Food & Drink

There’s a bit of mystery in closure of Growler USA, and its quick reopening as a new bar

Raleigh’s Growler USA closed this week after a year and a half on Blount Street.
Raleigh’s Growler USA closed this week after a year and a half on Blount Street. Growler USA

The loss of Raleigh’s Growler USA was more of a breakup than a closing.

At the end of July, husband and wife owners Amrish Raj and Sunita McCoy cut ties with the taproom chain, taking down branding and announcing the shuttering on Facebook.

But within days they got to work on a rebrand of the space, turning the Blount Street bar into a new concept called Riddle Raleigh. The new bar centers around bar games and went through a brief renovation, altering the landscape of the bar and adding a new paint scheme. Riddle Raleigh is in its soft opening phase now, serving in the evenings.

Co-owner Raj said in a phone interview that a grand opening is planned for Aug. 30.

“We were talking about new names for the bar and a manager said, ‘It’s kind of like a riddle,’” Raj said. “And I said let’s use that. It’s like a riddle, a mystery. Let’s have games and a full bar and food that keeps changing.”

At the heart of the split with Growler USA, Raj said, was a difference of opinion on what kind of alcohol the bar could serve. Riddle Raleigh, now serves a full bar, including liquor and large domestic beers, which were prohibited under the craft beer company’s business model.

“We couldn’t serve domestic beers like Bud Light, which is the most popular beer in America,” Raj said.

In terms of specific disagreements with Growler USA, Raj declined to elaborate. He said he funded the construction and stocking of the bar.

“Due to some disagreements, we parted ways.” Raj said.

As a brand, Growler USA has suffered a number of closings in the past year, including the Gastonia location earlier this month. In a Gastonia Gazette story, the restaurant’s landlord reported 9 percent of gross sales went to Growler USA. Raj declined to speak about specific financial agreements with the company. But in an email Growler USA president John Kutac said the company’s franchise fee has historically been 9 percent, but that the company is working with owners to lower it.

Kutac also said the company is opening five new locations around the country in the near future and hopes to rejoin the Raleigh market in the future.

“Recently, the Growler USA pub in Raleigh, North Carolina ceased operations,” Kutac said in an emailed statement. “This location was independently-owned and operated and closed under its own accord. Out of respect to our previous owners and the confidentiality agreement that is in place, we are unable to share additional details at this time. In the future, we do hope to reopen Raleigh-area pubs under new ownership as the Growler USA brand remains as strong as ever with five new locations in development across the United States.”

The Raleigh Growler USA location opened in February of 2018 and closed within a year and a half. Raj said he was first attracted to the concept as the craft beer boom appeared unending. The bar had one of the largest taplists in the city, with 100 draft lines.

“At the time, it wasn’t that common,” Raj said. “Three years later it’s a lot more common.”

With Riddle Raleigh, Raj said the bar will focus on games and events, while having more drink options. The bar is currently open in the evenings starting at 4:30 p.m.

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.