The Reinvention of TBBC

David Doble never really wanted to run the family business.

When his mother and father, Vicki and John Doble, opened up Tampa Bay Brewing Company with his older brother Johnny Doble in 1997, David left to be a pilot instead. Yet 20-plus years later, Doble is running the Tampa, Florida business his way since taking over the company in 2004 and thriving.

What started as a small brewpub in the Ybor area of Tampa (the location now owned by Cigar City Mead and Cider) is now a production-rich facility with two taprooms in the area that focuses not just on Tampa, but the entire state of Florida with reaches into the East Coast as well. A whiteboard in Doble’s office shows a list of cities the brewery started to designate as territory expansions more than two years ago. So far, only Boston has been opened. Even that is a limited amount of product.

“It all goes back to trying to overcome this old brand — we have been known as a brewpub brand — and we’ve been known as a very boring brand that always had on the same eight cores and seasonal beers,” Doble said. “I strategized in order for us to build up our local pull.”

After being around so long, and being known more for the food than the beer at the brewpub, Doble looked to the rest of the state and beyond to ignite a sales push.

“The beer trade game is huge. If we can get our brand into people’s minds that are not from here … if it begins to drive their need for our beer, they’re going to start to request the beer,” he said. “If they follow us at all, they might see we have this beer coming out, but they can’t be here to buy the beer. So hopefully they’re going to want to trade with somebody in town to come here, purchase the beer and trade. That’s how we could drive the local scene here.”

Building out and working back in has seen double-digit growth for the brand so far in the past few years. It started with a rebrand, pushing the old logo — which had a 90s brewpub look — and even the full name of Tampa Bay Brewing away, opting to go by TBBC.

“As the hyper-local trend grew bigger and bigger, we have very much a Florida-focused brand, it’s not really a Tampa-focused brand,” he pointed out. “We don’t want to hide who we are, but you don’t want to emphasize Tampa all that much. And plus on top of that, it’s just a really long name.

“And the old logo, it’s a very much a classic early American look. I wanted to break free from that and kind of break free from the town, in a sense. I want to establish the fact that we’re based here, but we brew beer for the state, with TBBC as the focal point and the Florida state emblem on there. I just really feel that it brings modern with a classic touch and drives home the fact that we are here for the state.”

While still making sure the food is high quality and delicious, the emphasis is not on the brewery’s restaurants.

“If you take something like Sierra Nevada, the on-site food they have is great. It’s I mean, it’s top-notch stuff and everything,” Doble said. “If Ken Grossman was in this seat, would food ever come into his head?

“People know that there’s also food being served. But they don’t go for the food. They go for the beer. And it’s been a real fight for me to do the whole swap, because we’re taking an older brand and bringing it to a more modern spec, and it’s really hard.”

Director of Sales Mike Dyer helped research to see what was identified as having the largest contingent of people moving back and back and forth between Tampa and a city. Boston had that direct link, which is what gave TBBC a chance to focus on a market outside Florida.

“We went out there, met with distributors and all that,” Doble said. “Then when Mike ended up moving there, I’m like, ‘Holy crap, this works!’ So we went ahead and launched. And it’s just been great. The awareness of our brand now is starting to get to a very good point where I believe we’re going to start seeing the results of it.

“And we’re sure a lot of our growth now is driven from the results of our brand getting out more.”

TBBC’s distributor, Night Shift Distributing — which is a part of Night Shift Brewing — is also shipping some cases into New York City as well.

“I really want our brand to surpass what we actually produce,” Doble said. “Then we can do a nice, comfortable, controlled growth with whatever we want to do. I’m not looking to grow volume out of this, just brand. Hopefully what that will do is drive our sales here.

“To be honest with you, I would love to max this place out. And the only way to get our beers is to come on site for it. We’ve got plenty of room where we can have a lot of fun.”

Even though other cities may be launched down the road, Florida is the highest considered territory for TBBC.

“My belief in craft beer is that not only is it about getting your hands on a beer, but it’s about being where it was brewed because that’s where you truly get the inspiration behind the beer,” he said. “It makes sense. Alaskan Smoked Porter. Although it’s great anywhere, could you imagine drinking that there? It makes sense.

“And just for obvious reasons, keeping the beer fresh and the quality high. Staying in the state makes sense. Even in this day, it’s a little far. We’re still dealing with the old thought process that beer can get warm. No, it’s like milk.”

