PUB CRAWL: The business model for the Paper Mill Pub at Truist Field is tied to 170 events at the ballpark and Bank of America Stadium, plus the growing neighborhood in uptown Charlotte. (Laura Wolff)

Minimal expenses part of pub appeal at ballpark

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Knights have papered the house, so to speak. The Paper Mill Pub, a new bar taking over existing space at Truist Field, opened last week during the minor league baseball team’s homestand.

The indoor-outdoor pub, spanning more than 2,000 square feet, is named for the old Virginia Paper Co. factory that once stood on site. It’s situated in the right-field corner, replacing the old frozen yogurt shop that was part of the initial design of the 10-year-old stadium.

Knights owner Don Beaver privately funded the $2 million project. The pub is open year-round with streetside access. Capacity is 150. The setup includes the main interior bar with restricted views to the field and two outdoor patios, one of which is on a second level overlooking Romare Bearden Park across the street. 

On game days, there’s no re-entry to the pub for Knights ticket holders hanging at the bar. They can have their tickets scanned to enter the ballpark through the pub’s back door.

Dan Rajkowski, the Knights’ executive vice president and chief operating officer, said the pub revives a space that didn’t meet the team’s revenue expectations and was closed for five months of the year during the offseason. It was time for a change, Rajkowski said.

The neighborhood bar concept came up before the pandemic with a design completed in the fall of 2019 by Odell, a local architect that helped plan the original park. Construction bids were scheduled to go out in March 2020. 

Then came COVID and the project got put on the shelf until it was resurrected last summer per Beaver’s blessing. The build-out by Rodgers Construction took eight months to complete prior to the 2023 season, according to Rajkowski.

THE VIEW: Paper Mill Pub patrons have great views of the Charlotte skyline and a city park across the street. (Laura Wolff)

“It’s a nice addition,” he said. “We were very intentional and didn’t want it to be a sports bar. We tried to create an atmosphere like it was back in that industrial era with the brick and lighting, yet still wanted to make it fun for sports.”

The Knights’ business plan for the pub is tied to roughly 170 annual events in the immediate area, extending to Bank of America Stadium, which sits one block southwest of Truist Field. 

The number covers 75 home dates for the Knights, plus nine to 10 NFL Panthers games; 17 Major League Soccer FC Charlotte matches; and the ACC Championship football game and Duke’s Mayo Bowl, all held at BOA Stadium. Apart from the Knights, Truist Field books five to six college baseball games every spring, as well as a six-week winter holiday festival, which in January 2024 will be topped off with an AHL Charlotte Checkers outdoor hockey game on the field.

Summer concerts at BOA Stadium should also help draw business, Rajkowski said. 

“If you have that many events with big crowds, you’re headed down the road for success,” Rajkowski said. “The beauty of this project is it’s in the base building, so our food service company manages it. There’s no rent; we own it. It relieves some of the pressure of incurring expenses, because they’re minimal. It should do well. ”

In addition, pub biz is tied to the thousands of local residents that live in the surrounding apartment buildings, townhouses and condominiums that have popped up over the past decade as the city of Charlotte grows at a rapid pace. Many work in the city’s financial sector at Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Truist.

They’ll be able to watch Knights games and FC Charlotte matches, home and away, shown on the pub’s TV screens through in-house feeds and MiLB and MLS streaming packages, confirmed Knights spokesman Tommy Viola.

PAPER CUT: The Charlotte Knights saved on construction costs by filling existing space with the Paper Mill Pub. (Don Muret/Staff)

Professional Sports Catering, a division of Levy, pays the Knights a management fee to run the pub. Chaz Smith, the general manager, previously ran Duckworth’s Grill & Taphouse in uptown Charlotte. The Knights pay for food supplies. PSC hires the part-time servers and bartenders, which in turn, are paid by the Knights. 

There’s a limited food menu with pork sliders, nachos, wings and tacos, served from a food truck that sits on the concourse next to the pub. Food orders are placed through activating a QR code, which takes patrons to a mobile application with the menu. 

Drink prices are more in line with street pricing compared with stadium concessions. Canned beers run from $2.50 for Yuengling and PBR to $5 for Guinness Stout and craft brews. Most drafts are $7. Cocktails cost $12 to $15.

“People won’t come here necessarily for the food,” Rajkowski said. “The views of Bearden park and the skyline are amazing from the upper porch. Early on, it’s been packed up there.”

The same was true for the pub itself during an FC Charlotte home match during the first week of operation, no surprise given that bars and adult beverages are a big piece of soccer culture. The MLS club, in its second season of play, typically fills the lower bowl with 35,000 fans, many spilling out of the bars near BOA Stadium to attend the matches.

Time will tell if the Paper Mill Pub succeeds long term. On their own, the Knights are a strong draw, which should help over the course of their six-month season. They led all of the minor leagues in attendance in four of their first five years at Truist Field, and finished seventh last year overall, averaging 7,280 fans a game. They feel the pub can sustain itself in the future as the north end of uptown Charlotte continues to grow. 

“Real estate and bar/restaurants are a funny business,” said Mike Woollen, Odell’s principal-in-charge of the project. “It’s all about having the right location. Once they take hold and become popular, they tend to be real successful. The hope is that it will be the same thing with the Paper Mill Pub, the combination of having a pretty cool space and a good location.”