Craft Spirits July 2021

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Retail: On-Premise

CRAVING LOCAL A South Carolina restaurant owner switches to mostly local spirits. BY JON PAGE

Throughout a decades-long career opening dozens of restaurants, Peter Woodman has been all about his guests. That meant carrying a fully stocked collection of national and international brands, even if it was a rarely-ordered beer or spirit. It took a pandemic to sway him more towards locally produced alcoholic beverages. Woodman is the CEO of Crave Hospitality Group, overseeing several restaurants in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, a suburb of Charleston. When the pandemic initially impacted his business, Woodman took a deep dive into the analytics at Crave Kitchen & Cocktails. He noticed that local beer and spirits vendors were regularly ordering to-go meals from the restaurant. He remembers looking at the backbar—stocked with names like Grey Goose, Ketel One and Smirnoff—and wondering what they’d done for the restaurant lately. “These [bigger brands] won’t give me a cent, couldn’t give a shit about me—don’t know who I am,” says Woodman. “And these [local people] are the ones helping me out. Honestly it was really humbling.” With that new perspective, Woodman decided to remove nearly all of those national brands from the restaurant’s backbar and

feature as many local products on the cocktail menu as possible. Now, Crave’s bar features bottles from the likes of Charleston Distilling Co., Dixie Vodka, Firefly Distillery, High Wire Distilling Co. and more. After Woodman wrote a letter to all local distillers asking them for support and encouraging them to stop by with samples, Traxler Littlejohn, president of North Charleston-based Nippitaty Distillery, was quick to respond. “What [Peter] did is a revolution,” says Littlejohn. “It was a breath of fresh air for all of us who try to get out there, present to restaurants and get on their menus—not just the backbar, but on their actual menu, because that puts us in front of their customers and our customers.” Littlejohn hopes more restaurants will see the value of lifting up local spirits. “Farm to table is the same principle,” continues Littlejohn, “and he’s the first person that I know of down here who’s really taken it to that level by saying, ‘Hey, bring me your spirits. Let me support you and help you survive and also help you thrive.’ And that’s what it’s done.” Woodman says the feedback from customers has been extremely positive. He says the

restaurant serves 3,000 to 5,000 people each week, and in the past year about 10 people have walked out the door because they couldn’t get a national brand. “When someone sits at the bar and they say, ‘Hey can I get a Grey Goose?’ it gives the bartender an opportunity to get into why we don’t have Grey Goose, and it makes that connection to the guest,” says Woodman. “So it’s actually a great conversation starter for the staff.” Crave is also enjoying a financial benefit. Woodman says he has reduced his holding stock by 50%. “Instead of sitting on $20,000 to $30,000 of inventory a week, it’s now down to $10,000 to $15,000,” says Woodman. “Instead of having 15 vodkas, now I’ve got 6 and I’m selling a lot more.” When it comes to advice for other retailers considering a similar move to local spirits, Woodman has a simple message. “Don’t be afraid of the change,” he says. “My thought process and mentality was always [to] give the guest whatever they want. Then when I made this change, it blew my mind and actually increased our business. I do sincerely believe it increased our business.” ■

“When someone sits at the bar and they say, ‘Hey can I get a Grey Goose?’ it gives the bartender an opportunity to get into why we don’t have Grey Goose, and it makes that connection to the guest.” —Peter Woodman of Crave Kitchen & Cocktails C R AF TSPIR ITSMAG.COM 

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