At the former Prudential real estate offices in Fountain Square, construction crews have been hard at work for weeks installing a curving bar, a row of shining taps and a wall full of coolers ready to hold more than 50 varieties of craft beer.
After three years of vacancy at 1601 Sherman Ave., a World of Beer franchise is opening up at the site in downtown Evanston this December.
“Our emphasis will be craft beers that are local that people can’t get in other places,” explains general manager Mark Damas.
The World of Beer company is a national chain that started in Florida in 2007. Evanston’s location will be only the second location in Illinois, joining a World of Beer that opened within the past year in Naperville.
If construction goes as planned, owner Ted Mavrakis is hoping for a Dec. 15 soft opening, but says the business will “definitely be open” by Christmas, with a formal grand opening to follow.
Mavrakis owns the Fountain Square Building where the new bar will be located, and says he finally decided to open a bar and restaurant there himself after a long and fruitless search for a tenant. As the owner of the Evanston and Morton Grove Giordano’s pizza restaurants, Mavrakis has plenty of experience in the food industry. Initially, he sought to open a Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery at 1601 Sherman Ave., but the Hooter’s-style restaurant chain’s scantily clad waitresses did not go over well with neighbors.
In April 2011, opposing his application for a liquor license. They argued that the short skirts and tight shirts waitresses wear would promote objectification of women. Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl ultimately rejected the application, citing neighborhood opposition and “community standards.”
Following the Tilted Kilt failure, a World of Beer franchise was appealing, he said, because the bars typically operate without a kitchen, lowering the costs of the business. Under the company’s model, patrons can order food for delivery from nearby restaurants instead.
Like the Tilted Kilt, that business model also ran into trouble when Mavrakis asked aldermen to waive city code that requires any business serving alcohol to offer food service as well. Local bar and restaurant owners argued that World of Beer would create unfair competition if it didn’t have to abide by the same rules. So Mavrakis and the company compromised, agreeing to include a kitchen serving a limited amount of food, mainly appetizers that pair well with the beers on the list. People will still be able to order food from nearby restaurants, Mavrakis adds.
The 5,800-square-foot space in Evanston will have capacity for approximately 160 people inside and 40 people outside, at tables set up on Orrington Street. Glass doors will open to the outside, with netting to prevent bugs from getting in. There will also be 25 50-inch TVs and one extra-large screen so patrons can watch the Bears or Northwestern games, according to Mavrakis.
While he expects that World of Beer will be popular with students, he says the restaurant is not simply targeted to a younger crowd.
“I want the local people to be here,” says Mavrakis, who lives in Glenview now but lived in Evanston for 15 years prior to his move.
During the past couple of weeks, he and Damas have begun interviewing employees for the 35 to 40 full-time and part-time positions he expects to fill. Once they’re hired, the franchise will train employees for two weeks on craft beers before they start, according to Damas.
“If people don’t know about beer and want to find out, it’s the experience of learning about the beer” that World of Beer will offer, he explains.
The franchise piggybacks onto a nationwide craze for craft beer, according to Damas. He says that mainstream beer sales have been trending down one to two percent over the last few years, while craft beer sale have spiked approximately 10 percent each year for the past three years. In 2011 alone, the industry’s sales grew by 15 percent, according to the Brewers Association, a trade group for craft breweries.
As Damas explains, a craft beer, takes a general style such as pilsner or IPA, and adds flavors and ingredients to make it unique. World of Beer Evanston will offer a rotating selection of 50 beers on tap, including selections from local breweries Goose Island, Revolution Brewing, Half Acre and Argus, as well as Lakefront Brewery and Hinterland Brewery in Wisconsin.
“We’re looking to have everyone who lives in and near Evanston come in and enjoy themselves,” Damas says.