Cheers to a Century of Success
For bars and restaurants, Perlick is the premiere manufacturer of stainless steel underbar equipment, refrigerated cabinets and beverage dispensing systems. We spoke with its Product Marketing Manager Dave Kearns and Vice President of Commercial Sales Jim Koelbl to get the full story.
Although the roots of Perlick date to the First World War, its bar equipment business did not boom until the 1950s. The last half century has seen much growth and innovation in what is now widely considered to be the leading manufacturer of bar and beverage dispensing equipment in North America. Perlick’s equipment has become the standard in beer dispensing systems, and, in 2017, the corporation will celebrate its hundredth anniversary.
“You see a lot of Perlick equipment out there, because when people invest in something for a business like a bar, they need to be able to count on it to work day in and day out for decades.”
Perlick was the first company that could dispense beer from one hundred feet away from the keg. The distance was what led the company to term this The Century System. The challenge was not just about getting the beer to move that far. That was the easy part. Getting it there at the right temperature via a glycol cooling system while maintaining carbonation levels is where the science comes into it.
Recently, it teamed up with famed mixologist Tobin Ellis to create the Tobin Ellis Signature Cocktail Station.
There are not only celebrity chefs, but there are star bartenders, and Tobin Ellis is one of the best. Following an increase in the craft cocktail movement, Perlick partnered with Ellis to create equipment that would make the process of bartending more efficient.
“Craft cocktails are more than a trend; it’s more of a movement and an evolution. It is driven by chef-driven restaurants and farm-to-table restaurants. It’s a culinary movement that’s all about fresh and homemade ingredients. This is a trend on the food side of the business that has translated to the beverage side.”
Someone who makes a living on that side of the bar could provide the crucial insight the company needed to refine its designs. “Tobin brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise. He launched a business that focused on the development of bars and training. He told us about all of the challenges that a bartender faces in the course of a shift in trying to operate a high volume cocktail operation and some of the ergonomic issues such as how far the bartender has to reach hundreds of times in an evening.”
These conversations led to breakthrough design changes to the speed rail where the commonly used liquor bottles are kept. This was made shallower to get closer to the bar, and the ice bin was also made shallower to reduce the distance that a bartender has to reach when preparing a drink. The speed rail is also curved for easier reach. The company eliminated hard flat surfaces into which bartenders bang their knees. The result is curved and creates a cockpit where the bartender can be more closely engaged with the patron.
Tobin had insights into how the preparation sinks should be arranged to be more useful and how to increase productivity by keeping everything close including all the necessary tools a bartender uses. He thought it would be a good idea to have an adjacent refrigeration unit to store the fresh ingredients and garnishes like basil and mint leaves that go into craft cocktails. The station was initially called the Tobin Ellis Signature Craft Cocktail Station but was so successful that Perlick took ‘craft’ out of the name to reflect the wider potential.
“With this new evolution, we are far exceeding our sales expectations. One reason for this is because, when we launched the project with Tobin, the focus was strictly on craft cocktails, but what evolved was a highly efficient bartending station. It’s highly efficient and can put out as many drinks as most bars that have two stations.”
Every year the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and design reveals the industrial designs its jury of design experts have deemed to be best in forty-eight countries. Two of these Good Design awards have been given to Perlick, most recently for its Tobin Ellis Signature Cocktail Station. The cocktail station brought together ergonomics, aesthetics, productivity and efficiency.
The other Good Design award was won for a flow-control beer faucet. “It was an extension of our forward-sealing faucets design. The seal takes place at the front end of the faucet. It is better than a rear-sealed faucet as you won’t have surfaces that dry out, which are exposed to air, where residual beer is left inside the faucet body.” The design also doesn’t permit a buildup of bacteria or mold.
Its flow-control mechanism allows control at the tap to easily dispense beers of differing carbonation levels without over-foaming. It even works well for ‘flights’ of beer, where only a couple of ounces are being poured for patrons who wish to sample multiple beers.
“Without the flow control, if the tap is running wide open, it’s like squeezing a garden hose. It’s going to squirt, and you end up pouring away and wasting a lot of beer. There is a definitive cost-benefit associated with minimizing waste with that faucet. Aside from that, the thing that attracted the design award people to it is that it is just a beautiful faucet aesthetically. It speaks of quality and refinement.”
Soon after the Century System was released, others reverse-engineered the process. However, competition does serve to keep Perlick on its toes and always looking forward to the next great idea.
“We look for a marketplace that is underserved or try to anticipate trends as they develop. We try to see what we can bring by leveraging our core competencies for a better solution. At the end of the day, we really appreciate having competition, as it keeps us nimble and hungry. It is necessary.” Although it has a great deal of competition, Perlick still serves the lion’s share of professional sporting venues in North America.
Perlick is also proud to serve more chain restaurants than any other manufacturer in the industry and is the preferred choice because the equipment is durable and efficient. From large restaurant groups to independent bars, Perlick listens to the customer when designing products.
Perlick is never sitting idle and has engineers and designers busy every day. New ideas will be on display in a thirty- by ninety-foot booth at the tradeshow of the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM). The show will be held in February of 2017 in Orlando and will coincide with the one-hundredth anniversary of Perlick. It will be reaching out to customers by, fittingly, hosting a cocktail party.
“We are one hundred years old and still owned by the Perlick family. We are very proud of that family heritage which goes a long way to helping us succeed with all of the things that we have done in the last hundred years.”