How new Naperville 'beer wall' helps diners 'embrace independence'
A restaurant offering Naperville's first "beer wall" is nearly ready to open downtown.
Red Arrow Tap Room, open since January 2017 in downtown Elmhurst, is set to launch in a few weeks at 216 S. Washington St. in Naperville. The space that used to hold Kuma's Asian Bistro has been redesigned to match Red Arrow's self-service theme of "Embrace Independence."
The beer wall, a display of 48 taps serving mainly local beers by independent brewers, as well as a few ciders and wines, is straight ahead when diners enter and climb a few steps.
The wall of taps allows customers 21 and older to get a "pour pass" at the front desk, slide it into a slot corresponding with any beer they'd like to try, and pour. Most customers serve themselves five or six ounces at a time, founder and CEO Joseph Tota said. The freedom of choice and exploration excites beer fans.
"It's the ability to try a lot of different products and sample them in smaller ounces," Tota said.
Dining at Red Arrow comes with some unusual steps.
Instead of giving an order to a waiter or waitress, customers use a tablet at each table to click on what they'd like to eat and send the message directly to the kitchen. Tota said this decreases mistakes.
Diners can choose from a menu of smoked meats, pizzas, sandwiches, salads, appetizers and desserts prepared under the direction of Executive Chef John Cardamone.
Tota said many customers get seated, use the tablet to order their meal, then head to the beer wall to select a flight of samples. By the time they return, servers often have delivered their food, he said.
"We've kind of automated the restaurant experience," Tota said. "This operation that we have is the future of the restaurant industry."
The beer wall is a showcase from Solemn Oath Brewery in Naperville, Pollyanna Brewing Company in Lemont and Roselle, Noon Whistle Brewing in Lombard and others in the suburbs. Photos from these breweries decorate Red Arrow's exposed brick walls below an ornate ceiling.
"We try to celebrate what those guys are doing," Tota said.
Red Arrow also celebrates beer with "Craft Beer 101" classes in a back-corner space called the Independence Room.
"Everyone passes," Tota said.
A new ordinance regulating self-service taps allows Red Arrow and Sixty Four -- A Wine Bar to operate. With Red Arrow's "pour pass," drinkers are allowed 24 ounces at a time. Once that quantity is used, they must check in with an employee to be granted another potential 24 ounces.
"It's a good way to regulate self-pour beer," Tota said about the ordinance, "because it makes people nervous."
Yet nothing about the concept worries Tota or has caused issues in Elmhurst. He said he's excited for the Naperville opening, which could come later this month once he and General Manager Russ Hillard have hired a team of 45 to 50.