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Brent SchwoererBrent Schwoerer is the Owner and Founder of Engrained Brewing Company. Raised on a family dairy and grain farm, Brent earned his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and a master’s in human resources from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. After a decade in the corporate world — including two years in Brazil focusing on new product development — Brent established Engrained Brewing Co., which has been in operation for over ten years.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Brent Schwoerer reveals the four cornerstones upon which he built Engrained Brewing Company
  • What vibe would a customer notice while visiting Brent’s brewpub?
  • Brent discusses the corporate journey that led him to open Engrained Brewing Co.
  • How Brent’s mechanical engineering degree has helped him as a restauranteur
  • The three-year struggle Brent endured when launching Engrained Brewing Co.
  • How Brent went from homebrewing to winning craft beer awards

In this episode…

Are you pursuing your passion? People are motivated by many different things and sometimes passion and motivation can lead them to working in the corporate world. Other times, the corporate world can make people realize they’re lacking something.

For Brent Shwoerer, who founded Engrained Brewing Company in 2012, working as a corporate employee for ten years led him to realize he needed to chase his passion — outside of corporate America — and he persevered through great difficulties to make it happen. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s in HR, he left his job at Caterpillar Inc. to launch a locally-owned micro-brewery and farm-to-table restaurant. After initially struggling for three years to get a bank to loan him money, Brent’s brewery has since celebrated being in business for a decade and he has gone from homebrewing to winning awards for his craft beer.

On this episode of the Top Business Leaders Show, Rise25’s Chad Franzen welcomes Brent Schwoerer, Founder and Owner of Engrained Brewing Co., for a conversation about doing whatever it takes to chase your passion. Brent shares how he realized he was missing out on his passions while grinding away as a corporate employee, so he decided to start his own local brewery. He discusses the difficulties he endured in getting a loan to get started, his award-winning craft beer, and the values his brand is built upon.

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:04

Welcome to the Top Business Leaders Show. Powered by Rise25 Media, we featured top founders, executives and business leaders from all over the world

Chad Franzen 0:20

Chad Franzen here co host for the show where we feature top restaurant tours, investors and business leaders. This is part of our SpotOn series. SpotOn has the best in class payment platform for retail and they have a flagship solution called SpotOn restaurant, where they combined marketing software and payments all in one. They’ve saved everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and subway to small mom and pop restaurants. To learn more, go to This episode is brought to you by Rise25. We help b2b businesses to get ROI clients referrals and strategic partnerships through done for you podcast. If you have a b2b business and want to build great relationships with clients, referral partners and thought leaders in your space. There’s no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more, go to or email us at Brent Schwoerer grew up on his family’s dairy and grain farm and then obtained his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and a master’s in human resources from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. After spending over 10 years in corporate America doing new product development across the globe, including living in Brazil for two years, Brent was missing two things: passion and beer. With a focus on culture and the notion of leave it better than you find it, he opened Engrained Brewing, which is in it 10th year of operation. Hey, Brent, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?

Brent Schwoerer 1:38

Great, Chad. Thanks for having me on the show. Yeah, great

Chad Franzen 1:41

to have you. Hey, yeah. So tell me a little bit more about engrained brewing. And, you know, what a customer might expect when going there?

