Quit your job. Write your first-ever business plan. Open a brewery.
That was Scott Smith’s formula for creating one of Pittsburgh’s greatest barley-infused treasures. It’s a place that's no longer a well-kept secret: East End Brewing Co.
Last week, after eight years of operating in a 4,000-square-foot brick building in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood, Smith and his coworkers relocated. They quadrupled their size in a warehouse that Smith purchased in nearby Larimer.
“It’s been a long climb,” says Smith with a chuckle. “But it’s still the most satisfying job I can imagine. We still have so much ahead of us to get us all moved in. But it’s awesome.”
Smith tells the quintessential Pittsburgh boomerang story: He grew up in Pittsburgh, left for 13 years with engineering jobs in Chicago, San Francisco and Virginia. Then he moved home with his wife and two children.
Six weeks into a new corporate job, Smith wanted out.
“I quit,” he says. “I have a very patient wife who was supportive of me quitting a job. I started writing the business plan for what is now East End Brewing. It can be very motivating when you have no income to make it happen. The fire is always lit.”
Smith started out as a one-man operation. His initial plan was to brew and distribute kegs around town.
Then three things happened: People tasted his beer. People loved his beer. People wanted to take his beer home with them.
Smith started filling growlers – which are 64-ounce glass jugs with screw caps. He created “Growler Hours,” where patrons stood in line to fill and refill their containers.
“It wasn’t even in the business plan to handle growlers,” he says. “Today that seems obvious. But this was 2004 and 2005 and the beer scene in Pittsburgh wasn’t as evolved as it has become. And that’s a pretty quick evolution."
The growler craze peaked when Smith reached out to his customers to help him invest in his building.
In order to finance his move, Smith came up with the “Good Beer Investment Program,” asking customers to invest $1,000 apiece for vouchers redeemable for beer and merchandise.
“As part of the offer, I said, ‘If after three years you don’t spend it all, bring us your beer money and we’ll cut you a check for whatever is left.’ ”
He was hoping for 100 investors but only expected 25 to 30.
“We actually hit our goal of 100 good beer investors,” he says. “I had to turn some people away.”
A couple from Ohio told him they invested because they believed in his vision. Another man from New York State mailed him $1,000 and did not even ask for the beer credit.
“The turnout and support was shocking. It’s amazing to me.”
Today, Smith has five full-time employees and works with a distributor for keg delivery. East End brewed 35 varieties of beer last year but only about 10 were widely distributed.
"We're going to take a lot more of those beers and push those out into distrubtion now," he says.
Smith is expanding his growler hours for his customers and hopes everyone is impressed with the brewery’s new tasting room.
“If you have come to see us before, come to see us again and I think you will be surprised,” he says. “Look for a lot of more varieties of East End beers around town. Give us a couple years to recover from this big financial hole and then look for us to get some packaging happening here. Now that we have brewing capacity we can put some beer into cans and put some beer into big bottles and start getting that stuff out into the thirsty hands of our beer-loving fans."
Visit Smith and the new East Brewing Co. warehouse is at 147 Julius Street, just off of Hamilton Avenue in Pittsburgh. http://www.eastendbrewing.com. The brewery shares the space with Commonplace Coffee Co. http://www.commonplacecoffee.com.
"They're coffee geeks as we are beer geeks," says Smith. "It's a nice marriage and certainly compatible. It's the best coffee in the city."
Growler hours are Tuesday through Friday from 4-8 p.m.; Saturday from Noon to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The brewery also now accepts credit cards.
Copyright © 2012 Ben Schmitt; available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.
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