Tap into comfort of Taps

Mar 012011
Authors: Vashti Batjargal

Mark Spring spent the last seven months obsessing over every detail in his restaurant. What would draw in customers? What unique aspect would entice them to return and embrace them as a regular patron?

Located just north of Best Buy on College Avenue, Taps, which boasts 40 beers on tap in a 6,392 square-foot space, opened its doors to the Fort Collins community on Tuesday.

“We always came over here (when it was Sports Casters). There’s been a lot of talk on what the beer and food is going to be like. We’re excited,” said Erin Gutting, 25, a Best Buy employee. “I’m interested in trying new things. Everything (on the menu) sounds good.”

In looking back on Sports Casters, Gutting’s first impression on Spring’s work in the building was the renovation of space. 

“It feels more open, not as crowded. I can tell they changed and lowered the bar top and it’s brighter,” Gutting said as she ate appetizers at the bar, waiting for her party of nine.  

Spring is a CSU alumnus who, after facing a touchy job market, developed a business plan and received $500,000 of investments, as reported by the Collegian in December.

On opening day, customers steadily entered the bar and perused the menu, which includes various micro-brew-inspired, made-from-scratch dishes.  The menu includes gluten free items, jalapeno bottle tops, fish and chips and beer-infused pizza.

“We’ve been working really hard, so the anticipation has been building up to the opening,” said Kali Grubaugh, bartender and one of 450 applicants and 45 employees hired. “We redid the entire building –– everything from the bar stools, moving around the tables, unloading the truck, stocking the bar, unloading the glasses and getting all the kegs in.”

In researching the market and finding the key to bring customers back, Spring hired Rich Director, owner of Critics-at-Large Consulting and prior owner of Pearl Street Grill in Denver.  

“I charge him less than what I charge other people. I really wanted to be a part of it because he reminded me of me,” Director said, who sold his start-up business Pearl Street Grill to now-Governor John Hickenlooper and served as the COO of his nine restaurants.

Director was heavily involved in the development of the menu and the hiring of applicants for Taps.

“That’s something that I’m militant about: who you hire. You can train the mechanics; you can’t train the behavior,” Director said.

Director and Spring developed interview questions about candidates’ impact on others, emotional and inner awareness, self-assessment and self-control questions. Each question was aimed at matching working style with Spring and the other managers.

The goal was to hire candidates who exemplify the bar’s goal of maintaining an open and friendly atmosphere.

To prepare the staff, Spring organized two soft openings. Last Friday was friends and family, who paid 60 percent of their bill. Saturday was a private dinner benefiting the Larimer Humane Society $840 by the end of the night.

“We made a lot of mistakes last night and that’s what these night are about,” Director said about Friday night. “But the behavior of the people that we hired were so upbeat, which is what it’s all about.”

Bill Franz, instructor of the Aspen Grille restaurant class, agreed. He emphasized that what develops returning customers is focusing on creating an ambiance and customer service.

“It’s about making them feel special,” Franz said, “knowing people by name.”

Staff writer Vashti Batjargal can be reached atnews@collegian.com.

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