The restaurant Beer Table in Park Slope is a mecca for beer lovers with appetites. They boast 25 specialty changing bottles, 7 rotating drafts, a cask ale and a cellar of vintage and rare beers - not to mention a full menu of thoughtful food.
In a huge bonus to midtown commuters, owner, Justin Philips, opened The Beer Table Pantry in 2011, a retail store in Grand Central stocked with craft bottled beers and a to-go growler bar.
We had the opportunity to talk to Justin about opening and running his beer business.
What was your path to opening Beer Table?
My path wasn't a straight line. I studied art in school and ended up in various jobs, building things and doing sales. Ultimately I landed on wine as something that felt honest and good. I had the good fortune to meet an amazing beer importer and was given the opportunity to dig into beer seriously.
I was most interested in presenting beer at the final point of consumption - retail and restaurant service. My mission was to create a tasting room for beer rather than a pub or heavy-drinking spot.
How did that lead to The Pantry at Grand Central?
The Pantry was actually the first business I wanted to open. I really like retail sales because you have to rely on words and knowledge to communicate well with customers. I wanted to be in a super busy location so I wouldn't feel any pressure to sell mass-market products and could get away with being a very focused boutique. Grand Central is perfect for ideal for that, and a wonderful place to be. I don't care what anyone says about midtown, I think Grand Central is amazing.
What is your overall roll in the operation?
I'm sort of all over the place. I spend my mornings at The Pantry and a few evenings a week at Beer Table. In the store I take care of inventory and hunting down new products, maintaining my draft system, etc. At Beer Table my role is always shifting. I used to cook every evening but I have a talented chef now. I generally spend a lot of time at tables talking with customers.
What have you been most proud of in your venture?
Resilience. As with most small businesses, just surviving and paying the bills is enough to make me feel really good. Beyond that, I'd say the deepening of the business. Customer and supplier relationships have developed and I don't feel like a freshman anymore. I have now made a sophomore attempt and I'm working through that.
Any advice for aspiring culinary entrepreneurs?
Don't do this casually. I believe in the full immersion approach. Stop doing anything else immediately and do the work that you believe in aggressively. Recognize that there is never going to be a finish line and enjoy the process. It's really important to love the day-to-day tasks and not seek quick rewards.
Beer Table is open daily from 5pm - 1am and is located at 427b 7th Ave in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Visit www.beertable.com for more information and events.
Beer Table Pantry is open daily and is located in the Graybar Passage at Grand Central Terminal. Visit www.btpantry.com for more information and to see what they have on tap.