The Doble family is all about beer. Older brother Johnny and parents John and Vicki opened a dedicated homebrewing shop in the area in the mid-90s. David and Johnny started to learn to brew professionally in 1995, although David admits he didn’t take it too seriously at the start. By 1997, Johnny and Vicki began the original partners in creating Tampa Bay Brewing Company in Ybor. At that time, craft beer in the state market share-wise was sitting at about 1.7%, Doble said.

“That meant 98 out of 100 people coming in the door were asking ‘What is this?’” he recalled. “When we first opened up, our full intent was to open up a brewery that had bar snacks to keep people in their seats. What it quickly turned into is we had to rely more and more on the food. And it really turned us right from the start into more of a brewpub feel, which is a shame because we really just wanted to open up beer.”

Johnny went to Siebel to train and learn more while David was brewing all of the beers.

“In the fall of ‘98, I finally had enough of the place,” David said. “I loved beer, I love to brew, but I just did not want to work in a family business anymore. I really wanted to go out and do something on my own rather than being underneath someone’s wing.”

So David pursued an airline career while his mom and brother ran the brewpub.

In 2003, Johnny was killed in a house fire, and David started to commute into town to help.

“She was just having a hard time trying to run the place and also deal with a side of the ops she didn’t know,” he recalled. “I re-entered the business full time in 2004, at which time I was just trying to bring our beers back up to par. We went from 10 beers on tap down to three. They were diacetyl-ridden pieces of crap, it was terrible. Just terrible. Talk about dark, dark days.” Doble’s whole intent was to get the place built back up to a point it should be, then sell it off. “Once again, I didn’t really don’t want to re-enter a family-run place,” he said. “I love my parents and everything, I just didn’t want to be in business with them.”

A broker did an evaluation of the place and came back at under $1M.

“For like the eight years of effort and like $700,000 in loans we get $900,000? I’m like no way,” Doble said. “So I approached my mom and dad and said, “Just give me ownership. I’ll take the damn place to the moon. I know beer, I love it. Just leave me alone.”

In 2006 he moved from the original facility to the current Ybor pub.

“It gave us a chance to really fix a lot of the issues we had in the build,” he said. “We just learned a lot about the concept. We were still broke as hell. I mean our NSF fees at this time were anywhere year to year $40-60K a year. Just balancing paychecks was hard.”

The brewery got up to the point where in 2009 Doble recognized that Tampa Bay Brewing needed to grow. That’s when the switch to a production model moved forward.

“I wanted the focus to be on the beer and not on anything else,” he said. “The shame of it at the time is we’re becoming more known as the most incredible place in town to eat. Oh, and by the way, the beer’s really good, too. It’s like, stop talking about food!”

By 2011, the plans were in place and licenses were all in order to go forward. The location the production brewery is on wasn’t the first choice, it just happened to have a “For Sale” sign on it after a near-by location fell through.

“Not much research was done honestly. We were done. We just needed a home,” Doble said with a laugh. “So we bought it. And oh, my God, we ended up in a great spot.”

Future growth for the spot is there, but the way the market has turned, a third lot that was planned to be developed as a packaging space is now being thought of as a nice place to have a fire pit and share some beers.

“At this point, just seeing the very bizarre fight that we have in order to navigate through this very convoluted, distribution game in this state, I’m disenchanted to the point where I honestly do not want to grow to the point that we have to have that room built,” he said.

David Doble isn’t the only brewery owner in his family. Brothers Mike and Mark both have launched successful breweries in other states as well.

Mark Doble founded Aviator Brewing in 2008 and has grown it to include four locations in Fuquay Varina, North Carolina — south of Raleigh — with a fifth location on the way, while Mike Doble founded The Explorium Brewpub in Milwaukee in 2016.

For TBBC, Doble said the plan is to max out the floor that the brewery has now.

“I just don’t want to have to ram our beer down someone’s throat. I want someone to want our beer,” he said. “And I just feel that the way the system controls beer down here, I’ll let someone else fight that fight. I want to just allow us to blossom into our max, which I believe here will hit 28-30,000 barrels. Once we adjust a couple of things, probably get it up to like 34-36,000.

“From there, hopefully, we’ll be at a point where we can just drive people onsite. That’s the key right there. You get the freshest beer, the highest quality beer. And it’s fun. It’s a huge community engagement/beer experience, all taking place in a nice field.”

Photos by Tyler Montgomery

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