One short text transformed the two men’s friendship into a business partnership: “Have you ever thought of going pro?”
Sean Meehan was looking for a small building where he could brew a house beer for his family’s pub, Fiddler’s Hearth, in downtown South Bend. Andy Walton – a lifelong South Bend resident, homebrewer and past president of Michiana Extract and Grain Association (MEGA) – was interested in taking his craft to the next level.
Meehan sent that text to Walton in the early summer months of 2012. Walton had indeed been thinking about going pro for quite a while by this point, and had spent a good deal of time laying out a business plan and contemplating how to begin a brewpub in the South Bend area.
It was a very hot day, Meehan recalls, when they met over a beer at Legends Restaurant and Ale House Pub to begin the conversation about how they would begin this adventure.
They began looking for just the right property, and actually passed up the former VFW building at 1047 Lincoln Way E, several times before finally taking it into serious consideration.
The building was in great disrepair, but also had great potential. It is situated right on the St. Joseph River, with the Grand Trunk railroad trestle to the east and the Sample St. bridge to the west. Bowman Creek flows into the river at the edge of the property, and when the pub is finished, patrons will get a view across the river of the South Bend Farmer’s Market.
Since purchasing the building in March 2013, Meehan and Walton have been on the fast track (although many times it didn’t seem so fast) to get things going. Demolition began in July 2013. They had to cut out the existing concrete floor of the ground level (already about 40 inches below grade) and hand dig trenches another 6 feet deep in order to tie into the existing water lines. (See the Crooked Ewe Facebook page for photos.)
Although they are on their seventeenth dumpster now, the brewhouse is all set with brew kettle, fermenters and a very large walk-in cooler that houses the serving tanks.
Walton is just waiting for electric hook-up to the brewery side of the building. Then, Meehan said, the stop watch begins. “We can’t open until we have beer,” so the plan is that Walton will start brewing as soon as he gets power.
Meanwhile, the rest of the building will get cleaned up, the kitchen and bar will get set, and then they’ll be ready. “We’ve met tight deadlines before, and we can do it again. Our goal is to absolutely be open before the end of the year,” Meehan said.
Walton will be the head brewer and use a 10-barrel brewhouse (roughly 315 gallons). City water will go through a reverse osmosis system (to remove chlorine) large enough to replenish his water tank daily. The plan is to have ten taps — six house brews and four rotating small-batch brews at any given time.
I have had the pleasure of enjoying many of Andy Walton’s homebrews, and to be completely honest, they are as good or better than many professionally brewed beers that I’ve had.
Crooked Ewe will have several levels of seating, with a full seasonal capacity of around 250. The main entrance to the pub, which will be limited to patrons 21 and over, is on the ground floor. From there, stairs will lead to the upper family dining room and a separate room for private parties.
There is also a second outside entrance that will allow access directly to the family dining area. Three outside decks will include one just outside the ground floor, directly overlooking the bank of the river, with two more decks on the roof. While I was visiting, the mid morning sun was shining through the colored leaves of the trees on the bank.
The kitchen will operate under recently hired executive chef Alain Helfrich. According to Meehan, the menu will feature creative upscale pub food. Look for the menu on the Crooked Ewe’s Facebook page soon.
Prices will be reasonable. “I didn’t come from much, and I want my family and friends to be able to come here and enjoy my beer,” Walton said. Lots of pickled vegetables will be on the menu as well as house smoked meats and nuts.
Many have asked about the name and the logo. As for the horns on the ewe, yes, it is a Scottish ewe with horns and not a ram. Meehan comes from a long family tradition of playing bagpipes. One pipe song he remembers from his travels in Scotland is “Ewe with a Crooked Horn,” and he has always wanted to name a pub after that song. Now he has.