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New Elmhurst bar puts customers in charge

Red Arrow Tap Room features pour-your-own beer

ELMHURST – Step aside ice cream shops and delis. When it comes to customers tasting a sample before deciding what to order, Red Arrow Tap Room is now pointing beer lovers in a new direction by introducing what is believed to be the Chicago area’s first pour-your-own bar and restaurant in downtown Elmhurst at 111 E. First St.

“The atmosphere is really cool,” said Curt Linson of Elmhurst. “People come in; try this; try that. And you sit around and talk about it and have fun with it. I love the interactiveness of it.”

Red Arrow Tap Room debuted its wall of 48 taps in the beginning of 2017 to herald a new era of self-serve. Co-owner and CEO Joe Tota says it’s the first establishment anywhere to offer both pour-your-own drinks and electronic food ordering.

“What we’re really trying to do is solve a lot of pain points in the hospitality industry, a way to make a really easy experience for customers,” said Tota.

“I’ve been to a restaurant and trying to wave down a server, and it’s really frustrating. Here you don’t have those problems,” added Tota, who also owns a consulting company that helps organizations improve worker performance.

Tota said the customer experience also is enhanced through transparent pricing that includes tax and tip. There are no waiters or bartenders, and he says the limited staff of greeters, food runners and kitchen help enjoy an above-average pay scale. No tipping is expected.

“All of our staff is compensated on a revenue share program, so they actually participate in the benefits of the business. And it makes them focused on the whole operation versus one table. That’s a fundamental change. We can operate with less staff. We can pay people more to give better service,” said Tota, who also employs beer ambassadors to answer questions about the different offerings at Red Arrow, which change from time to time and include three wine varieties.

“Just because it’s craft beer doesn’t mean it’s heavy or filling. Craft beer covers a wide variety of beers, and there’s something for everyone,” explained Chief Beer Officer Marty Nachel, tapped with the mission of educating staff, aficionados and newbies alike on the fast-growing craft beer movement. He's teaching his next monthly craft beer class at Red Arrow on Feb. 12.

Red Arrow only features beer from independent brewers, as close as Downers Grove and as far as California. Tota lives in Elmhurst, where residents have embraced his concept with big crowds in its first couple of weeks.

“It’s such a small town, and anything that is new, you want to go check it out; that’s kind of the Elmhurst attitude,” said Linson. “Tonight was my first night. Fun technology, very interactive, good vibe, good beer. Food is very tasty.”

The bar/restaurant is located immediately north of the Elmhurst Metra station and has two entrances on First Street and the alley, with a check-in stand stationed at each one. Customers receive a pour pass after presenting a valid over-21 ID. The pour pass card can be linked to a credit card or preloaded with a set dollar amount by paying in advance. To pour any beer, the pour pass card must be inserted into a slot above the tap, so the card is charged for each ounce that is drawn.

The self-serve aspect allows customers to experiment, by pouring a small amount to sample or mixing together different types of beers.

The menu features a variety of smoked barbecue dishes, burgers, sandwiches, salads, appetizers, desserts and items for kids. Customers can order food electronically through an app they download on their phone, or through a tablet attached to their table, after placing the pour pass on their table’s card reader.

“It’s very easy,” said Linson.  “All of the screens and seeing who the brewer is and what the alcohol content is and how much it is per ounce, it's all right there. So it's kind of cool.”


If you go

What: Red Arrow Tap Room

Where: 111 E. First St. in Elmhurst

Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight daily


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