Brent Schwoerer 1:49

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, when I tell people about Engrained, I like to talk a little bit about the journey to open the restaurant. Yeah, what I founded the business on. And there are really four kind of core elements or cornerstones I like to say that I built the business on. And they’re all kind of related to, you know, that all the way back to growing up on the on the farm. So I had an odd maybe experience growing up on the farm and the fact that we, we actually pretty much raised and anything we wanted to eat. So like if we were going to have pork we had hogs out on the farm that we would you know, slaughter and have in the freezer kind of a year round. So everything that we ate we raised, which was very different, it wasn’t until I got to college, that I really got to experience the true joy of the grocery store, if you will, that I’ve wanted to bring to our guest is that true farm to table experience, like I grew up with, unfortunately, I did not enjoy milking cows every day, like some of the rest of my family. So I decided to pursue more of the, I guess, technical science, part of the of the farm experience on the engineering side. But over time found that maybe that wasn’t corporate wasn’t where I was finding passion. And so I wanted to get back to my roots at the farm, really, with the goal of bringing that that local kind of all natural products to our guest was was one goal. And so those that’s one of our cornerstones is local, we source roughly 50 to 60% by dollar of what we buy in the kitchen comes from an 85 mile radius of the restaurant. And so that’s our focus on local is working directly with farmers. Like literally I’m buying a whole cow, you know, a whole pig at a time it goes through a local butcher, it comes into the restaurant, which creates some interesting challenges for us because we have limited cuts. But that’s all part of the local picture. On another corner you’ve got but generally call natural which really is a nod to regenerative farming we really try and partner with farmers who believe in kind of less, it’s on the realm of organic you know, using less chemicals and artificial inputs in their farming operation. Investing in soil health, whether it’s the the grass that the livestock eat or the produce that we’re purchasing from the farmers real big, focused on that kind of sustainable regenerative farming aspect and partners to do that so that we can bring that product to our our guests, you know, really focused on the all natural, keep the junk out of food in that same natural focus were from scratch kitchen. And so we’re, we’re doing all of our sauces like everything’s from from scratch, not quite everything. We’re not a bakery, so we’re not baking our own bread products. But we do try and partner with regional or local bakeries that kind of follow that same mission of keeping the things in the ingredient label you can’t pronounce out of out of the food The third cornerstone that we’re very focused on is, again, more on that sustainability realm. So we do a lot to minimize our impact on the environment. So whether it’s our recycling program or composting program, there’s a number of ways that we try and stay green effectively. And then the last was probably the most critical to me. And that was our culture, we’re very focused on the employee experience, like creating a real positive environment for people to come and work because we know that translates to guests. So our number one stakeholder is definitely our employees, with the guests being our second most important stakeholder because I know if I take care of my staff, and they enjoy being here, believe in the mission and what we’re trying to do that that’ll translate directly to the guest experience. So in a long, roundabout way, that’s kind of what we’ve built the restaurant on, and some of what I think people can experience when they come in.

Chad Franzen 5:55

Right, so what kind of vibe would you say, the guests would experience as a result of all those things when they go in there?

Brent Schwoerer 6:02

Man, it’s tough. It’s tough to describe, I mean, we’re very much a Midwestern kind of restaurant here in the central Illinois prairie landscape. And so we’ve kind of created an environment we have a lot of behind the by see the most people can’t see this, but some old reclaimed barnwood we have it all over the restaurant, that was part of our sustainability focus, you know, reusing products, and so lot old barn wood, kind of exposed ceilings have kind of a blend of that, that wood and stainless steel, you have a lot of the the metal from, obviously, the brewing equipment, and some aspect of the brewery is visible to every seat in the restaurant, which is unique as well. So I guess to kind of a melding of those, those flavors, we have pictures of paintings of cows, and chickens, and miscellaneous assortment of stuff around. Hey,

Chad Franzen 6:57

I mentioned it a little bit in your introduction. But tell me a little bit more about what you had been doing kind of right up until the time you decided to start start the Brewing Company. Yeah,

Brent Schwoerer 7:08

out of college, I got a job with Caterpillar large equipment manufacturer, most probably no Cat, they’re a fortune 100 or 500 company best. And I was doing new product design. So we would work on a project that was going to release in four to five years out. And so that was always kind of exciting to be working on the next greatest thing on the construction equipment side. And Cat is very much a global company. And one of our largest manufacturing facilities for the product I worked on was down in Brazil. And we also went down there and developed a, an emerging market products that needed to be tested in, in emerging markets. So out of South America. So I got to not only live down there but traveled pretty extensively to follow prototypes around we would put prototypes in the field to test and that was a big part of my role with the company. And so a little bit of all over I think I was able to travel to every continent, except for Africa and Antarctica when I was with with cat was a lot of traveling, which I’m glad to have that behind me to now that I’m happily married with a father of three boys. That travel part. I’m glad that’s behind me.

