On any given afternoon, locals line the bar at The Community Tap in the North Main area of Greenville and neighbors run over for libations to go with dinner. It’s the kind of bar Mike Okupinksi dreamed of when he penned his pseudo-business plan for a craft beer spot.
At the time, it was just a dream. He was working in graphic information systems doing digital computer mapping, a job that turned into a lot of travel.
“Then we got pregnant,” says Okupinski, and it was time for a career change, so he locked down financials and solidified the business plan.
One of Okupinski’s good friend’s, Ed Buffington, pulled him aside at a party and said he was interested in the bar idea. Buffington was a great cook and had kicked around opening a restaurant. He knew a lot about wine.
Okupinski’s wife, Anna, and Buffington’s wife, Kim, joined the partnership. “We talked about who we wanted our customers to be and what we wanted the place to feel like.” The wives brainstormed the name. Angel investors made the project possible. The Community Tap opened July 1, 2010.
“Ed quit his job, and we worked all day, every day, seven days a week until we hired our first employee,” Okupinksi says. They quickly outgrew the space at 205 Wade Hampton Boulevard and moved a couple of doors down to 217, which included an outdoor patio and more room for food trucks and outdoor events.
“There were times we were slam-packed. We worried regular customers would be turned off, but we learned how to keep the feel while growing our business. North Main felt right for us then, and it still does now,” he says.
“From day one, all we wanted was to be a comfortable place for anyone who walked through the door,” he says. “We hired for personality. If the interview went well, we taught them what they needed to know.” They continue to invest in their employees’ beer and wine knowledge, paying for continuing education and wine and beer certifications.
The talkative kid from New Jersey who began his beer journey by slurping his fare share of Bud and Coors is now Greenville’s go-to craft beer guy. He laughs remembering his first mind-blowing beer experience. “My brother, Phil, introduced me to Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, and it was crazy that a beer could taste like that!”
His knowledge is infectious. He’s traveled the country and world asting beer. And thanks to Buffington’s specialty, he’s also been expanding his wine education. “I find myself drinking more wine than beer these days, but enjoy both,” he says.
The expanding knowledge of beer, wine, and business means The Tap family continues to grow. The Community Tap Trailside opened the week before Thanksgiving in 2019. “Unity Park was a construction zone then, and three months later COVID hit and everything came to a halt. We kept all of our staff, created an e-commerce site and shifted to all online ordering. It was painful,” he says.
Now Unity Park is open, and even though the space is large, they are ready to make room for more seating. The Community Tap Travelers Rest is also open for business. All locations have rotating taps and the basic underlying DNA is the same. The original Tap is more retail focused, and the two newer locations are more bar-driven, offering house-made spritzers and small plates.
“All of the locations are different, but we work hard to keep that welcoming vibe,” says Okupinski. “I’m happy we opened up in Greenville twelve years ago. We are still energized and that comes from having the staff that we do. We all feel like it takes a village.”
Community Tap Travelers Rest
321 B S Main St, Travelers Rest, SC
Community Tap Trailside
147 Welborn St, Greenville, SC
The Community Tap
217 Wade Hampton Blvd, Greenville, SC
Photography by Ana Pelham Photography