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Craft and Draft owners tapping into 2nd market

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It’s safe to say Kellan Monroe and Andrew Johnson’s brainstorm in the back of engineering class at the University of South Carolina has worked out pretty well.

Now, the co-owners of popular Devine Street taproom and bottle shop Craft and Draft are banking that their business model mixing tasty beer and friendly faces will create a buzz in a second location.

The business partners, who met in college and celebrated the five-year anniversary of their original location’s opening July 20, will soon launch a second, larger space at 7583 St. Andrews Road in the Irmo Village Shopping Center.

Craft and Draft co-owners Andrew Johnson (left) and Kellan Monroe celebrated the fifth anniversary of the opening of their Devine Street tasting room and bottle shop last month with their families and a few hundred close friends with a beach-themed party. (Photo/Provided)“We’re still hoping that the end of August is an attainable date,” Monroe said. “We’re looking at somewhere between a month and two before we’re ready to rock out here.”

The current location at 2706 Devine St., winner of several local “best of” awards and the subject of recent writeups in publications reaching to Charleston, is a homey 1,750 square feet, with peanuts and beef jerky on hand to supplement a regular parade of food trucks. The Irmo expansion is just shy of 7,000 feet, with plans for a full kitchen serving sandwiches and happy hour snacks such as pretzels and charcuterie.

Architect Keith Sanders, general contractor Westy Kerr and construction manager Rick Nowaczyk are helping location No. 2 take shape. The finished product will be the culmination of a search that began in earnest in January 2017.

“We looked at a bunch of places around the state,” Monroe said. “We looked in Lexington, we looked in Northeast, we looked on Forest Drive, West Columbia, Cayce. We looked everywhere. For No. 2, we wanted to stay closer into town where we could have a better handle on it before we’re more in the ownership overseeing role versus the day-to-day operations, which we still will be very involved in out here when we start.

“Out here just seemed to fit. There are not, or at least we don’t think there are, a ton of places that do the kind of family-friendly, in-between thing, where you’re not really at a bar but you’re not really at a restaurant, either. We know there’s a good craft beer following out here.”

While the owners are busy getting the new location off the ground, longtime bartender Katelyn Shire — “the first full-time employee we’ve hired not named Kellan or Andrew” Monroe said — will manage the Devine Street location.  

Monroe grew up in Gilbert, while Johnson is a native of Lancaster. Both got a taste of the entrepreneur life early, with Monroe’s father overseeing various automotive-related gigs and Johnson’s dad building a business from a one-truck septic tank marketer into a 35-truck, 56-employee concrete enterprise.

As a child, Johnson would hear his father leave the house as early as 4 a.m. “He’d get home at 8 p.m., 9 p.m.,” Johnson said.

When the two friends met at USC in the mid-2000s, neither was a stranger to hard work — or overly enamored with traditional career paths.

“We used to kind of joke, but were halfway serious, in the back of engineering classes,” Johnson said. “We were like, ‘Um, this is probably not what we’re going to be doing. It would be kind of cool to start a brewery.’ ”

That idea struggled to gain traction after the pair graduated in 2007 as the economy took a downturn and too many cooks cluttered an original craft brewing concept. While Johnson kept working for his dad and Monroe maintained a day job as an engineer at the S.C. Department of Transportation, the idea of a tasting room and bottle shop bubbled up.

“In 2013, we kind of circled back around and said, ‘We can still do this. We probably don’t need to do a brewery, because of high overhead and lots of startup costs and many years of running in red ink, but a taproom … ‘ ” Johnson said.

The concept was so new that city of Columbia did not know how to classify Monroe and Johnson’s proposed business, labeling it a liquor store. The two toured bottle shops throughout the state, realizing that they would also have to offer on-premise sales to make their business work.

An initial plan to locate at Rosewood Shopping Center fell through before the Devine space came together. After a second round of paperwork and city approvals, Monroe and Johnson opened Craft and Draft in 2014.

Andrew Johnson (left) and Kellan Monroe opened Craft and Draft on Devine Street in 2014. (Photo/Provided)“I kept my job originally, to make sure that we could pay the bills,” Monroe said. “Andrew did most of all of it at first, and then when I came over (full-time), we kind of split duties. Andrew handles the back-of-house stuff and that kind of thing, and I handle the front-of-house management. As we go into this store, it will probably be the same kind of deal.”

On Devine Street, Monroe is an affable presence behind the bar, tending to taps and at least two conversations at once. Johnson moves more behind the scenes, bringing up kegs and other treasure from the cellar and pausing to chat with locals – often with a child on a hip or strapped to his chest.

Johnson’s two young sons are among several toddlers who often have the run of the place while four-legged customers lounge under bar stools, tongues lolling and bellies inviting scratches.

If you haven’t yet met a Craft and Draft regular, odds are you’ve met his or her dog.

“Somebody called us the Cheers of Devine Street,” Johnson said. “ … Replicating what we’re doing on Devine Street is hard to do.”

To that end, the owners have begun hosting block parties at the Irmo shopping center featuring food trucks and local artists. Because of the kitchen component, the second location will not be pet-friendly once opened, but “we’ll still be kid-friendly and crazy human-friendly,” Monroe said. And unlike Devine Street, the Irmo plaza boasts plenty of parking.

“There’s a lot of things here that are different,” Monroe said. “We would love to have more parking on Devine Street. Everyone that works on Devine Street would love to have more parking. But there’s probably not a better walk-in traffic area anywhere in the state of South Carolina other than maybe King Street in Charleston. There’s sacrifices you make one way for another. Out here we’re going to have better parking and better access. We won’t have as much walk-in traffic, at least originally, but we will have better in-and-out access, so hopefully that will push the off-premise retail stuff a little bit better and just make it a little more functional for everybody coming and going.

“The key is, we still want to be family-friendly and fun and low-key.”

Craft and Draft's Irmo location, slated to open by the end of the month, boasts almost 7,000 square feet of space. (Photo/Melinda Waldrop)The second location has enough space that the original brewery idea could still become a reality, Monroe said, though “that’s probably more like a 10-year plan. … We always want to be in charge of our stores. The thought of how we’re going to grow in the future has a lot to do with where we see there’s still demand for craft (beer) and filling in areas where we think can support it very well.”

With architectural drawings furled on tables in front of a newly installed beer cooler, Monroe reflected on how far a college dream has come.

“When we designed the original store, it was to be 50-50, on- and off-premise, and we hit those numbers on quantity. But I think we’ve been surprised at how much we caught on as basically a local hangout,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate. We expected people to come in and try a beer and hang out. We didn’t expect people to come in, try a beer and hang out all the time. It’s been really neat to see that kind of thing.

“It makes us feel good because it makes us feel like people really enjoy it and we’re doing our jobs correctly. That’s one of the big things that we’re hoping to get out here, is that same kind of following.”

This article first appeared in the Aug. 12 print edition of the Columbia Regional Business Report. 

Contact Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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