24 May Small-Town 10-56 Brewing Reinvents Itself Through The Pandemic – The Pizza Solution!
Small town breweries are some of my favorites. Patrons get called by their first name, everyone knows everyone’s backstory and the ways to taunt them just enough to be funny. They have different priorities and challenges as compared to larger breweries or breweries in larger cities, and the owners need to consider all their patrons in depth. When you know most of your customers, you can see that changes have concrete ramifications. Most small-town brewers learn to manage the ins and outs or else they aren’t around for long.
But then comes a pandemic and things change in a way people couldn’t have predicted. Business models had to change quickly and for an unknown period of time. In person serving switched to growlers and packaging. Brewpub food turned to carryout and to helping serve front line workers. The choices then became harder – what do you do in order to exit the pandemic intact or even stronger. For a small-town brewery, the choices were even harder and more opaque.
For 10-56 Brewing, a small-town brewer if there ever was one (LaOtto Brewing in LaOtto is good comparison, or maybe St. Benedict’s Brew Works in Ferdinand), getting ready to come out of the pandemic meant tackling many projects. To reinvest in their building was a top priority, and they went after it with a special kind of fervor.
First up was the electrical system. 10-56 Brewery’s property was a lumberyard in a previous life, so housing a brewery and kitchen in that space meant that more juice was eventually going to be needed. Mike and Erica brought in the proper people (because no one wants to wake up dead), and by late 2020 10-56 Brewing had a 600 amp service humming, just ready for the things that were coming down the pike.
So what was next? The idea of expanding service meant that you needed to keep patrons comfortable in more areas of the building, so perhaps an update to the heat/AC was in order. So that’s what Eric and Mike did. A zonal system was installed so that the entire taproom would be comfortable in both summer and winter. This allowed not only for an increase in seating for 10-56 but brought them to their next move, an expanded kitchen.
Through late 2020, Erica was cooking in a small portion of the brewhouse on the north side of the building. The fermenters shared space with a small kitchen, a couple of hot plates and a small oven, and even though Erica made the most of this space, there was a lot potential for food that was being wasted.
The idea to expand the kitchen and then the brewhouse had been in the works for a while, but it didn’t get going until about the same time as the Torn in the Corn Festival in 2020. They started to clean out the southern portions of the building to accommodate the new kitchen, but why let an unfinished kitchen get in the way of the expansion of the menu?
Erica always knew that pizza was going to be a focus of the expanded menu – it is a long standing family tradition. Her father (Poppy) had a recipe for pizza dough that she just knew would be a hit with their customers, so when she could, Erica wanted to start making pizzas. Customers were calling for that homemade pizza dough, so she decided to start testing pizzas even before the new kitchen was done.
A couple of regulars were nice enough to offer to taste pizzas (is that really even a sacrifice?), and they offered up some special kinds of feedback. One volunteer – he actually cried when he tasted the pizza – how could this crust be that good? So Erica decided to try some pizza on a Friday night at the brewpub – yes – cooking out of that itty bitty kitchen in the brewhouse. On the first night they sold 60 pizzas in just a couple of hours.
10-56 regulars were smitten – “Don’t you dare stop making these pizzas,” so Erica capitulated and started making pizzas every day they were open. That meant making pizzas is a small, under equipped kitchen for 4-5 weeks, but Erica did it. Then, thank the Lord, the new kitchen on the south side of the building was finished in January.
Erica told me that she “giggled for a month” after the new kitchen was finished, and how was she going to get used to having so much space. Well, beware of what you wish for, because now the pizzas have completely blown up. The new commercial oven is overwhelmed with the number of pizza orders that are coming through, both in house and for carryout.
What makes the pizza so good? Well, it’s Poppy’s dough recipe for sure, but it doesn’t stop there. Erica cooks all the meats and the veggies on site, and that makes a definite difference in the final taste of the pizzas, but it doesn’t stop there. The grease left over from cooking down all that sausage – how can you let that go to waste? So Erica decided to undercook the dough for a new pizza (chewy like a biscuit, and uses the grease to make an unctuous, buttermilk gravy) for a biscuits and gravy pizza. YES – you heard that right – a biscuits and gravy pizza. Why are you not in your car now driving toward 10-56 Brewing?
You want another reason to go immediately toward northern Indiana? How about a dessert cinnamon roll pizza made with a sugar frosting that is infused with a hand crafted cider. OK, how about another reason? The entire list of pizza choices is good, from Poppy’s SMOP (sausage, mushroom, onion, green pepper) to the BBQ chicken pizza to a dill pickle and sauerkraut pizza called The Strange.
They have the standard choices as well, but the way they come together with Poppy’s dough means that they are anything but standard. The result is that they’re doing over 200 pizzas a weekend, and that’s amazing since, “We’re just a little brewery, we’re not a pizza place.” It’s downright amazing for a small-town little brewery without the multitude of open hours that bigger places have.
The day I visited 10-56 for this story they were getting ready for pet adoption day – they love their dogs at 10-56 – and for three parties as well, two birthdays and a graduation. Our talk was interrupted at several points by people coming in and wanting to say hi to Erica and Mike, including the former official photographer for Mike’s Indiana State Police group. Shift change came and went, with all the employees getting a hug (no one gets out of 10-56 without a hug). It was nice to see a taproom and staff running at the peak of efficiency and with so many patrons.
There were so many patrons that the parties were set up with the brewhouse serving as a makeshift event space. And that leads us to the next thing up for 10-56 Brewing, making more room for even more patrons and spaces in which their patrons can feel at home. The current event space will be expanded and will become a part of the taproom by moving the brewhouse to the adjacent unused warehouse and the bar area will be expanded around the corner and along the adjacent wall. Two new sets of taps will bring beer to customers faster.
The “little project” after that will be to upgrade the patio and beer garden. Erica told me that, “We want to invite people to use more of the beer garden, right now they have a tendency to hang out just on the porch.” They’ll be added lighting, more fire pits and table, and other amenities to make the whole of the outdoor space usable and appealing.
Can you imagine a brewery working harder to earn your business? Yes, a big city brewery with lots of local competition, maybe, but a small-town brewery that has a very devoted following, that wants things to stay the same? That’s a harder call. But 10-56 is a labor of love for the Hemphill’s, and everything about the brewpub is so personal for them. Erica says that there is love in every fold of the dough and every pour of a pint. And it shows.