Featured in Groove Korea January 2011, February 2013, October 2014
In November 2010, Canadian-born Dan Vroon opened Craftworks Taphouse in Gyeongnidan at a time when the beer scene left something to be desired. What he and his six friends created was a game changer.
“There were imports,” says Vroon, “but it really took Craftworks to bring craft beer to Korea.”
“The trust (my investors) had in me was amazing,” says Vroon, saddled up at the corner of his Namsan location. “I only had a business plan and it was something that had never been done here.”
Vroon came to Korea in March 2000 at the insistence of a friend who was soon to be married here. At the time, Vroon was managing a bar and restaurant at a ski and golf resort in Canada. Golf season had been busy and he was looking forward to some rest and travel.
Well, this is Korea. Things happen sometimes.
“I ended up working at a hagwon for six months,” Vroon laughs. From there he got into corporate teaching, worked at a nuclear power plant and got an MBA from Sejong University before he developed the idea for Craftworks.
The risk was high.
“This was not a destination location,” says Guy Citron, general manager at NYK Media Group and occupant of the stool next to Vroon. “People going out were thinking about Itaewon. They didn’t think of Gyeongnidan or HBC.”
Their gamble paid off, of course. Today there are Craftworks branches in Namsan, Pangyo and downtown Seoul. They are in the process of building one of the largest craft breweries in Asia.
“We need room to innovate and expand our roster of beers,” says Vroon with a grin. “I want to make beers that haven’t really been seen in Korea.”
One thing that sets Craftworks aside is its unique feeling of community inside the bar and dining room. Vroon intentionally hires staff from all around the world. He provides jobs for international students and Koreans looking for an international atmosphere.
“It feels like you are somewhere else,” he says. “It’s an attempt to keep the atmosphere authentic.”
What started out as an expat destination has turned into something that is embraced by the entire population. These days, Korean guests outnumber their expat counterparts, something that makes Vroon happy.
Noticing the demand for more quality beer choices, other entrepreneurs were quick to follow suit. The area has since become a mecca for Western-style restaurants catering more to local expats than tourists passing through.
“It made the neighborhood better,” Vroon says of the competition. “We feed off of each other.”
But there is more to Vroon than good beer and food.
“(Dan is) a hero to the foreign community,” says Citron. “He has experience and advice for doing what you want to do. Brainstorming and networking is hard, but the foreign business community is tight. Dan is always around to help someone out.”
“Having to (start a business) on your own anywhere is scary,” says Vroon. “Doing it in a place with a different language and customs is very scary. It’s the responsibility of everyone who has success in the foreign community to give it back. I really enjoy helping entrepreneurs and people who want to branch away from teaching. I want to see more of that in the future.
“We wanted to introduce craft beer to Korea,” he adds. “The area is blossoming and I hope it continues.”
More info www.craftworkstaphouse.com