Wednesday, September 26, 2012

John Couture is busy crafting Bier Station

John Couture is busy crafting Bier Station.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Couture is full steam ahead with Bier Station.
  • Couture is full steam ahead with Bier Station.
John Couture walks through the door of the Waldo coffeehouse One More Cup, taking a break from gathering neighborhood signatures for Bier Station. His new tavern and bottle shop, at 120 East Gregory, is slated to open in December.

“Nice T-shirt,” says Stacy Neff, the coffee shop’s co-owner, from behind the counter.

“It’s the first one,” Couture says, glancing down at his shirt, which shows the company’s logo: a cartoon beer glass at the end of railroad tracks. After a minute spent staring at the menu, he asks for a recommendation. Neff suggests an iced root-beer chai.

“I like all beer — root beer, beer,” Couture says. “Let’s do it.”

Those last three words have been coming out of Couture’s mouth a lot this year. It’s the phrase he used back in March, when he told his friend Dan Kiefer, an investor and consultant, that he had decided to move forward with a concept they had talked about since a tour of European pubs in 2006.

“We were both beer geeks about to have babies, and our wives let us go on a beer tour,” Couture says. “The beer bars there were a lot more elegant and refined but still had a homey atmosphere. It was the blend of a coffee shop and a pub.”

And Couture, 40, knew exactly where he wanted to sell beer by the glass and by the six-pack — in the former Mezzaluna and Carly Sue’s Family Diner space. An avid homebrewer, he has spent most of his life living and working in Brookside (he was a neighborhood mainstay at the departed SRO Video), an area that has embraced the craft-beer movement.

“Kansas City has a burgeoning craft-beer scene,” Couture says. “I hope this will be a destination spot, not only for people in the city but craft-beer tourists.”

He spent the spring and summer researching existing bar-bottle shops, on the advice of Jill Green, his business coach, assigned by the Kauffman Foundation’s Urban Entrepreneur Partnership. Couture interviewed owners in Eugene, Oregon; Portland, Oregon; and Decatur, Georgia.

“The regulated industries in Portland called it [the Beermongers] the most benign liquor-license holders they know,” Couture says of one business he studied. “People really do go there to enjoy beer.”

To make his concept viable in KC, Couture hired Polsinelli Shughart to help lobby the City Council to change tavern licensing. The law required 80 percent of liquor sold by an establishment to be drunk on the premises. The new ordinance, approved in August, allows 40 percent of sales to be taken off-site. (KC liquor-license applicants must still secure written consent from a majority of the property owners within a certain radius of their business, an errand Couture was still working on last week.)

When the ordinance passed, Couture left his job as a video producer for Proffer Productions and began working on Bier Station full time. The renovations under way at the corner of Rockhill and Gregory include the installation of 20 taps behind a concrete bar. (Boulevard is helping install the tap system.) The green-tile backsplash signals Bier Station’s transit theme, meant to evoke Merianplatz in Munich, Germany — the gateway to Oktoberfest. In what was the dining room at Carly Sue’s, you’ll see tables made from reclaimed wood and bourbon barrels, and a bank of refrigerators stocked with bottled beer.

“People can help themselves to bottles, bring them up to the bar to drink, or take it home with them,” Couture says. “Our goal is to flip the way that beer establishments traditionally interact with customers. As a beer geek, I’ve always wanted to have more of a say.”

So he plans to set two taps at Bier Station according to Facebook demand, allowing the public to choose from his distributor’s list. The democratic atmosphere extends upstairs, with a beer garden outfitted with four 10-foot-long picnic tables beneath hanging patio lights. A set of garage doors means that the space can be used year-round.

Bier Station won’t be without food. Among the light dishes designed to complement all that beer: several flavors of custom Farm to Market pretzels, desserts from Three Women and an Oven and McLain’s Bakery, and meat-and-cheese plates.

“We want to create the feeling that you’re in an old-school Kansas City beer garden,” Couture says.

Which means a selection of big-brand beers — Miller, Coors, Bud — to go with popular crafts such as Boulevard and Schlafly and Sierra Nevada. After all, the European pubs he wants to emulate are about the drinkers first, and Couture knows that KC drinkers like high-profile national brands, too.

“We want to have an entirely beer-geek staff that is friendly,” Couture says. “We want beer enthusiasts, not beer snobs.”

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