Breaking the Mold and Then Remaking It
Photography by Wes Battoclette
Arrayed on the first wall you see upon entering the newly opened Flipdaddy’s Brilliant Burgers & Craft Beer Bar in Newport are a hundred small photos in thin black frames. In each of the photos is a person holding a beverage in a beer koozie emblazoned with Flipdaddy’s signature branding. But it’s the background of the photos that’s important: Rome, Shanghai, Toronto, London and more.
It’s a clever marketing strategy, one that captures the ambitious nature at the heart of Bob Dames, Flipdaddy’s founder and CEO. He wants to expand the company and he wants to do it quickly.
By most standards, it already has. Flipdaddy’s opened its first restaurant in 2010. Located in Mariemont, the restaurant was a product of Dames’ 25-year career in sales and sales management. Whenever traveling, Dames would always ask the locals for the best place to get a burger and a craft beer. “After about 8,000 times, it hit me that I should try it on my own,” he remembers.
That realization led to a five-year process of researching the restaurant market and accumulating financial backers for his project. He worked to develop a menu focused on two elements of American cuisine that are about as bulletproof as you can get: local craft beer and creative variations on the classic cheeseburger. The burger uses a proprietary blend of beef, a combination of brisket, short rib and ground chuck. “We did a lot of research on that,” he says, smiling. “We grilled a lot of burgers.”
The idea behind the restaurant seems so simple and obvious, like something you’ve heard before but just haven’t remembered in a while. It symbolizes the convergence of two trends in American dining: casual sit-down restaurants with ample bar space and specialized menus, and local craft beer packaged in whimsical, stylized bottles and cans.
Flipdaddy’s Mariemont location became successful because it commercialized that idea. It impressed customers with its extensive selection of craft beers on tap and its playful takes on traditional American food. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and that response paved the way for a second location in Symmes Township, opened in 2011, and a third location in Union, Kentucky, opened in 2013.
Flipdaddy’s was gaining customers and momentum so Dames began planning a fourth location. This one, however, would be a significant departure from the others. The new venue, located in Newport and opened in April 2015, features a 6,000-square-foot layout. The restaurant is co-anchored in the 465,000-square-foot Newport Pavilion by Kroger, Target and Dick’s Sporting Goods. It’s the result of around $1.5 million in investments, with more beers on tap (36) and more seats (280) than the previous three locations. It seems primed for even greater success.
Yet the comparison isn’t entirely fair. The first three restaurants had to be “retrofitted,” says Dames. They were preexisting facilities built for different purposes and remade, as much as Dames could accomplish, into Flipdaddy’s restaurants. Not so with Flipdaddy’s Newport.
“The other locations are tucked away in the suburbs, whereas this (Newport) location is a much more active site. And we got to build this one from the ground up, so we got to implement our own vision of how the space should lay out,” says Dames. “This is our prototype restaurant. This is the fulfillment of our dream, to become a national brand. We still have some tweaks to make but we feel really comfortable with this model going forward.”
Still, the four restaurants aren’t entirely different. There’s the Flipdaddy’s sign that adorns them all, of course. More importantly, the four restaurants share a neighborhood feel that has so far outdone competing chain restaurants in authenticity, personality and trendiness.
Even the Newport location exudes familiarity, which could be due to Dames’ insistence on leveraging local architects (Phoenix Architecture), contractors (Linked Solutions), restaurant designer (FG Schaefer) and financing (Park National Bank) for the project. Then there’s the design itself: a spacious outdoor patio with a fire pit, a long indoor bar with plenty of televisions for watching the Reds and Bengals, and a large, summery garage-door window that, when opened, connects the patio and the bar.
That familiarity could also be because Dames works with local food and beverage vendors in an effort to promote freshness. “We’re very proud of using local purveyors as much as possible,” says Dames. “We have Davis Creek Meats as our meat supplier. They’re right here in Walton, Kentucky. Pic’s Produce does our produce. They’re down on the market every day handpicking our produce. Klosterman’s bakes our buns. They’re here in town. And Fugazzi Cheese is our cheese guy. He’s local.”
Or maybe it’s the fact that Dames refuses to grow his company by franchising, a tactic often employed by restaurants that want to expand quickly at the expense of quality control. To the contrary, Dames is an established presence in his restaurants; the servers, bartenders and kitchen staff all know him by name and greet him politely as he walks around. Although he’s ceded operational control to his chief operating officer, Ed Biery, Dames is often found in a back booth developing the brand’s marketing strategy or working on the financing of his next location – big picture items.
But the best explanation of that familiarity is here: “We want to do business in a way that empowers, activates and invites along for the journey a whole community of folks,” says Dames, “everyone from our employees to our local food purveyors to our consumers.”
Dames has created a business culture at Flipdaddy’s that respects both where it gets its ingredients – the vendors – and to whom it serves them – the customers. That respect is evident in the rotating selection of craft beers. Most restaurants let the draft beer selection stagnate for months before changing it. Flipdaddy’s constantly refreshes its list because Dames respects his customers’ intelligence, tastes and ability to choose adventurously.
“We’ve got sophisticated guests who really appreciate seeing different beers every time they come in,” he says. “We hang our hat on that.”
Flipdaddy’s Brilliant Burgers & Craft Beer Bars – Newport is located at 165 Pavilion Parkway, Newport, KY 41071. You can reach them at 859.431.BEER (2337) or visit their website at www.flipdaddys.com.