Best Managed Companies

Tap & Barrel: Canada’s Best Managed Companies

Canada’s Best Managed Companies

The first time the tap head exploded from its base, staff at the Tap & Barrel restaurant weren’t really surprised. Sparkling wine is almost never served in that fashion, so they knew glitches were inevitable from the moment a sommelier proposed the idea. Then a tap at the company’s location in Vancouver’s Olympic Village neighbourhood popped from the pressure. And another. And another still. “We had a lot of issues at first,” admits Daniel Frankel, CEO of the five-restaurant chain. But Tap & Barrel’s brand centres on hard-to-find beverages—usually local, sustainable or both—so Frankel and his team saw no reason to let a few propulsive bar fixtures stop them. They consulted with their tap head supplier and Okanagan Crush Pad, the B.C. winery that makes the fizz. After a few months of trial and error, they came up with a consistent and safe way to offer bubbly—Frankel describes it as “amazing”—sans bottle.

Tap & Barrel restaurant interior

A Tap & Barrel location in Vancouver. (Grady Mitchell)

Such efforts exemplify the sort of relentless commitment to shaking things up that earned the five-year-old restaurant outfit its status as one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies. This is, after all, a business that named its line of spirits (gin, vodka and, soon, whisky) Disruption. A night at a Tap & Barrel location isn’t like popping down to the local pub. To start, you can’t buy a bottle of wine or beer: It’s all served on tap. It may seem like a marketing gimmick—it certainly does grab attention—but it also allows the company to boost quality control. The chances of serving a “corked,” or spoiled, vintage drops dramatically when you eliminate the bottle. It also reduces the chain’s carbon footprint. Since its founding, Tap & Barrel has kept more than 250,000 bottles of wine from being, well, bottled, Frankel says. It’s easy to see the environmental impact when you add in the labels, corks, caps and crates.

For Frankel, an energetic entrepreneur with more than 15 years of hospitality-related ventures on his resumé, creating an atmosphere in which creativity flourishes is both a competitive advantage and a profoundly satisfying way to run a business. Employees—and there are approximately 1,000 of them—are encouraged to solve problems, to pursue pet passions and to go off-script to create great guest experiences. (You’ll never get a memorized upsell from your Tap & Barrel server.) “It is really important to us to make our people feel they are agents of change,” Frankel reasons. “If you’re an agent of change, you don’t feel as if you’re being pulled along; you feel you are truly involved and engaged in driving change.”