Ownership Changes are Brewing For Northern Indiana Craft Beer

Ownership Changes are Brewing For Northern Indiana Craft Beer

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

A couple of brewpubs in northern Indiana are changing ownership in the near future. One will carry on just as it has for four years under the new leaders, while the other is more of a question mark. These examples show two very different ways that transitions occur in craft beer.

The first brewery on the block is South Bend Brew Werks (SBBW). Opened by Drew Elegante in 2013 on one of the main drags downtown (216 S. Michigan St.), SBBW has enjoyed a loyal following in its four years of operation. Most of the furnishings and much of the visible décor were salvaged from local businesses as a way to be green and connect to the community. Drew serves homemade dishes using locally sourced ingredients (Walter and I love the different grilled cheese sandwiches) and has twenty taps of craft beer, much of which is of his own making.

With the success of the establishment, I was surprised to hear that it was changing hands. But as with most everything having to do with SBBW, the transition looks like it will be smooth and well thought out. Steve and Michele Lowe, a couple from the South Bend area, having been running the brewpub on a day to day basis for the past couple of months and are now moving forward to purchase the brewery and pub from Drew.

SBBW has a been an anchor for the downtown revitalization in South Bend. photo credit: Downtown South Bend

The reason for the sale has not been made public, but the South Bend Tribune reported that Drew has been looking to move on to other projects for the last couple of years. Steve is learning the SBBW brewhouse, having had little experience on large brewing systems in the past. Steve is working out the recipes on his own and said it is slow going, but the patrons are still fans of the beer so this must be going well. Joe Hull of HopLore Brewing in Leesburg has been contract brewing at SBBW until the brewhouse at their converted mill north of Warsaw is completed. Joe stated that Drew was very helpful to he and Stephen King as they got HopLore off the ground and that he will be missed in the brewing community.

Michele has been managing the staff, kitchen, and front of house with aplomb. This seems to be right up her alley and there have been no glitches in the transition. The couple’s efficiency in taking over daily operations is even more amazing when you realize that they both remained at their full time jobs while learning to run the brewpub. Steve was at Cor-A-Vent in sales, although he recently decided to devote his full attention to the brewery, and Michele is still working at The Music Village in South Bend.

The Music Village has an important connection to SBBW and might have been the link between SBBW and the Lowe’s. The brewpub has a pay it forward program (called Beer4Good) with three local charities, including The Music Village, wherein patrons receive a token when they buy beer, and they can decide where the charitable proceeds from that pint go. Each charity has a slotted box in the brewpub, and donations are made in relation to the voting. Steve and Michele stated that the program will remain as they take over full ownership.

That is one way to change leadership teams – turn some customers into operators and then into owners. On the other hand, Back Alley Brewery & Sports Bar in Goshen posted on their Facebook page last week that they are looking to sell and anyone seriously interested in purchasing the brewpub should contact Larry Libey, the owner and brewer. The announcement on Facebook was fairly blunt and terse, but definitely an opportunity for some hopeful restauranteur/brewer out there.

Instead of having a buyer in waiting like SBBW did, Back Alley Brewing is openly advertising for potential buyers. photo credit: Back Alley Brewing

Larry opened Back Alley at 211 ½ S. Main Street in Goshen in September of 2013, and he started serving his own beer just a month later. It’s called Back Alley because its entrance is at the opening of the alley between Main Street and 3rd Street. The brewpub shares an entrance with Art House, an indie film theater and is also connected with the Gateway Cellar Winery. This means that there is constant traffic coming past the brewery even if it is slightly off the main path.

Larry has nine taps, eight televisions, and a loyal following at his establishment, so the announcement that it was going up for sale came as a surprise to many. The reviews are stellar, including some people who have moved from Goshen to another town still make the 1.5 hour trip back just to spend time at Back Alley. Many reviewers had originally been visiting the winery, but stayed for the unexpectedly nice brewpub and great beers.

The brewing system is included in the sale, with it being a true nano system (5 gallon batches); however, the winery is not included in the purchase. Larry is retired but has been putting in eighty hours a week between making beer for the brewery, running the brewpub, making wine for the winery and running the wine shop. That’s more than most people do before they retire, and Larry wants to slow down a bit. The good thing is that with Larry right there at the winery, advice for brewing would be probable – Larry is known to be a very kind and generous host.

So if you have the urge to own a northern Indiana brewpub and sports bar with a built in patron base, let Larry Libey know. He can be reached via messaging on Back Alley’s Facebook page, or to Larry directly via the contact info available in the post announcing the sale. Walter and I plan a visit very soon to talk to Larry and then we will have to return to greet the new owner(s) later on. And then while we’re up north, we’llstop in and say goodbye to Drew and welcome to Steve and Michele as well. You should too.

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