But enter the bar and you’ll see why: Pour Taproom offers 48 tap beers and eight kegged wines, all from a self-serve system called iPourIt.
“I thought it would be interesting to start a bar that was self serve so people could try a lot of beers without having to buy 22-oz. bottles,” Tomforde says. “We are the first bar in the US to be 100% self serve.”
Pour Taproom has been a successful bar since it opened in 2013, though he admits that when new customers come in they’re a little overwhelmed.
But staff are always milling around near the machines to help and guide customers. Tomforde hires the same number of employees as a typical bar though he hires more for customer service skills than bartending.
All new visitors get a tour of the glassware styles, the beers and the technology. The latter is easy to use. Once employees have checked a customer’s ID, they take a credit card or cash for a tab, and give the customer a bracelet in return. Guests use this up against the machine to order their drinks via RFID technology.
The beers are grouped by type - IPAs, porters, Belgians, lite, seasonal and so forth - and there’s a game room downstairs with 6 of the 48 brews, typically cheaper ones.
The pricing varies, otherwise. The less expensive beers average around $3.50 a pint (usually the ones in the game room), while the Belgian beers tend to cost $6 for 10 ounces.
The average pour size is 4.5 oz., but Tomforde wanted to have cheaper beers “so people can pour a pint and just hang out.” The beers change regularly; on average there are 12 new ones every week, but 10 to 12 are the permanent favorites. The typical customer consumes 2 pints per visit.
It’s important to switch up the offerings, he says, “because our regulars are coming back every week to try what’s new. These beers come from far and wide, though 90% of them come from the U.S. and about half are local. The foreign beers are mostly sour beers and Belgian brews, though he does get some Oktoberfest and Hefferveisen from abroad.
While there’s a cool factor to the technology, that wears off after a while so it’s important to offer quality beer, Tomforde says. In fact, he explains, “I want the technology to disappear because the quality is so important to me.”
Customers do appreciate that they can go at their own pace when drinking at Pour Taproom , he says, and aren’t reliant on the bartender, or encouraged to buy another drink when they’re not yet ready.
Pour Taproom offers drinks only but partners with its neighboring restaurant, Asheville Sandwich Company, for food. Customers order from Pour Taproom but these orders print wirelessly next door, then restaurant staff deliver them. Pour Taproom takes the money and pays the restaurant at the end of every week, pocketing just the tax, per the agreement between the two businesses. “I’m sticking at what I’m good at and letting other people do what they’re good at,” Tomforde says.
Next up, he’s looking to open more bars and make a chain, hoping to debut locations in Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and San Jose, California, with each one localized to the area it’s in.