Atlanta Classics: Tavern operator has always focused on bringing new beers into the market

Although he tends to fly under the radar, Andy Klubock of Summits Wayside Tavern in Snellville is known as one of the earliest adopters of craft beer in metro Atlanta.

A Massachusetts native, Klubock moved to Atlanta to attend Emory University, where he studied history and political science.

“While I was at school, I always had jobs,” he said. “I worked at restaurants at Emory and in Emory Village. That served two purposes: One, it fed me. And, two, it exposed me to dealing with the public.”

At one point, Klubock simultaneously worked at Taco Mac in Virginia Highland and Dugan’s on Ponce de Leon Avenue, both founded by Lou Chambers, who came to Atlanta from Buffalo, New York, in 1979, and brought Buffalo-style chicken wings with him.

ExploreGwinnett County dining news

Credit: Mary Fiorello

Credit: Mary Fiorello

“At that time, they were like sister companies,” Klubock recalled. “They really were the first, as far as craft beer. They started by adding all these imports, and, before you knew it, there were three or four hundred beers. They were all bottles, and they came from all over the world.”

That international flavor stirred his interest, as Klubock stocked the beer coolers at Taco Mac and Dugan’s.

“I was always fascinated with geography,” he said. “There was a beer from New Guinea called South Pacific, or Bamba from Africa, or Tsingtao from China, and all these British beers.”

Around the same time, famed British beer writer Michael Jackson was producing a series of books that served as international guides.

ExploreMetro Atlanta beer and cocktail news

Credit: Mary Fiorello

Credit: Mary Fiorello

“The books taught me about the romance behind each of these breweries,” Klubock said. “It fascinated me, whether it was Fuller’s in England, or Prinzregent Luitpold in Germany, or Trappist beers in Belgium.

“I got so enamored with it, that, for the next 30 years, almost all my vacations were centered on visiting breweries around the world. I’ve been to Tibet, and China, and all the Trappist breweries, except Westvleteren.”

Starting as an operator, Klubock opened several Taco Mac locations, including Roswell Road in Sandy Springs in 1989. Later, he founded Summits Wayside Tavern, which these days also has a location in Cumming.

The Roswell Road Taco Mac “was a pioneering place, because, at the time, we were the first multi-tap bar on the East Coast, and only one of three in the United States,” Klubock said. “I started off with 13 taps, and then, very quickly, I went to 116. My whole philosophy was about choice, whether it was a craft beer or a macro lager, so we were constantly bringing new beers into the market.”

ExploreAtlanta Classics: Canoe celebrates 27 years on the Chattahoochee River

Credit: Mary Fiorello

Credit: Mary Fiorello

As for the food, Klubock wanted to have an “ever-changing” menu, using fresh ingredients for dishes made from scratch, as much as possible.

“Of course, we were known for chicken wings, but we did things like kimchi fries, fresh salads and vegetables, and ahi tuna,” he said. “And, we were doing it very different ways, in terms of presentation, and how it fit with pairing beer and food together.”

Part of that program was a series of lavish, multi-course beer dinners, featuring prominent craft brewers from around the country, including Fritz Maytag of Anchor, Garret Oliver of Brooklyn Brewing, John Maier of Rogue Ales and Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada.

“We wanted to make the brewers feel like rock stars,” Klubock said. “But, for 30 years, beer education has been something we’ve spent a lot of time, energy and money on. We did very elevated dining for these dinners, combining it with unique beers. And, one of the highlights was having our guests interact with these titans of the beer industry.”

ExplorePhotos: Longtime metro Atlanta restaurants

Credit: Mary Fiorello

Credit: Mary Fiorello

For his part, Klubock has been a crusader for the belief that beer belongs at the table, and is the equal of wine, if not a superior pairing for food.

“I’ve been fighting that battle for years,” he said, “but what’s remarkable now is that we have over a hundred breweries in Georgia, and the quality has improved significantly. That’s been a tough struggle, but a number of our brewers are producing world-class beers of all different styles.”

Looking to the future, Klubock cited a question someone once asked Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau: “Isn’t it boring doing the same thing you’ve done year after year?”

“He said there’s a wonderful euphoria about being consistent,” Klubock said, “and I never forgot that. Doing what I do, year after year, gives me great pleasure. When people come into our store, they have an experience they can anticipate. We’re living in a very unpredictable world now, and they want some certainty.”

Summits Wayside Tavern Anniversary celebrations

Both Summits locations in Cumming and Snellville continue the tradition of celebrating with a month-long series of keg-tapping events. Look for 30 rare beers, plus special treats from Georgia breweries. 525 Lake Center Pkwy, Cumming; 3334 Stone Mtn. Hwy, Snellville. summits-online.com.

ExploreThe ultimate guide to pizza in Atlanta

Sign up for the AJC Food and Dining Newsletter

Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.