The founder of fro-yo chain Sweet Frog has decided to pour his efforts into a new business venture this go around with a new craft beer taproom and upscale food court in Carytown.
From opening the first Sweet Frog in Richmond in 2009, growing the franchise to over 340 locations in 26 states, to moving into the restaurant business with his fast-casual Korean grill chain Zzaam in 2015, its clear entrepreneur Derek Cha has a clear vision of what works in this town.
With seeing the explosion of the craft beer market in Richmond, opening a similar concept was the next logical step for Cha so he decided to expand and transform his Zzaam location, located at 3300 W. Cary St., with self-serve taproom RVA Draft Room, as well as several other different food concepts inside.
RVA Draft Room, which opened earlier this month, offers 50 taps with craft beer, cider, and wine and using a chipped card, which is linked to a credit card, patrons select and pour their preferred beverage and pay by the ounce.
In addition to the taproom, Cha’s high-end food court also includes Fredericksburg-based barbeque joint Sweet-N-Sassy Barbeque Company, and Kokee Tea.
For the past year, manager Brian Sullivan, along with help from Sweet-N-Sassy’s Sam Cielakie and James Sharon, had been in the middle of creating their very own alcoholic self-pour operating system called U-pour.
“We wanted to be able to create something and have full control of the process, which meant starting from the ground up,” said Sullivan. “Sam and James happened to be looking to expand their Fredericksburg location, and we felt that barbeque would be the best compliment for craft beer. I mean, who doesn’t like barbeque and beer?”
Much like Cha’s Sweet Frog, RVA Draft Room is a completely self-pour bar where you pay according to the number of ounces you rack up on your Zzaam card at the end of your visit.
“Being in a beer enthusiast town like Richmond, we wanted to create a place where you could go to one location and get everything,” said Sullivan.
Limited crafts cost up to $1.00 per ounce, or you can always settle for PBR pouring at just $0.18 an ounce. Sharon said as opposed to craft beer lovers going to breweries and purchasing one beer that could cost $6 or $7, and then they end up not liking it, their establishment offers the chance to try a variety of options.
“We wanted to solve the problem of having customers invest in their beer. Many times you get a beer and not like it, here you can take just a sip of every single beer if you wanted to,” he said.
The new taproom rotates most of their craft beer every couple of weeks and the guests can get local brews like Strangeways Brewing and Isley, to Virginia-based cideries like Potters Hop Cider and Bold Rock, James River Brewing Company in Scottsville, to breweries across the nation like Florida’s Fairwinds and Brouwerij Brewery in California.
RVA Draft Room is also decked out with TVs, a projector for sports games, and a small menu featuring the usual pub fare like pork sliders, tacos, brisket fries, and smokehouse burgers.
Kokee Tea Café, which is inside the court, serves Boba tea, rice milk, milk tea, smoothies, ruffles, and a treat called a Puffle. A Puffle is a mix of ice cream, fruit, and candy all wrapped up in an egg waffle cone which is fried.
“We were originally just going to add bubble tea on the menu, but we tried theirs and it was so good that we decided to bring the whole thing over and start a big brand with it,” Sullivan said of bringing in the Kokee Tea concept.
As for the future of RVA Draft room, Cha is looking to expand to locations in Short Pump and Southside, and eventually open up a location in Washington DC as well.
RVA Draft Room is open Monday-Sunday until midnight and hosts free sampling events twice a week. At 5:30 pm tonight, the taproom will host a tasting event featuring brews from Norfolk’s O’Connor Brewing Company.