Up until now, I have left the Unsung Heroes Series to our other writers. When I sent out a second email to the breweries asking for more nominees, Marble Brewery responded with not one but three, the managers of each of their taprooms.
“These three unsung heroes are on the front lines everyday and are committed not only to Marble but to their patrons and the community,” said Barbie Gonzalez, Marble’s director of taproom operations. “I couldn’t single one of them out because they are all truly and equally deserving of this.”
Figuring that I would have to drive to all three locations for interviews, I took this one on myself rather than ask any of the Crew staff to rack up some serious driving miles.
Then all three managers invited me to meet them downtown. Yeah, I got lucky.
On a recent afternoon, I sat down with taproom managers Xavier Romero (Downtown), Max Jones (Heights), and Keri Fleming (Westside) on the rooftop deck for a quick chat before I had to skedaddle over to Isotopes Park. Each of them offered up their thoughts on what makes their particular locations unique, yet still similar.
First up, how did each of them end up running three of the busiest taprooms in town?
“I guess about four and a half years ago (2013) there was a posting online,” Xavier said. “At that time I was coming here as a random customer, drinking some beers, the big, hoppy IPAs and Double IPAs. I saw their posting, I guess it was the first time they ever did job postings online. I had just moved to this city about a year prior to that. I interviewed for a job, killed it, and they offered me a bartending job. Two years after that (2015) they offered me the pub manager job.”
Keri joined the Marble family in a similar way.
“I was pretty much a regular at the Westside taproom,” she said. “I was a regular down here until they built that taproom. It’s right there (by my house) and makes it easier for me. My husband and I came in frequently, and Rachel, the manager at the time, asked me if I would like to work for my beer. I told her I have a bartending job. She’s like, is it this close to home? That happened on a Wednesday. I talked to her manager on Thursday and I started on Saturday. I’ve been with Marble since 2014. In 2015, I got promoted to assistant taproom manager. In 2016 in February, Rachel left to go on maternity leave and then decided not to come back in May, so that’s when I officially was made the taproom manager.”
Max started working for Marble at the downtown taproom before the Heights taproom opened last year.
“I started working (as a bartender) at 21 and ended up learning a good bit about wine and spirits,” he said. “I didn’t know much about beer, but then a beer dinner came along with the place I worked at. It seemed super awesome at that point. I applied for a job (at Marble in 2015) and that was it. After a year-and-a-half, became his assistant manager. When the Heights opened up (I moved there). I’ve been a manager for about six months now.”
The challenges the managers and their staffs face vary by location, though all have to deal with packed houses on the weekend.
“This location, I would say is first, you want to provide a nice, fun, exciting, great vibe,” Xavier said. “You’re trying to keep that going but you’re trying to keep people safe, too. You want people to enjoy their beers, but you want to always try to maintain a safe environment when you’re dealing with so many people. Trying to keep it a chill vibe when there’s chaos all around is pretty challenging, I would say.”
At least when Xavier has a problem with the more technical aspects of the taproom, he has a room full of brewers and cellarmen to call upon. Keri is not nearly that lucky.
“For me, I guess my biggest challenge is we’ve been kind of free-standing on the west side,” she said. “We’re far away from the other breweries. I don’t have brewers on hand at all times. For me and my staff, we have to understand how all the draft systems work, how the CO2 levels work, how the nitrogen levels work on our own without the brewery to fall back on has been a big challenge for us. It has helped us learn and work together as a team.
“That, and everyone sees the Westside as the Cheers bar. We definitely have with our table service, knowing our regulars, knowing their names and their stories, being able to keep that for the past five years, it’s something I’m very proud of, but it has its challenges that come along with it because it entitles people. We’re just trying to keep everybody happy.”
For Max, the main challenges he and his staff face in the Heights are still tied to the relative newness of the location.
“We’re trained to keep an eye on the atmosphere, keep things under control,” he said. “You want to keep it consistent. I’m just trying to make sure it’s a cool place to come hang out. I like the vibe we’ve made. The challenge is just keeping everyone else happy, including our staff.”
