The beer industry has witnessed a significant transformation over the years, with a growing emphasis on consumer involvement and personalized experiences.
In line with this trend, Queens beer aficionados were introduced to a novel concept when John Agnello introduced the concept of “pour your own beer” to the region at his Tap This restaurant in Rockaway Beach. This concept allows customers to have direct control over pouring their own beer, offering a unique and engaging experience.
Tap That, a pour-it-yourself beer spot with a popular outdoor yard is the brainchild of Agnello, a lifelong restaurateur who has found an adopted home in Rockaway. “I have 35 years in the business. My father was a chef, my grandfather was a chef. I have never had another job other than in restaurants,” Agnello explained.
Agnello’s entry into the restaurant and foodservice industry reads like a movie script. “Like many others, I don’t think I chose to be a chef; it chose me!,” he quipped. “My dad was a chef, my grandfather was a chef, and I have never had another job other than working in restaurants! And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I couldn’t imagine a life where I went to a job every day that was exactly the same. The most exciting thing about what we do is that every day is different. I love food and people equally, and I think they both should be treated with respect and dignity.”
Agnello was born and raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and spent his life in the hot, fast-paced, and incredibly loud world of restaurant kitchens. “No two days are the same. Every day is an absolute challenge,” he said, “You gotta be nuts.”
Agnello followed his father’s and his grandfather’s footsteps into the kitchen world, going to culinary school by way of the U.S Navy, and served two years cooking at a naval base in San Diego.
Following his job at Morton’s Steakhouse in Connecticut, Agnello settled into NYC in 2000, and worked in a few high-end steakhouses before opening up Burger Bistro in Brooklyn, a high end burger joint. Unfortunately, both Burger Bistro locations had to shut their doors due to the Covid pandemic.
Six years ago, Agnello visited Rockaway and fell in love with it, he moved here, and once Burger Bistro shut down, he began looking for a new venture on the peninsula.
Shopping for ideas, Agnello came across the idea for a digital serve-yourself beer tap system from PourMyBeer and ran with it. The process also eliminates the need for servers and bartenders. “It’s innovative,” he said, “I mean, let’s face it… pouring beer from a tablet is new.”
The PourMyBeer process begins by putting money on, or pairing your credit card with an RFID card, which gives you access to Tap That’s 30 taps of rotating beers.
“You don’t have to go in for a whole glass either, as we charge by the ounce, so you can just go around sampling,” Chef John Agnello explained. “We actually encourage you that… there is no need to spend $8 on a glass of beer that’s new to you. You can certainly pour an ounce and taste it. If you like it, great. If not, you can move on to something else.”
Agnello is a chef, first and foremost, and has gone full on with the food, as his menu has tasty burgers and an incredible Ahi Tuna Club Sandwich. He has also added creative fare including a Rockaway Clam Chowder and a Pork belly BLT.
“The response has been honestly overwhelming. People have been super excited about it. They love it,” he said, “I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of that. I could not be happier to be here.”
The veteran toque also understands the vital role of great food in attracting returning patrons to his beer concept. “My signature dish at the restaurant has been an Ahi tuna stack with fresh mango, cucumber, ponzu sauce, lemon zest, toasted sesame, and basil oil. Every item on this plate comes from Chefs Warehouse! Choosing Chefs’ Warehouse for me was a no-brainer, considering their extensive portfolio. Rather than having five or six different distributors for produce, meat and poultry, seafood, and dry goods/pantry items, I can order it all from Chefs’ Warehouse. From prime meats to produce, everything is always top quality,” Agnello added.
However, the new way of approaching service has introduced a learning curve. “Two out of 100 people that just don’t want to get up and get their own beer? Or, you know, say they have to use an RFID card to pour a beer? Of course there is. And I totally respect that,” Agnello says.
As a new kid on the block, Agnello hasn’t wanted to step on anyone’s toes, which included trying to create a menu that doesn’t intersect with anything anyone else on the peninsula provides.
“I don’t want to ‘out Roger’ Rogers’, I’m not going to ‘out Healy’ Healy’s,” he said. “If you’ve been going to your local pub for 35 plus years, honestly, you should probably still go there. Because I hope that in 35 years from now, people who’ve been coming here for that amount of time wouldn’t just jump ship and go somewhere else,” he said, encouraging people to at least add them into their weekly rotation of going out spots.
Chef John Agnello has given his patrons the power to explore a wide array of brews and experiment with their own pours. It also has provided a platform for local breweries to showcase their products, fostering a stronger sense of community and support for the flourishing craft beer industry in the region.