Chad Franzen 8:33

I’m sure it was a good experience at the time. How? So how did so you’re kind of doing that you’re plugging away traveling all that stuff? How did the idea for engrained come about then? I fell

Brent Schwoerer 8:47

in love with craft beer along the way. It was kind of the classic. My wife bought me a home brew kit. I’m an engineer. So I love that kind of the science of brewing as well as the artistic side of it really intrigued me. So I got into making beer at home and got into, you know, visiting breweries and drinking craft beer. 10 years ago, the industry was much smaller than it is now if you hadn’t even hit. I don’t think we were to 3000 breweries yet. And in the entire country, we were somewhere in like the under 2500 now are almost over 10,000 breweries in the country. So it looks a lot different at that point. But I just fell in love with it and decided I wanted to start a brewery that was the first angle I want. I wanted to do a brewery and then you have to make the decision. Do you wanna do a production brewery focus solely on you know that that production and shipping component or do you want to do the brewpub model and have the restaurant. I had worked at restaurants in college to help pay my way through school. That’s actually how I met my wife. We were we were both like we’re bartending at restaurants in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. And so it was an industry that I enjoyed the high energy And so we decided to go that route. Because the longer I was with cat is a great company, I had really good experiences, I wouldn’t have had the kind of the business acumen and discipline without my experience a cat to be able to start my own business. So that was a tremendous advantage for me to have that corporate time and have that corporate experience and learn how to, you know, run a business and how to sell things to the board of the company, effectively, we’d go and ask for the biggest project that I worked on a cat was $180 million project. And so we were regularly having to go through these checkpoints, and, you know, continue to to continue to push the project forward. And so that was a really good experience, for me to be able to how to write a business plan, for example. And so that that helped me out immensely. But at some point, I just realized that fire the higher I climbed, the less I really loved what I was doing. There’s always the kind of political maneuvering of a larger company that you have to, you know, work through. And that wasn’t I wasn’t loving that.

Chad Franzen 11:06

Yeah, but yeah, so, you know, your background, you know, I talk to a lot of guys that, like, I started when I was 16, washing dishes, and then I just, you know, grew from there, blah, blah, blah, years is a lot different. You have a degree in mechanical engineering, a master’s degree in Human Resources, how would you say, those things kind of helped you? A lot of people I talked to her engineers say, you know, I just have an ability to problem solve. So even if I’m not doing engineering, yeah, I think in a in a problem solving type way.

Brent Schwoerer 11:41

That’s absolutely true. The other avenue and honestly, I don’t know if I could have done a restaurant without the brewery. So brewing is very technical, really to do it right to maintain manage and manage quality control and all the elements of the the equipment, it really is a manufacturing process we distribute to So all through Central Illinois, we distribute beer, so you have a canning line. And we’ve all those components of modern day, you know, production, which is what I was used to corporate and with my engineering degree set me up for so that I definitely have that science geek in me and that math geek needs an outlet. And so the brewery is, is definitely my outlet for the engineer, but it applies in the kitchen to like I use it all the time in the kitchen. Our our, you know, line that we cook food on is very much like a production line. And there’s a mathematical equation you can put to it, which which I have for various things when we’re doing training, we talked about restaurant flow and actually modeled that people think I’m weird to look at things that way. But that’s how I work. Yeah, we made our own french fries for the majority of us up until COVID. And the science of French fries is ridiculous. It’s a It’s pretty intense. I like to get the french fries. Right. Very technical kind of thing to which is weird. But the science of food that it’s all you can apply it in any any industry any any fronts. So

Chad Franzen 13:09

Wow, very interesting. So tell me about the launching process. You know, you’ve got this idea. How did you kind of, at first put it into into practice?

Brent Schwoerer 13:20

Yeah, so I actually took, paid unpaid leave. When my first son was born, I qualified for family medical leave. So I took all my paid vacation, and I took another two weeks, I ended up having a month off to be home with my, my wife and I first born, this is back in 2010. And that’s when I started really writing the business plan. So I devoted a lot of my time to doing the research and going out to benchmark and do all kinds of things. And it was maybe I can’t remember when I started talking to banks, we didn’t open till 2013. So it took a while for me to but the first bank I met with was basically like hell no. You don’t have any restaurant experience. This is a really big jump. It was a big project, it was a $5 million project that’s not money for a guy that had never been, you know, on his own and entrepreneur before. And so I think it was the 12 or 13 bank that finally said, Oh, maybe we’re interested in this, that process took along then you gotta go raise money, right? So like they, they give you a certain amount, you gotta raise the rest. And so then then I gotta go raise money. And so like three years later, we finally started construction. That was a very lengthy project and very eye opening for me. And a good experience. You know, I really learned how to not only write a business plan, but be able to truly understand and sell the what’s in it. It’s easy to come up with the expenses, the sales were the part that everybody really questioned like, how are you going to generate these sales?