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Good Beer Hunting

Jan 11, 2020

City Beer Store isn’t a store. Well, it is, but in 2020 it has evolved far beyond that narrow description. It’s a beer and natural wine bar, a restaurant, a gathering space, a patio hangout on nice days, and yeah, sure, a bottle shop too. It’s many things all at once, and the store’s mascot, a platypus, represents that duality of the business.

Over the last decade or so, City Beer has joined the ranks of America’s great beer bars. And that wasn’t without a lot of hustle on the part of the owners, married couple Craig and Beth Wathen.

The two originally opened City Beer Store in 2006 in San Francisco’s South of Market, or SoMa, neighborhood, inside a tiny space on Folsom Street. They were way ahead of the curve, creating the type of business that, well, confused people. The pair fielded constant questions: Is it a bar? Or is it a store?

Whatever it was, it became very popular. Over the years, they came to outgrow the small room’s capacity, which was particularly clear during SF Beer Week or other major events. So when the opportunity arose to move into a bigger space, they took the leap, and in 2018 they reopened in a large restaurant space two blocks away.

Turns out, it was a massive undertaking. Its new digs are several times larger than the old City Beer, and in it, the Wathens now also run a food program. They have a bigger staff, a kitchen team, a broader selection in additional fridges, and more customers walking through the door every day.

While Beth handles the operations of the bar and restaurant, Craig oversees the beer selection for the taps and store. Despite the uptick in workload, he’ll often put in that face time himself with brewers, going on frequent runs to personally pick up kegs.

Between the two of them, there’s quite a lot to do, which begs the question: how can a small beer bar scale up so drastically? And what does the success of this kind of operation mean for beer retailers everywhere?

This is Craig and Beth Wathen of City Beer Store in San Francisco. Listen in.