Chip and Summer Lewis want to make good beer, as they should since they own a brewpub.
Because they’re businesspeople, they want to make money.
But they want a lot more than that too.
They want to make Elkhart more cool.
“Elkhart’s a really great town,” she told the Elkhart Noon Rotary Club on Monday, Feb. 24. She and her husband grew up here. They wanted to open Elkhart’s first brewery. And it’s gone well.
“There’s something very special happening. We wanted to join the party. And we’ll bring the beer,” she said.
They started in 2011 after a lot of research. They opened the brewpub at 317 N. Main St. in June 2012 with the capacity of brewing 200 gallons a week. They outpaced their first year’s goal by 50 percent.
They’re up to 400 gallons a week and are adding more capacity for when they open a beer garden and patio this summer.
They wanted to be the local watering hole and thought it would take years to become that.
It took months, if that.
Now they see a chief executive officer at the bar a few stools from the production guy in a ripped T-shirt. “It’s awesome,” she said. “We call it the biker and banker effect.”
That was the cross-section of the community they’d known growing up. And then they became their customers. “That’s Elkhart. That’s exactly what we’d hoped and dreamed it’d be,” she said.
Why did they get so busy so fast? The beer is good. People felt comfortable.
“Beer doesn’t discriminate. People like beer. A lot of it,” she said.
She said Elkhart is a town of doers and people are making the city better.
But not only are locals finding them, so are beer bloggers and tourists. Social media helped. So did the rise of craft beer, which rose 15 percent in 2011 and 17 percent in 2012, she said. The share ideas and techniques with other craft brewers. (For lots of beer news, follow Eric Strader on his Hop Notes blog.)
She wants to take business away from mega-breweries, but wants money to stay in Elkhart. “We are a mom-and-pop brewpub,” she said.
If someone comes to their pub and then goes to another local restaurant or retail business, the community wins, she said. “The money will stay here. The jobs will stay here,” she said, later adding, “Overall for us it comes down to pride and winning.” (She clarified that didn’t mean besting another local business, but winning at the tasks at hand.)
They don’t have much beer to share with other restaurants, though Rotarian and restaurateur Kurt Janowsky asked from the crowd if she could spare 10 gallons a week for one of his places.
They have added ciders and Tiedemann Wines recently. And food sales continue to be strong, including from a current Food Fight that features dishes dreamed and prepared by their staff over a seven-week period. But they may not be quite ready open for weekday lunches other than Fridays because of how it would impact beer production.
“We really want to grow old and retire from this business,” she said. “We really want to be that local watering hole 15 or 20 years from now.”
Editor’s note: The original version of this story indicated that this was one of Summer Lewis’s first public speeches. She has spoken at at least one other event.