Tri-City business taps into self-serve wine, beer market

When two Tri-Citians walked into a Boise bar two years ago, they weren’t expecting to walk out with plans to start a new business.

But what Jason Sadler and Kendra Guzek saw in Idaho in 2015 amazed them: a self-service wine bar in which customers could try wines using a pre-paid card that slid into a machine that provided 1-, 3- or 5-ounce pours.

“I said, ‘Why don’t we do this in Wine Country?’ ” Sadler said.

And that’s how it happened: Sadler and Guzek opened Tri-Cities Tap & Barrel at 112 Keene Road in Richland, across from the Albertsons parking lot on Gage Boulevard, in November.

Sadler and Guzek had the wine experience. They both worked at Bookwalter Winery in Richland for at least five years, with Sadler working as director of retail operations, and Guzek as director of marketing sales.

From the time they decided to launch their “urban casual wine and beer experience” to the day the business opened took 11 months and two weeks. “Our goal was to open within a year. And we did,” Sadler said.

They also added a third partner along the way, Dan Vargo.

“He owns Vargo Construction, and he has an eye for interior design,” Guzek said.

The interior design is sleek, from the large bar table to the wine boxes and outdoor deck.

“We picked out everything,” Guzek said. “We went with custom lighting and shelves. We wanted everything to feel different. We are a bar with good food, not a restaurant with a good bar.”

The soft opening was Nov. 7, on a Monday.

“I was so tired of not being open, I told Kendra, ‘Let’s open tonight,’ ” Sadler said.

“There were no printed menus,” Guzek added. “But by 5:30 that night, only a few seats were available. People had been curious all summer, out for walks and peeking into our windows.”

“There’s been a very healthy response from the public,” Sadler said. “We’re bringing an urban-casual bar to the Tri-Cities.”

Tap & Barrel features a tapas menu, with soups and salads, bruschetta, flatbreads and desserts. Prices range from $5 to $15.

Of course, the draw is the wine.

There are 56 rotating wines in the self-service machines and another 125 types of wine to sell by the bottle.

Guzek makes sure things are running well in their limited kitchen while Sadler handles the wine.

They have three to 12 bottles of wines in the machine in stock. Sadler keeps track of what is selling, and changes it out when needed.

But the real stars are the machines, made by a company called WineEmotion from Milan, Italy.

Sadler and Guzek bought seven machines at a cost of $11,400 a piece.

Each machine holds eight bottles.

Here’s what to expect: Customers come in and buy a card. The card is pre-loaded and put into one of the seven machines, and customers can select their wine and how many ounces (1 ounce, 3 ounces or 5 ounces). The wine then dispenses into the glass.

Right now, the state does not allow self-serve for wine, so a Tap & Barrel server takes the cards and then pours for the customer.

The wine is served at a perfect temperature by the dispenser system. Sadler said they use an argon preservation system, so wines can stay in the machine for 30 days.

“Argon serves as a blanket that keeps the oxygen away from the wine in the bottle,” he said.

The idea is that customers can come in, sample the wines at a much cheaper cost than at any high-end restaurant, and maybe buy something to go.

“Nowhere you can go can you get 56 different glass pours,” Sadler said. “We’re trying to capture to-go sales, and people are catching on.”

“Say you come here to get a bottle of French wine for dinner at home,” Sadler continued. “You can try four or five different items, find what you like, then buy a bottle. And that $40 glass of wine at a high-end restaurant might be $18 at Tap & Barrel.”

The variety of wines is impressive. The current menu carries Washington, California, Oregon, Italian, French, Argentinian, Chilean, Spanish, Greek, South African, Australian and New Zealand wines in the machines.

“But Washington wines have been our fastest moving products,” Guzek said.

The boutique winery also has a place at the table.

“Some smaller area wineries, who need to keep their wines exclusive, are usually available at Tap & Barrel. They’re very picky who they give it to,” Guzek said.

Tap & Barrel also offers a wine club, available quarterly with three bottles not to cost more than $150. The first delivery will be selected by local winemaker Neil Cooper, with one of his wines, a Californian bottle, and a Chilean wine.

In addition to the wines in the machines, Tap & Barrel offers kegged wines, and various craft beers on tap – plus the cult favorite Rainier, always on tap.

“We’re getting a self-serve beer machine in a few weeks,” Sadler said.

Washington allows self-serve beer, and Sadler hopes the state Legislature reviews its wine self-serve law. He planned to meet with state representatives in early February to ask for a policy review.

“The owner of WineEmotion said if that happens, we’d be the only bar in the country to have both self-serve wine and self-serve beer,” Guzek said.

The fledgling business, which employs 11 people, has relied on Facebook, its website and word of mouth to promote their new endeavor and from what the owners have seen so far, it appears to be working.

“It’s really been received well,” Sadler said. “And it’s been a ton of fun. We’re pulling in every demographic available as far as ages: early 20s to late 80s.”

In fact, it’s going so well, they’re looking at expanding, both at the Richland location and elsewhere.

“We’re expanding the deck this summer,” Sadler said. “We’ve also checked out Bend, Oregon. And we want to check out Yakima. We want to move fast.”

Tri-Cities Tap & Barrel is located at 112 Keene Road in Richland. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Happy hours: 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday only. For more information visit tricitiestapandbarrel.com.

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