Updated March 26 at 5:46pm

Crafting plan for niche beer sales

'We're bursting at the seams with the beer alone.'

Who could have imagined 12 years ago what would happen to beer: unfiltered Imperial Pale Ales at nearly every bar and liquor stores with rows of fancy brews without a St. Louis or Milwaukee label in sight. At the turn of the millennium, it would be nearly a decade until the term “craft beer” entered the lexicon. More

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Crafting plan for niche beer sales

'We're bursting at the seams with the beer alone.'

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Who could have imagined 12 years ago what would happen to beer: unfiltered Imperial Pale Ales at nearly every bar and liquor stores with rows of fancy brews without a St. Louis or Milwaukee label in sight. At the turn of the millennium, it would be nearly a decade until the term “craft beer” entered the lexicon.

But brothers Michael and David Iannazzi must have had a premonition.

They were running four Ronzio Pizza and Sub franchises in 2000 when a liquor store next to one of their stores in the Smithfield Road shopping plaza on the Providence-North Providence line came up for sale.

“We were looking to get out of fast food,” Michael Iannazzi said. “And then when we were running the pizza place and the liquor store we thought about how we could make it different. At the time there wasn’t much craft beer available in Rhode Island – there just weren’t many places that were selling it.”

So Iannazzi started learning more about, and sampling, what at the time were referred to as “microbrews,” higher-end beers produced in smaller batches and focused on flavor.

That took him to Boston, a focal point of the craft-beer movement, and then to Belgium, which has been making craft beers since the Middle Ages and is famous for the brews of its Trappist monks.

All the while, the beer selection at the new store, which they called Nikki’s Liquors, was growing.

From 200 different varieties at the outset, Nikki’s grew to around 500 in three years and now stocks more than 1,000, including 150 from Belgium alone.

“That is our niche,” Iannazzi said about craft beer. “We haven’t focused on liquor and wine as much – we don’t really have the space for it. And beer is my passion.”

On the West Coast, Iannazzi encountered a store doing a “mix-a-six” promotion that allowed customers to make up their own six-packs by combining whatever varieties they wanted.

Iannazzi brought the concept back to Rhode Island, but instead of offering 30 different varieties to mix, Nikki’s would offer hundreds.

The mixed six-pack quickly became a trademark of the store and began drawing customers from all over Rhode Island and beer aficionados from up and down the East Coast.

“That has basically become our biggest claim to fame, because we were the first to do it around here,” Iannazzi said about “mix-a-six.” “As we kept expanding, more beers became available to mix. I still taste everything and we only carry something that is good quality.”

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