Q+A: Dave Plate of Randolph Beer
If you've ever been drinking with some friends and thought "We should open a bar," then this one's for you! We chatted with Randolph Beer co-founder, Dave Plate, who once had that very conversation. Now with three New York locations and a fourth in the works, we sat down to learn more about going viral, bringing brew-pubs into the 21st century, and why Dumbo was a bucket-list location.
Tell us about how you started Randolph Beer!
In 2004, I bought a bar in the Lower East Side with some friends from high school. It’s like how every group of young kids growing up says, “We wanna buy a bar someday." Well, we actually did it. It was a total flop. It was a place where we all partied and had fun but it was a terrible business. Anyway, a few years later a bunch of those partners were gone so myself and some new partners turned it into a real business -- a cocktail speakeasy called Randolph.
I’m actually from Randolph, New Jersey but we didn’t just call it that for the town. We were looking for names which were apropos for the time for a cocktail bar; things like "The Vanderbilt". Then I saw a piece of mail from my parents house which said Randolph, New Jersey and I thought "The Randolph" made sense for that type of place, plus it had this connection to the original group behind it.
The original bar only had one beer (PBR) – but people would come in all the time and ask for beer. We’d have to tell them we only had PBR. We didn’t want to carry more beers in a cocktail bar and have it be an afterthought.
Over time, beer became more of what we were into. The cocktail bar was more of a late-night party scene and we were outgrowing it, so we focused on the beer scene. We ended up taking a space down the block and turned that into Randolph Beer.
It’s like how every group of young kids growing up says, “We wanna buy a bar someday." Well, we actually did it.
How would you summarize the Randolph Beer concept?
We've been thinking about this a lot recently. We’d say we’re a modern take on the age-old brew pub. So brew-pubs are these community-centric places where people meet, hang-out, and interact with each other. That’s fundamental to our concept, however, it's a modernization of it. For instance, we’ve got healthy food, we’ve got an automated beer wall, we’ve got games. It’s immersive and experiential. At our heart, we want to be that place where people come, put their phones down and interact with each other.
We're glad you brought up the beer wall. It's awesome! How did you come up with the idea for it?
We made one first at our Williamsburg spot. It was actually born out of necessity. We were converting the Williamsburg location into a more elaborate beer program, and we needed to fit more beer. We were going from 12 draught lines to 24, but we only had space for the walk-in refrigerator that was necessary. I’d read about a place in the Midwest that was doing this self-serve wine thing, so I figured we could put screens on the walk-in refrigerator and make it a self-serve beer wall. One of the founding partners is a liquor attorney, so I asked him if this was allowed to be done in New York. It didn’t exist here yet, but he found legal precedent saying it was allowable so long as the same controls were in place as they would be at a bar. We found a company that sold the screens and we built the rest ourselves. We launched it in South Williamsburg and then a few months later the food section of Insider came in and did a video on it. They shut us down for two hours, made this cool little video and then later that night they called us back to tell us more than one million people had viewed it. Within two weeks it was up to thirty five million and went viral. We had a line down the block and figured the beer wall was a good idea so we built another in Dumbo.
The best part about it is also using it as a trojan horse for people who aren’t into beer yet. They see it and want to interact with it even if they don’t know beer that well. You can let people try them at 1oz each which is really good for beers which would be more expensive as a pint.
The best part about the beer wall is using it as a trojan horse for people who aren’t into beer yet.
So how do you go about curating your beer selection?
My partner is a certified cicerone and is well-known in the beer world. We brew a handful of beers ourselves and the rest are rotating guest taps with mostly local options, so it becomes a great gateway to try new beers.
For our guest taps, he curates the list with the help of our team. He’s immersed in local beer culture so he’s always talking with distributors about what’s new and cool. It’s a rotating list and we change our focus seasonally.
For beers we brew ourselves, our ethos is food pairing. Our team comes together and thinks about what style of beer we want to make but then we bring our chef in and say “If we were to make this beer, what on our menu would it go with?” and no matter how good the beer is if it doesn’t pair well with anything then we don’t make it. We only have space for a handful of our own beers at a time so we start with our wishlist and cross reference it with our menu.
At our heart, we want to be that place where people come, put their phones down and interact with each other.
You have three locations now and a fourth in the works! How do you choose new locations? Why did you choose Dumbo?
We choose based on where fits our brand. We first opened in Nolita, then Williamsburg because myself and another partner lived there and felt it was awesome. Dumbo was always on the shortlist of places because it’s a great neighborhood. Never say never but I don’t think you’ll ever see a Randolph in Midtown - it’s just not us. We circle in on places where we think something is changing or happening or there’s a community feel.
As we began to expand we felt the natural evolution was to start brewing our own beer. We’d been looking for a while for a space big enough to do all of the components of what we did plus brew the beer. Typically in Manhattan or trendy Brooklyn neighborhoods you don’t find many breweries because it’s too expensive. Most people, if they start a brewery, do it in Queens or Long Island City -- somewhere you can get a single story warehouse for a more reasonable price. We were looking for a while for a unique space where we could do all parts of our concept. The hospitality factor is huge for us -- it’s a differentiator. Dumbo was a bucket list location forever but it’s expensive so we sat forever just waiting. We knew about the spaces down on the water but we’re not a giant company so we waited and this opportunity in Dumbo Heights came up in 2015. We saw this space and it had this double level to make a brewery and have a kitchen. We knew we could check off two boxes: expand to Dumbo and have our own brewery. This is our third space but it’s the biggest and is really the concept we’re going for. It put us on the map.
Dumbo is our third space but it’s the biggest and is really the concept we’re going for. It put us on the map.
And finally, what's your favorite place in Dumbo?
I'd say the place I used to go the most was Superfine. It was one of the first places I went to regularly in Dumbo before the Bridge Park became the biggest place ever. I like the staff, the place, and the location. It has a familiar feel to it and is always a good experience.
Nowadays though, the thing I do the most is take my three-year-old to Jane's Carousel. I think the carousel was an awesome addition to Dumbo.