Each taproom has also adapted to the different crowds that come along. The greatest variety of people still seems to come to the downtown pub.
“Well, we have a wide spectrum of people that come to this location,” Xavier said. “(It’s) unlike anything I’ve worked at before. We’re working with doctors, lawyers down the street, some local artists, just all variety of people coming. Tourists coming from the airport staying downtown. It’s just a bunch of different variety of people. We do have a good, solid base of regulars who visit us a few times a week, shake our hands. It’s just a really community hub to work at this location downtown.”
Keri has to deal with two main crowds, separated by age.
“I always think of the Westside crowd as more family-oriented,” she said. “A lot of young families, families with young kids. Then it goes back to the older crowd. … (But) it’s nice that they appreciate it that we’ll talk to them about what’s going on in their lives. It goes back to that would family feeling. I would say ours is definitely more of the young families. (But) grandpa is always there, a lot of grandpas.”
Over the past year, the Heights crowd has become more defined. Max said he even sees a lot of the same faces he used to see downtown, but now the beers they love are closer to home.
“The Heights definitely has a pub feel,” Max said. “We’ve got everyone coming by. The age demographic, we’re all over one end of the spectrum and the other end of the spectrum. The guests that do come in, there’s a lot who used to make up the downtown crowd, but now they don’t have to drive down. We’ve got a lot of regulars like that. We’ve got a lot of regulars from that area who didn’t go to breweries much. All we had in the area was Lizard Tail. Now they’ve got two breweries around the corner from each other. I (also) see a lot of people who are new to (craft) beer.”
To get through all the ups and downs for their staffs, each manager has to keep things consistent in how they run their respective operations.
“To build them up, to be prepared to work this kind of crowd, we have a good training system we all follow at our three taprooms,” Xavier said. “So our standards, we just set them high. Our expectations for new staff is high. We’re just trying to motivate them and make them grow to be what we expect. I like doing things that I wouldn’t ask anyone to do. If a new barback is in the club, I’m going to get my hands dirty, I’ll go pick up stuff other people don’t want to pick up, just to show them, hey, this is our pub, this our house, our home, we’re family, a Marble family. Once you’re here, you’re going to be taken care of.
“I always tell my staff, you treat this pub really nice and the pub is going to treat you super nice. I just try to motivate them enough to see that this is a true experience, it’s not like another job. You’re not just pouring beers and slinging food. You’re going to appreciate this craft.”
Keri has a similar philosophy at the Westside taproom.
“I have to agree with Xavi on the training,” she said. “We have a really good training system. We revise it as need be, because when we’re training staff members we know what works for them. I also like to do feedback coaching with my staff, make sure that they’re comfortable with how we’re running things. But, also reminding them we are a family here, we do take care of each other, there are no weak links. Everybody works together, everybody works at the same pace. We’ll give you all the coaching and training you need. If you want to succeed, you will.
“Beer education is a big one. I try to push my staff members a lot to go to different classes. I try to research different beers and different styles, so that way I can educate them as well. I communicate with the brewery a lot on what I can do to keep them better educated so they can keep our customers educated as well. At one point, we had 32 different beers on tap (this summer). We had to pull some classics off our second bar. I would quiz my staff on these beers.”
Max tries to make sure his staff is educated as well, since he noted there are a lot of regulars at the Heights who are new to craft beer. Luckily, he has a big advantage working on the other side of the glass behind the bar.
“I have a master brewer (Josh Trujillo) up there who can give us a lot of knowledge, which is great,” Max said. “We get to pick his brain over the new beers coming out, because most of the specials we have are rolling out of there. … Beyond that, I’m working to try motivate them. I just want to keep them on top of everything.”
In the end, it appears all three Marble locations are in good hands, even when they each get a little crazy sometimes.
A big thanks to Xavier, Keri, and Max for being able to meet up in one place at the same time. Next time I will just have to remember to take a picture.
Until the next entry in our Unsung Heroes Series …