Evansville Loses a Valued Businessman, Brewery Owner, and Citizen in Jerry Turner

Evansville Loses a Valued Businessman, Brewery Owner, and Citizen in Jerry Turner

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

I am privileged to talk to many craft beer folks in the course of writing. Some are icons of Indiana or national craft beer, while others are brewers and owners, fans that know their beer or work around beer, or newbies. I learn a lot from these people and then try to convey some of their knowledge and enthusiasm to those people who deign to read these articles.

Indiana lost a craft beer pioneer this week, and it’s unfortunate that I hadn’t learned enough about this gentleman to make sure had a chance to learn from him before he passed away. I have read a few things about Mr. Turner this week and talked to some brewery folks from Evansville, and from these conversations I can tell that I missed out on someone worth knowing.

Jerry Turner started Turoni’s Pizzeria in Evansville more than five decades ago. He and his family built that single location into three restaurants and a brewery over the years. Jerry worked in the pest control industry before opening the restaurant; he would work a full day and then go to grocery and buy ingredients to make pizzas in the evening. It was that kind of dedication that made him a person to know.

Jerry Turner. image credit: Evansville Courier & Press

In a Courier & Press interview in 2016, Jerry related the story of how he decided to start a microbrewery. During a trip to Florida, he and his wife stopped at a place called O’Briens. “They had their own brewery, and the tanks were all polished up. They were brass and copper. It looked really neat.” He decided that Turoni’s could make beer too and immediately started investigating.

This was the first Evansville microbrewery and just the 4th in the state. Actually, six Indiana breweries opened up in 1996 (Turoni’s, 3 Floyds, Rock Bottom, Back Road, Wildcat, and Tucker), but Turoni’s started pouring beer in January so they were the first of the group. Even more impressive, 22 years later we still have four of those breweries with us.

Having the foresight to see that craft beer was a going enterprise and could help his restaurant business grow was one thing, after all, Jerry knew how beer and pizza go together. But Jerry was about more than just seeing a good idea and bringing it to fruition, he was about connecting with people.

Joshua Pietrowski, the owner of Doc’s Sports Bar in Evansville got his start at Turoni’s oh so many years ago. He began by building pizzas, but convinced Jerry that he could make beer, and Turner took a chance on him. Joshua was the head brewer for Turoni’s for many years (after Jerry’s son Tom and Jack Frey) before opening his own place, and he credits Jerry for his current happiness as a business owner.

Turoni’s Main Street, where the brewery is located. image credit: The Shield

Joshua told the Courier & Press this week, “There are quite a few people who started out working under (Jerry Turner) who are either really high up in their industry or own their own business,” he said. “He did that for people. A lot of people grew under him. Everything I know about how to treat customers or employees I learned from him and that family.”

Other members of the Evansville brewing community also have fond memories of Jerry and his Turoni’s. Nick Davidson of Tin Man Brewing told me, “Jerry Turner created a staple in Evansville. I remember when I was a little kid, I was always excited when my parents would take us to Turoni’s. And now it’s awesome to see my son feel that same excitement when we go now.”

John Mills II, former head brewer at Carson’s Brewery and now owner and brewer at Maiden’s Brewpub said, “I hung out in his brewery with Jack Frey many a times when Jack was his head brewer. I even poured Turoni’s beer as a volunteer at events before becoming a pro brewer. I was a craft beer guy before moving to Evansville, but was happy to see that there was a brewpub in town when I moved to Evansville. I moved here about 15 years ago. There are tons of people in this town that Jerry has either employed, or has made many memories for by being their favorite restaurant. I’m saddened for his family’s loss.”

So, with all the people I have spoken with and been positively affected by in craft beer, here’s one that I definitely missed. I wish I could have gotten to know Jerry, and it makes me want to search out a talk to more restauranteurs and craft beer people. I don’t want to miss another opportunity to enrich my own life by meeting someone of such quality.

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