Right Now Eater Award for 2013.
Here, Eater Charleston talks with co-owners Ryan Workman, Laura Patrick, Greg Pierdon about their experiences opening a high-volume bar with self-serve beer and tap tables.
How was the first year?
Workman: It was a learning experience
Patrick: It was a roller coaster ride of awesomeness. There were some learning experiences, as well. There's always something you never expect to happen, but you have to adapt. It's gone really, really well, over all.
Workman: It's been a very unique experience. It was very incredible experience having the opportunity to bring something like this to Charleston and make a name for ourselves. It's been very successful so far. To help the community and supply jobs has been a fun and exciting time — a little stressful at times — but overall great.
Pierdon: The overwhelming support from our customers is great.
Workman: Charleston's support has been tremendous.
Patrick: We're very fortunate to be in the company we're in, with so many restaurants in Charleston. People have been responding well to us — and this concept — and it's been amazing.
What was it like educating people on your self-serve beer system?
Workman: It's gotten easier. It was challenging because it's unique and a whole new model of restaurant, with the tap tables and the self-service. Using technology, like the iPad is unique. It's like a Cadillac — it's nice, but there's always maintenance.
We've developed a system to keep servers, bartenders, managers, and hostesses, always on the lookout for how they can help educate the guests.
Pierdon: It's cool because we have repeat customers who will help teach their friends about the system.
Patrick: It was a trial and error process to get people to understand how it works. We tried signage, but the interactive nature of the servers and us showing everyone how it works has helped.
Have you had any other hurdles in the first year?
Workman: We weren't anticipating the overwhelming support we got in the first year. It's a very big restaurant space — 7500 square feet — we increased our occupancy to over 300. When you're battling those sort of numbers, it's daunting for the front and back of house. There weren't any breaks. It was go, go, go with no lulls. Straight through, open to close, and then do again the next day and the next day.
Patrick: There were some ideas we couldn't implement right off the bat, like brunch. In the beginning, it was too much for the kitchen, but now, a year later, we can bring that back.
Workman: It's getting the systems down and in place. When you open, you don't know how each member works or how they work together, so you build these systems to put out the food and the drinks efficiently. It's a massive operation. We're expanding outside, and we're doing catering now.
Patrick: Communication is key when dealing with 80-plus employees. We've got systems in place to make that more efficient. It's a big operation.
Workman: We have so many checklists and systems in place now. I've helped open restaurants, but never one this size. When we have special events, like Oktoberfest, there can be almost 1000 people here. With four different bars, it's a lot of moving parts.
Any pleasant surprises?
Patrick: I think there's been nothing but pleasant surprises. When you're opening a restaurant, you want it to be successful. It becomes your baby, and you want it to be loved, but you never know. To open and have lines out the door is always an amazing, pleasant surprise. We had naysayers that said this would be a really difficult location or that the building was cursed. To prove that wrong — and show it's not the location or building — is great. It had to be the right concept and right people.
Workman: That everyone knows about us and know the location has been a pleasant surprise.
Patrick: We get emails from people across the country wanting gift cards or stickers — that's really cool.
Workman: Our stickers are in over 30 breweries!
Patrick: The accolades have been nice as well.
Pierdon: Like, our Eater Award last year.
Has anything changed over the year from the initial concept?
Workman: Just figuring out the model.
Pierdon: It evolved to make systems more efficient, so we could deliver a higher quality of service.
Workman: It's not an easy job with 80-something staff members — it's a lot of volume — a lot of different people and personalities to deal with.
Can you remember a favorite night?
Patrick: The World Cup was huge. There were other places putting on World Cup parties, but to see the volume of people that were in here was amazing.
Workman: The sheer energy in the building was great. When there was a goal, there would be an eruption of excitement. Everyone cheering for the same team and drinking was a really cool experience. We'd have 350 people for Tuesday lunch with a line waiting to watch the game.
It may throw off our numbers next year, but it was fun.
Can you remember any rough nights?
Patrick: The night we ran out of Co2.
Pierdon: There was a Co2 leak on an outside soda gun, so on a Saturday night, at 10:30p.m., we didn't have draft beer. And we're a draft beer place, so that was bad. We couldn't get a delivery until Monday, so we had to go through an NFL Sunday without draft beer.
Workman: That was a nightmare.
Patrick: We learned from it though.
Workman: Yes, now we have it delivered every week whether we need it or not.
What's the number one top seller, besides beer?
Patrick: That pretzel.
What's on the agenda for year two?
Patrick: Bigger and better.