Sam's Quik Shop, once known as Sam's Blue Light, has been a fixture on the Durham scene for decades. It's been a gas station, restaurant, convenience store and bottle shop.
"I've worked there my whole life," said John Boy, Jr. of the family-owned business. "I grew up in it." We sat at Mattie B's Public House pairing pizza—he ordered a slice of pepperoni and jalapeño—with beer. His was a saison from Aviator Brewing Company and mine an Oberon wheat ale from Bell's Brewery. Both are great springtime beers that go well with light lunches.
At 46, Boy is seeking to capitalize on the craft beer revolution, especially in North Carolina. Both early era craft beer pioneer Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and, from Colorado, canned craft giant Oskar Blues Brewery have recently opened breweries in the state. Yes, North Carolina has become an East Coast epicenter for craft beer and, in turn, the pint-sized Quik shop near Erwin Road and Pettigrew Street can no longer handle the entire inventory.
So Boy is branching out.
Across the street from where we ate—the juncture of N.C. 54, 751, and Garrett Road—sits the massive, two-story Sam's Bottle Shop. Boy beams with all the excitement of a new father when talking about the store, in the works for two years. So much so, I'm surprised he didn't offer me a cigar.
But finding a space that could store the quantity of beer he wants to sell and serve as an educational meeting space proved difficult. He researched for a year before finding this location, which he purchased. Because of the success of the Quik Shop, Boy was able to get financial backing because the institution "believed in it."
So he built it the way he wanted it—from the ground up.
He had always wanted to emphasize education—like bringing in a brewery rep or brewer to talk about their beers—but never really had the space at the Quik Shop to fulfill his vision. With the second-floor tasting room at Sam's Bottle Shop, he has plenty of space. The bar has 16 taps and a TV, which Boy hopes to host Skype tastings with in the future.
The bar itself is made from reclaimed heart-of-pine wood from Durham's old Main Street landmark, Citizens National Bank. He tried to build a store as green as he possibly could (95 percent LED lighting, daylight adjustable blinds on the second floor, motion-detection lights so nobody has to worry about forgetting to turn them off) and prided himself on using almost exclusively local vendors. "I had a guy come from Hickory," he said after he chased a bite of pizza with his saison. "But for the most part local."
He attributed his success and that of the Quik shop to his mother, Geraldine. "She was stocking stuff like Orval [trappist ale] and Ayinger Celebrator [doppelbock] in the late '70s," he said. "She just knew ... she could see it." However, import beer was one thing, American craft beer another. And Boy said his mother had her finger on the pulse of it early on.
"She was carrying Samuel Adams, Anchor Steam, Red Hook [and other newly born craft beers] before anyone else," Boy said. The store evolved; the range of beers multiplied; and people began to wait in line to get new releases. Now the shop is seen as a mecca in the craft beer industry. You simply cannot visit or pass through Durham and not stop at Sam's. The store receives rave reviews from the likes of RateBeer.com to Beer Advocate, where it has a rating of 100 percent and is classified as "world class."
Boy hopes that with his knowledgeable staff, beer selection and educational aspirations, Sam's Bottle Shop will provide a social respite for beer lovers. "Beer is a social thing," Boy said. "There is a beer for everyone."
But, is there a beer he doesn't carry, that he would love to stock?
"There isn't just one, there's multiple beers I'd love to carry," said Boy. "I mean seriously," he said, eyebrows raised and matter-of-fact "Personally I am happy with what we have, but on a business side, I would love to carry more beer."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Bottle fed"