03 Apr South Bend Brew Werks Building A Community, Pint By Pint
While the beer industry has shifted focus from large, “macro beer” distributions to multiple small local taprooms, one brewery in South Bend is changing the way breweries interact with their surrounding communities.
“South Bend Brew Werks has been designed as a great physical space for community building and connecting,” says Maestro Andrew Elegante, “but we want to go beyond that, to be as successful at our mission of building a stronger community, one brew at a time.”
Such has become the mantra of the 1 bbl brewery and taphouse located at 216 S Michigan St in downtown South Bend: “Building a stronger community, one brew at a time.”
And as Elegante explains, it doesn’t get much more explicit than that. “Every time you purchase an alcoholic beverage at the Brew Werks,” he says, “you get a token that represents a cash donation.”
The tokens represent $.50 for a pint, $.20 for a snifter, and $.10 for tasters.. Each person, with their tokens, is allowed to put them in one of three jars representing three different local nonprofit organizations.
Beer by beer, South Bend is building a community.
Elegante is possibly best described as a self-proclaimed agent of change. People in the area recognize him as heavily involved with the community–and opening a brewery became a large part of that. Brewing, Elegante says, “allows us to focus on what we’re good at, and allows those [nonprofit organizations] to focus on what they’re good at.”
“They are working on things that I find to be very important that are also aligned with our mission,” he said. “I also wanted to pick groups that work by empowering versus telling others what they need to do, and wanted to highlight smaller groups that don’t get as much ‘love’ as some of the bigger ones.”
Diana Hess, a leading figure for the NRC, said, “The monthly contributions from South Bend Brew Werks literally pay our office rent, and we benefit from the exposure to all of SBBW’s customers.”
When Elegante first introduced the idea for SBBW’s donation plan to Sam Cantellas of La Casa de Amistad, Cantellas says he expected an occasional $50 or $60 each month.
“I think at our lowest we received over $500 for a month,” Cantellas said, “and I still got a super cool brewery downtown to visit. Win win.”
Moreover, Cantellas appreciates that the Brew Werks has become a mingling place for people involved with improving South Bend.
“Any given day,” Cantellas said, “movers and shakers are in there, with local up-and-coming leaders, sharing beers, trying new local foods and talking about how to continue to make South Bend even better. You don’t get that drinking macro beer in your ‘place-of-the-week’ chain restaurant.”
Six months and $12,000 later, Elegante says the brewery doesn’t see these contributions as a barrier to expansion. SBBW’s strategy might be to eventually open more locations, and possibly have a single, central large-scale brewing location to supply the satellite locations with house beers.
Long term planning isn’t out of the question for the Brew Werks–not even six months after opening. Donating money to these three organizations, Elegante says, isn’t holding the brewery back at all. As a result, planning where to place the next taproom might not depend on the amount of draw it would have on a particular locale, but would instead depend on which communities would benefit the most from a Brew Werks taproom.
“[Breweries] can help revitalize an area of town,” Elegante said, “and it can be a very effective way to meet the mission [of rebuilding community].”
Opening a brewery based on the premise of donating cash per beer sold is out of the ordinary according to Elegante, but he believes it would be extraordinary if “giving back” was a major part of South Bend’s culture. While Elegante hasn’t found another brewery or organization in the country that has adapted this type of charitable strategy, he’s quick to acknowledge the immense help that other local breweries have given to their communities.
“Breweries are ‘give-back’ type places,” he said. “A lot are finding ways to help. We’ve just found a way to make it more participatory for the consumer.”