Beer Run

A 60-year-old bowling institution strikes big with new craft beer concept

Country Club Lanes has been a busy bowling alley for years, but the recent addition of craft beer tap handles has upped revenue by $30,000 a month.
Country Club Lanes has been a busy bowling alley for years, but the recent addition of craft beer tap handles has upped revenue by $30,000 a month.

Last week, I received a Facebook message from Kerry Kassis, best remembered as the owner of Slocum House, the former fine dining and special occasion restaurant in Fair Oaks. Less well known is that he and three nephews own and operate one of the region’s busiest bowling alleys, Country Club Lanes (2600 Watt Ave., Sacramento).

A few years ago, Kassis and I were chatting on the phone when the subject turned to beer. I told him craft beer was big and getting bigger, and it would likely be a good fit at the bowling alley.

At the time, he was open to the idea, and that was the last I heard of it – until I clicked on the Facebook message: “I’ve wanted to tell you that the craft beer program at our bowling center has turned out better results than expected,” Kassis wrote. “Sales up over $30,000 in one month! Country Club Lanes is approaching its 60th anniversary and with your help and suggestions is now up to speed with the industry regarding craft beer.”

Beer and bowling. It’s a very America pairing. But maybe it was getting just a little bit dated.

I’m no consultant or advocate. I was simply laying out facts and telling him where the industry was headed. Kassis, who owned and operated the great Slocum House from 1986 to 2007, is a sharp businessman, and he surely saw craft beer as a way to satisfy regulars and bring in new crowds.

The Kassis family – brothers Frank (Kerry’s father), Eddie, Walter and Louie – built Country Club Lanes six decades ago. Members of the family have run it ever since, with second-generation leadership now involved.

After we talked three years back, Kassis told his cousins/business partners that “we are missing the boat on this craft beer thing,” he said when I called to catch up. “They said, ‘What’s craft beer?’ 

They did their research, got up to speed, tasted all kinds of beers, called in distributors and decided to make the move to expand the beer selection beyond the traditional Bud, Coors Light and other domestic brands. They grew to 26 tap handles (Country Club has 48 lanes).

“To do this, we had to spend about $12,000 on these draft towers. It didn’t take long for our regulars to come in and see the craft beer,” Kassis said. “We are next door to AT&T offices. At lunchtime, the crowd has gotten bigger and bigger. That kind of activity has been a real boost for us. More importantly, craft beer is not a fad. It’s here to stay. If you don’t do craft beer, you’re not supplying your customers with what they want.”

You don’t even have to be into craft beer to realize it can be good for the bottom line. When Kassis and his cousins were doing their tasting sessions before moving forward with the craft beer concept, he looked up at one point and asked, “Is it just me? I like Coors Light. I just don’t get it.’”

Their palates may have been behind the times, but they like it now. They’re serving beer from Deschutes, Lagunitas, Bear Republic, Stone, American River Brewing, Rubicon and more. Track 7’s Panic IPA is the best-seller, and customers are coming in droves for the rotating selection. Sure, they could get a little bit more local and maybe a little edgier with their selections, but remember, this is bowling – pitchers of beer, high fives after strikes and spares, plenty of socializing and not so much time spent pondering flavor notes, yeast strains and hop varieties.

Kassis’ only regret is he didn’t push for this sooner.

“Ignorance. We just didn’t know about it,” he said. “The good thing is bowling is a natural for craft beer.” To the tune of $360,000 more in annual revenue.

Mraz Brewing has been in the upper echelon of local craft beer for a couple of years now, brewing everything from old-school and new-school IPAs to balanced and complex barrel-aged beauties. The demand has been fierce, and the tiny El Dorado Hills brewery couldn’t always keep pace.

Led by Mike Mraz, the brewery churned out 700 barrels last year and is on track to do 1,000 in 2016. Mraz just took delivery of a 20-barrel fermenter that will help increase output. It also has a second site for its barrel-aging program, with 100 barrels holding all kinds of beers in progress.

Now it looks like Mraz is going to open a brewpub in Folsom by the end of the year. It will be a 5,000-square-foot space with 4,000 square feet more on the patio at Blue Ravine Road and Folsom Boulevard.

Mraz said he was recruited to launch the Folsom brewpub and “couldn’t turn down the opportunity.”

“I never wanted to be a production brewer. I like to work with customers and sell by the glass and the pint, and I think I can do that there. It will be more of a destination place,” he told me.

With that project taking shape, the current brewery and tasting room will remain at 2222 Francisco Drive. Mraz will celebrate its third anniversary on May 1. The more beer Mraz produces, the more people will understand just how good it is.

Blair Anthony Robertson: 916-321-1099, @Blarob