From VC to WOB
Brave new World of Beer
by Sally Mitani
World of Beer (call it WOB, pronounced "wob"--the owners do) is a paradox: a national franchise that sells craft beer. The Tampa-based corporation is in fourteen states now, each one selling about 500 or 600 beers from around the world, many made in quaint, artisanal microbreweries.
If that isn't enough alcohol irony for you, this one occupies the former site of the singularly unique beer and wine store Village Corner. Displaced from South U by the Landmark student high-rise, the VC is now in the Courtyard Shops on Plymouth.
One of the franchise owners, Steve Rossi, is well aware that the spot is, in his words, "sacred ground." Says Rossi, "I was in school [U-M] from 1985 to 1988 and worked at the Brown Jug. The VC is where I bought beer."
Since leaving college, Rossi has mostly been working for Outback Steakhouse, first owning the one on Oak Valley in Pittsfield Township, then becoming a regional manager. His franchise partner, Chad Wilson, has a similar story: he owned an Outback in Novi and then moved up to management. (Outback has no formal relationship with WOB, but Outback's ex-president Ben Novello is in charge of franchising at WOB and seems to be doing quite a bit of recruiting from the Outback ranks.)
The Ann Arbor location, on the ground floor of what is essentially a dormitory, is atypical. Suburbs are WOB's more usual turf: "Our demographic is twenty-five-to-forty-five-year-old professionals," Rossi says.
In addition to the 500 bottled beers (sixty from Michigan), there are forty rotating taps. For non-beer drinkers, there are craft spirits and cocktails made from them. Wilson admits wine is the weak link. "It's a decent selection but really not what we focus on." He also urges wine drinkers to give the cider beers a try. Ask your well-educated server about them. Each employee is put through a two-week "beer school" before going out on the floor.
A large stage dominates the front of the room for live music Thursday
through Saturday. A Florida agent books the acts, but Rossi is happy to refer local musicians to her.
"First," says Rossi, "we're about beer, and second, we're about live music." Only then does he point out the TVs. "We're not a sports bar, but on nights when we don't have live music, hey, fourteen TVs is not too shabby." He adds, "When Michigan is playing Notre Dame at 9 p.m., we're not going to have a band that night."
WOB is not in the food business. Customers can order in food from Mr. Spots, Pizza House, and several other nearby restaurants, menus provided. Also, you can BYO. "If someone wants to bring in a PB&J from home, we can suggest a beer that would go with it," says Wilson. And what would that be? "Wells Banana Bread Beer from England," says Rossi promptly.
World of Beer, 1300 South University. 913-2430. Daily noon-2 a.m. wobusa.com/AnnArbor
[Originally published in August, 2013.]