Search Interviews:

Chad Franzen 14:56

What made you so you know, I’m guessing you’re probably making a decent living at your prior job. What made you so determined to, you know, keep at it, you know, for a three year process getting rejected and rejected and rejected?

Brent Schwoerer 15:09

Yeah. Ignorance, maybe not. I, I just decided that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to go out on my own. And this is what I was gonna do. And I’m not the kind of guy that takes no for an answer. I just keep pushing and pushing. And I think that’s been that’s been key, because that was just the start of the journey when you open the restaurant. Yeah, that’s when it really got hard, right? Like, when we the first couple years of being in business, we’re definitely the hardest of my journey. But yeah, I was I was just I was determined. And so I listened to what people said, and I’d go get, if I couldn’t answer the question and go figure out the answers or do another analysis or market studies or whatever, I started dissecting the large restaurants who are publicly traded and have to, you know, put all their stuff in their annual and quarterly reports. And so I just started to pull all those numbers and do the analysis. So I could bring them the stats and say, Well, look at all these groups can do this, you know, number, I think my sales forecast is reasonable, given these assumptions, and so just kind of talking them through that. This guy. How’s he figure these things out if he doesn’t have any experience in the in, you know, running his own restaurant? Sure.

Chad Franzen 16:24

So tell me about the I was actually just gonna ask you about that. Tell me about the early days what you know, kind of once you guys got opened over those days, like,

Brent Schwoerer 16:34

yeah, they were there were long hours for sure. I remember, the first two weeks, we were open seven days a week lunch and dinner. And I was at the restaurant for the physically the entire time open to close every day for two weeks. I didn’t know you could work that many hours in one week. Pain in the neck, that was fun at the time, I would never do it again. I was 10 years younger. So that was a whole nother part of it as well. Yeah, it was a lot of figuring things out. I didn’t have all the answers. I didn’t know everything, we made some mistakes. I had a big working capital kind of allocation, set aside some people smarter than me and told me like you’re going to need, you’re going to need a sizable working capital and pretty much blew through almost all of that, before I started, really figured out how to turn the business around which metrics matter. There’s some great resources online, you know, some other groups that you can go out and get educated from effectively. And so I utilized what everybody else already knew, and I didn’t to get smarter about the financials. I mean, just we were so focused on day to day operations, I wasn’t paying much attention to the financials until that working capital number got really small is like, oh, boy, I gotta figuring out where this money is going. But it was a, that was my tuition, if you will, in your restaurant, that were being capitalized set aside, I made quite a bit of money in that education.

Chad Franzen 18:08

So you’ll listen, a lot of important values, things that are important to you. Maybe Maybe you guys take a step beyond other other places that might have similar products. Were those things always important from day one? Or did I kind of developed over time? No, they were

Brent Schwoerer 18:27

I didn’t have as big of a network, though. So it was harder, like our percentage of products that we buy locally was lower, just because I didn’t know who all the players were yet. And that’s changing every year. But once you become a more established brand, some of the farmers out. Well, yeah, we still that was always the focus from day one. Day one, we were buying whole animals. I remember my chef was just like, you’re insane. How are you? How’s this going to work? And I’m like, Just trust me, we’ll figure it out. And we were actually doing poultry. Straight like source directly as well as you have to buy whole chickens and we fought that battle for almost two years before I felt we finally decided that the price premium we have to charge guests, they didn’t want to pay it. And the operational hassles behind the scenes were just too surmountable. insurmountable. So we ended up cutting the local locally sourced poultry program and focused on pork and pork and beef, which we continue to sustain. So that was one area that we were doing, you know, for the first year and a half that we ended up dropping Other than that, we’ve increased the amount of local sourcing since since that point, but yeah, we were doing it from day

Chad Franzen 19:42

one. You You have a lot of I’m looking at your your beer menu. You have some seasonal beers, and then some year round brews you. You said you mentioned that you had been brewing your own beer before you got into this. Are these all your creations are well, yeah, all these beers.

