In a moment of inspired American innovation, Josh Springer sat at a restaurant in 2009 and was struck with an idea that could one day be recounted in the Smithsonian. (Or at least be toasted by grateful sports fans).
Springer may forever end the dreaded stadium beer line.
“If I can be the person that does that, I’ll die happy,” Springer, 28, joked Tuesday.
Springer and his Montesano, Wash., start-up company GrinOn Industries have invented the “Bottom’s Up Draft Beer Dispensing System.”
It “pours” a draft beer nine times faster than traditional methods and dramatically reduces spillage. It's so cool to see, it’s generated viral YouTube videos and dragged fans away from the actual events to stand around and watch suds get served.
The key is the use of a cup that features a hole at the bottom and small, circular magnet that rests over it. When placed on the system, the magnet is lifted up by the pressure-driven beer. The cup fills up until the weight of the liquid pushes the magnet back down over the hole. The cup can then be lifted off and the beer consumed as normal.
What traditionally takes a single worker concentrating on the pour -- which still produces spillage and waste to produce the proper foam head -- is now hands-free, fast and almost perfectly efficient.
Springer said stadiums that have used the system have gone from using eight beer pourers for every two cashiers to having one beer pourer for every eight cashiers. A single stand has been able to deliver 56 draft beers in one minute, an unofficial world record.
“It’s just a fantastic system,” said Joe Carter, the director of food and beverage at the Thomas and Mack Center and Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, two of the handful of venues that have begun employing the system.
“The speed of service is phenomenal,” Carter continued. “There isn’t really a line anymore. The only thing that slows it up now is taking the money.”
Less than two years ago Springer was having dinner with family and friends at a Mexican restaurant in Aberdeen, Wash. He’d always been the kind of guy who imagined various inventions, built things in his spare time and was leaned on by friends to fix various things. At parties, if a keg was producing too much foam, he’d be the one to get it straight.
He was working at a sign company at the time and when staring at a margarita pitcher, he, for reasons he can’t explain, noted that it would be cool if there was a beer pitcher that filled up through the bottom.
“I have a really, really good imagination,” Springer said. So good, no one even understood what he was talking about.
“Everybody looked at me like I was crazy,” Springer said. “My dad (Allan) finally said, ‘yeah, it would be cool, but you can’t do it.’”
That bit of a challenge was all he needed. He went to work in his spare time and four days later, using auto parts, wiring that looked like a bird’s nest and one of his wife’s TV trays, produced a primitive prototype, with a pitcher that had a latch on the bottom. He thought it might be useful in bars.
“It was glued, taped and scraped together,” Springer said.
A real latch system would be expensive though -- maybe $30,000 per unit. That was cost prohibitive even to start -- “I didn’t have $30,000.” Then he realized individual cups, featuring a magnet bottom would work best. The magnet would cost less and, if it featured a cool design could become an advertising tool that would offset unit costs.
“The whole thing was about me and my drunk friends,” Springer said. “What would my drunk friends do when they got to the bottom? They’d steal the magnet because they’re drunk. The magnet goes on your refrigerator and well, now you’re advertising. ... Now you have a disposable cup.”
The entire concept still seemed ludicrous, of course. Pour beer from the bottom up? Springer and his friends, drunk or sober, could envision it but no one else could. They contacted the Seattle-based microbrewery, Red Hook, and offered to show them their invention. They sent a homemade video of one cup being filled.
“The Red Hook people called back and said, ‘We don’t know what hell we just saw, but you have to come up,’” he said.
Springer took a week off from work, and along with his friends put in 20-hour days before heading to Seattle. Red Hook management was in awe. A company was born.
“I haven’t been back to work at the sign company since,” Springer said.
As the system has been perfected, the interest has grown. The Thomas and Mack was a beta site for a Supercross race and Carter realized it was a stroke of genius when fans gathered around just to watch the cups fill up.
“People were holding their children up just to see it,” Carter said. “These fans were absolutely stunned.”
This wasn’t just an improved system, Carter said. Suddenly food and beverage was helping provide actual entertainment at an event. It’s been used temporarily at Los Angeles Angels games and poolside at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, among other sites.
Carter said he expects the distribution system to sweep the country as stadium and team owners realize the overwhelming benefits and demand major service chains such as Aramark implement it.
“There is no downside to it,” Carter said.
Minus the line, you’ll sell more beer –- especially in bursts during stoppages of play in football or intermissions at concerts. Spillage –- which costs in wasted product -- is minimal. The beer, Carter said,
comes out smoother and perfectly poured.
And people love the novelty. The only extra cost is the cups. A generic beer cup runs about 10 cents, according to Carter. The GrinOn cups are about 45 cents.
However, by imprinting the magnet with a custom logo -- something commemorating an event or team and featuring an advertisement -- the expense can be subsidized.
“I can defer the cost of my cup if I have an advertiser,” Carter said.
Springer said some other venues are actually making money on the cups due to advertising, which winds up on fridges for years.
While some would say selling more beer isn’t necessarily a positive -- there are enough over-served fans already -- Springer figures the people that are really helped are the moderate drinkers, who skip buying a beer because of the line. It’s the heavy drinker, he says, that will wait as long as it takes to get alcohol.
Best of all, a baseball fan can leave his seat at the end of a half inning, grab two properly poured beers and return without missing a single pitch.
The company is small, just six employees and a bit overwhelmed. YouTube videos of the beer cups filling has driven interest –- “they’ve gone beyond viral.” So too have people who have seen the system in Vegas and then asked stadiums back at their homes why they aren’t using it.
“It’s a good place to be in,” Springer notes. “I need to hire more people.”
This is innovation meeting demand -- and potentially delivering nearly every sports fan’s dream, the death of the beer line. There’s no word on figuring out how to speed up the bathrooms though.
-- Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports national columnist.
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