When Apple Blossom Brewery folded its tents in the summer of 2020, many saw the demise of the Fayetteville spot as indicative of the too-rapid growth of the craft beer scene in general, finished off by COVID-19.
But approaching one year after the business went up for sale, and two months since it relaunched, the new Apple Blossom Brewing Company is thriving, thanks to new ownership and new thinking about the spot’s identity.
“We’re not looking at ourselves as a brewery. I look at us as a restaurant,” said Tony Trammell, co-owner. “We want to be a common place for people to come no matter what their whim. We want to be a space where everybody can relax and everybody can get what they want.”
Trammel’s venture is his third in the restaurant game, and it’s a family affair. His wife, Christina, works the front of the house and his son Austin, a graduate of culinary school, commands the kitchen. Having family to help shoulder the usual stress of operations – plus in this case, a massive remodel, the public’s grousing over changes and oh yeah, COVID-19 – helps greatly.
“For us it’s far easier,” he said. “I’ve been married to my wife for 25 years. My son is 21. If I started a restaurant cold by myself, which I’ve done before, I’ve got to rely on other people in the back of the house. I’ve got to rely on people in the front of the house.”
“I’ve got Austin in the kitchen, so I don’t worry about theft. I don’t worry about the product. I don’t worry about no one caring about how the dish goes out, because he’s an owner, he cares. My wife is out front because it’s much easier to talk to a pretty woman. I’m a big ugly guy. So, I got her taking care of the customers. My job is to make sure there’s air in the tires and we roll down the road. That’s my job.”
Such elements have been critical to the business achieving a strong start given the shift in focus. Apple Blossom Brewery operated for seven years and change has taken some getting used to. Trammell said retaining the name meant some regulars expected to see the same menu and same taps, too.
“We caught a lot of crap off the start,” he said. “We kept the Apple Blossom name, because they had seven years of goodwill from what we could see. But that meant we also got a lot of, ‘Hey, where’s your beer and cheese soup?’ Well, we don’t do beer and cheese soup; it’s a new menu.”
Perhaps the biggest shock to the system was expanding the beer menu beyond what was produced in-house, moving the bar from a classic taproom-type setup to one that’s designed for wider appeal. Apple Blossom continues to brew its own beer, it’s just not the only thing to be had on tap.
“I spent five-and-a-half years with Anheuser Busch and my job was to go around and sign craft breweries for distribution,” Trammell said. “I’ve been to a thousand breweries, I’ve drank a thousand beers. The biggest thing that I saw with [previous ownership] was they only sold their own beer, no outside beer at all, no domestics.”
“I love craft beer and a lot of people do, but there’s other stuff on menus for a reason. People like different things. I’ve got 18 beer taps; I run six beer taps with domestics, six more with other Arkansas craft beers, then I’ve got six taps where it’s our beer.”
And as for those produced in-house, Trammell said the focus is less on experimentation as it is to create a solid foundation from which to build.
“Our first six beers coming out are pretty straightforward. Nothing crazy. Just good, technically sound beers,” he said. “I brought a brew master from Texas who’s got 26 years of brewing experience. He’s been involved with five Great American Beer Fest medals and two World Beer Cup medals. I’m very happy with him.”
As anyone who ever visited Apple Blossom under previous ownership can tell you, it stands out from virtually any NWA brewery operation for sheer size and a décor that says restaurant first, even during the period it tried to identify as a brewery. Trammell’s internal changes completely revamped the kitchen and shaped the 4,500-square-foot dining area (with a pre-COVID capacity of about 300, patios included) to be what it naturally is.
“When we got here, it was kind of open. We’ve divided up the room a little bit just to make it a little bit more intimate and to keep down all the noise if it gets busy,” he said. “We’ve tried to make the space interesting. We’re Irish by our ancestry on both sides, so we’ve turned it into, we’re calling it an Irish-American gastro pub. The décor is Irish.”
Apple Blossom Brewing Company is Trammell’s second venture with his son and about as far away from their first locale as one can get.
“Two years ago now, my son and I opened a restaurant in the Virgin Islands,” he said. “He just graduated from the Culinary School of America in New York a year and a half ago. We opened up our restaurant and within a month somebody wanted to buy it. So, we put them off like nah, not going to sell it. We stayed there a little over a year and we ended up selling it January 2020. Came home in February and then COVID hit.”
Snooping around in their native Texas for another opportunity didn’t yield much, which is when daughter Tyler, a college student in Fayetteville, suggested they check out Northwest Arkansas. They did and the timing dovetailed with the Apple Blossom becoming available. He believes the new focus and the new energy brought on by full-time, on-site proprietors will provide the ingredient lacking in the previous ownership.
“I think the biggest difference is those guys were kind of spread with several different businesses,” he said. “Seven years is a long time in the restaurant business and they just kind of ran out of steam. My personal belief is too many partners, not enough interest, doing other things as they grew and expanded. They just kind of lost interest in this place.
“We are hyper-focused on this. We are not a restaurant group. It’s just me, my son and my wife as the owner/operators, trying to bring back the restaurant as a public house. I don’t want to be conveyor-line cooking and here’s your food, here’s your bill, now get out the door. We want to interact and we like to get personal with all of our clients. Hopefully that gives [the restaurant] the shot in the arm that it needs.”
Apple Blossom Brewing Company
1550 East Zion Road, Suite 1
Images courtesy of Apple Blossom Brewery