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World of Beer to open taverns in China this year, India and the Philippines are next

World of Beer is about to become an international brand.

This year the Tampa-based tavern chain known for its extensive craft beer offerings will open its first overseas bar in Shanghai, CEO Paul Avery said. After that, World of Beer is headed to India and the Philippines. For Avery, a 20-year veteran of the Outback Steakhouse chain, the move to open franchisee-owned taverns overseas is the next logical step for the brand's growth.

"I am very confident that World of Beer will do well in international markets," Avery said. "Craft beer is already there. But no one out there offers what we do."

Americans like to think that beer is solely a yellow, bubbly beverage born in the United States, thanks to brands like Budweiser and Coors, said Brian Connors with Connors Davis Hospitality, a global food and beverage consulting firm in Fort Lauderdale. But every country has a beer culture, he said.

"What you're seeing is this globalization of American concepts that are flourishing overseas. World of Beer isn't the first, but it's part of this wave of fast casual restaurants and gastropubs that are popping up in new markets," Connors said. "Beer is globally accepted. It's a good move."

Avery, 56, joined World of Beer as the company's CEO in January 2013 when he bought a controlling interest for an undisclosed price. In just three years, World of Beer hardly looks like it did when it launched in 2007. The bar now offers an array of craft cocktails. The footprint is nearly double in size. And most of the taverns serve food.

The 6,000-square-foot World of Beer that opened in September on Fowler Avenue near the University of South Florida offers an open-air bar atmosphere and its own kitchen. It represents what many World of Beer locations will look like soon, Avery said. And when the World of Beer in West Shore's Avion Park opens in May, it will have a two-story patio called "the flight deck."

"The taverns that don't have kitchens yet will get them soon. We're working on converting all of them," he said.

Just don't call World of Beer a restaurant.

"The focus is still on craft beer," Avery said. "But we knew we had to expand what we offered in order for this to be sustainable. We think the new food menu and craft cocktails only broaden our appeal."

Restaurant analysts agree.

"The pub experience is one for social gathering that just so happens to have great food and great cocktails," Connors said. "It's a smart move by World of Beer, and I think a lot of what's behind it is millennial-driven. Even at a chain, consumers look for that authentic beer and food experience these days."

There's a lot competition, too, in the craft beer market. In Tampa Bay alone, World of Beer competes directly with another craft beer bar chain, the Brass Tap; local brewpubs; and a slew of restaurants that sell craft and locally brewed beer. That's not to mention the dozens of local breweries that have started up on both sides of the bay.

"As high-quality craft beer has grown and can be found in most bars and restaurants, competition is heating up and the pressure to deliver a better and more unique experience is more pressing," said Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, a Chicago food research firm. "Their strategy appears to be putting them on track to satisfying a more broad-based consumer occasion set by expanding to food and cocktails."

World of Beer has 77 locations in 19 states, including taverns in Manhattan and Kentucky, which opened last year. Of those, 14 are company owned and the rest are owned by franchisees. Avery said World of Beer will open 35 new restaurants this year, including at least one of the three planned for overseas in Shanghai.

The goal is to grow the number of company-owned stores to 30 percent, Avery said.

"It's a great investment for our shareholders, and it makes us a better franchiser when we know what the day-to-day operations are like," he said.

What does it take to be a World of Beer franchisee?

Franchisee candidates should have previous business ownership and employee management experience. It takes a $1 million net worth to get started, and an initial investment of $900,000 to $1.2 million.

Where are they now?

Scott Zepp and Matt LaFon founded World of Beer in Tampa in 2007. They still own the original location in Westchase and another in Pensacola. Both are members of the World of Beer board of directors and are shareholders in the company.

Where is World of Beer?

In 19 states, expanding into four more and overseas, including: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. Opening soon in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, and China, India and the Philippines.

16 Feb. 2016

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