Brent Schwoerer 20:03

They are. That was one of my goals as a home brewer. So I had started, it was before 2010 That I had started home brewing. And that was kind of part of the goal was to establish some recipes. The oldest one, it’s still on the menu is the oatmeal stout. That was, that’s the oldest recipe that on the Homebrew side. Otherwise, they’ve all kind of just evolved over the years. And as a brewer, you know, I think it’s important that we, we all stand on the shoulders of those that came before us because the brewing industry is very open. People are like, you know, there can be a beer that you think’s awesome. And you email the brewery, I really love this beer. And they’ll be like, Oh, here’s the recipe, you know, and unlike most other industries, and that’s what really sold me to is, and I think it was in 2011, I went to the first my first craft brewers conference in San Francisco. And everybody was so stinking, friendly. And, you know, telling me the biggest secret you have, and they’ll tell it to you, I was very open and transparent, honest and collaborative. And that’s what really sold me at that point that, you know, the this is definitely as I was starting to, you know, man, is this worth it? I’ve been fighting with the banks, I don’t know if it’s gonna work out, I went to that conference. I was like, wow, yeah, this is definitely the industry for me. And so I came up with a lot of my own recipes, because of the transparency of the industry, you go out and kind of see like this, now this guy does it. That’s how that guy does it and get a feel for not a dot. And it’s kind of like over time, like chefs can, you know, come up with recipes kind of on their skills or the experience they’ve had, you get to that point in the brewery as well or you can throw together might not be exactly what you thought it was going to be. But people will enjoy it. And then you can tweak it the next round. So there’s definitely been iterations of most of the beers over the years as well. But and a few surprises on there, like the Irish Red, that was I just threw that together you need like in the brewpub world you need like the color portfolio, you gotta have light and red, brown and dark and you know, all the different colors to look cool on the beer, paddle and red ale and I just whipped this Irish Red up on day one, I thought I would do one of those and then figure something else out. Everybody loves the damn thing so much. It’s still on the menu. I’ve made a few tweaks to the recipes over the year over recipe over the years. But that’s one that kind of was surprising to me that in the blackberry lager, our blackberry lager was just like, an experiment with our base lager. And people love that stinking thing so much too. And I enjoy it. It’s good beer. They love that so much to like, those would become two of our flagships. And I had no intention of those being.

Chad Franzen 22:50

Wow, that’s, that’s interesting. Yeah, you wouldn’t like a blackberry lager to be kind of like your one of your primary selections.

Brent Schwoerer 22:57

Yeah, people just love it. That’s our flagship and distribution too. So it might not always be the best seller at the brew pub. It’s consistently a good seller. But on distribution, that’s one of our more unique beers that you don’t see in the marketplace. So

Chad Franzen 23:12

and a couple of your beers have won silver medals from the best of craft beer awards. That’s got to be pretty satisfying.

Brent Schwoerer 23:20

Yep, yep. Yeah, that was on the pro side. We haven’t submitted. I’ve gotten kind of COVID got me out of the sending beers off. So we haven’t sent beers off for competitions. Since pre 2020. I need to get back into that. But yeah, those were so few years old, but definitely nice to nice to have a few metals to at least confirmed and that’s not like the probably premier competition. I still need to send some beers off to the bigger competition. That’s a big one, though. I mean, I think there were over 300 breweries close to 2000. Beers entered. It was a big compound competition out in Oregon.

Chad Franzen 23:59

That’s awesome. Hey, you mentioned COVID. Did COVID Change your operations much? Or how did it impact you guys?

Brent Schwoerer 24:06

Yeah, immensely. In Illinois, like many other parts of the country, we had mandatory shutdowns, we ended up having, I think, four different periods where we were forced to, we could only do take out, get up No, no on premise, which devastates you. And that came right out the gate. So like, right in March, that was like, boom, instantly restaurants are closed. That’s when everybody got hit the hardest. And so we had to, you know, I hate the word but we had to pivot just like everybody else. We had an advantage though. And the fact that all of a sudden, the supply chain kind of shut down, and my farmers were still growing, raising their cattle and growing their produce, and my butcher was still operating. And so we had this access to a freezer full of beef and pork. And you couldn’t get hamburger at the grocery store and you couldn’t get toilet paper and we had you know, stock the toilet paper. So we were doing, we start, we set up an online grocery, basically. And we were selling our meat and produce and dairy, a number of items that I sourced directly from the local farmers that helped them to because you know, they were having issues with supply chain. And so that’s where we pivoted to. And we also did the the, like taking bake kind of meals, that’s just to have staff here. I wanted my people to have a job. And when the government announced the payroll protection program, I was like, Hi, everybody, because we had to initially like layoff people I was like, Well, I have no revenue, I can’t afford to pay payroll, everybody. And so when that came in, I was like, let’s find some keep you guys busy with me, in retrospect, looking back and running the numbers, I probably would have been better off to just close the restaurant and sit back and wait for COVID to end but we would have lost our core staff I were to not maintain the relationships we made maintain with our guests and, and so we did a bunch of stuff that honestly sucked in the interim, like figuring out how to do take and bake meals. And we did like Christmas we were closed for for Christmas, December was another time that they hit us we did this big Christmas Eve. Day like brunch. I remember my chef at the time was here, he made had to make like 300 cinnamon rolls by from scratch. And he totally underestimated the time that was going to take so we had a late night. Think of the 23rd of December making cinnamon rolls that kinds of stuff we’re just not used to doing at that scale, and then trying to coordinate 200 orders or whatever it was of, of meals that people have to pick up we use the entire restaurant to stage stuff just so we could find you know, whoever’s order it was it was something I hope to never have to do again. But yeah.

Chad Franzen 26:56

Do you do as you look back on it now? I know you said you might have been better off just to close do you feel like any of that stuff? You know, going to an online grocery service or? Or you know, prepare you know, somewhat pre prepared meals do you feel like that elevated your standing in the community at all or something that you

Brent Schwoerer 27:15

know it did it did it all of the above and so like I’m glad we we did it like the definitely made a difference to our loyal base. And they really we were surprised how many people came out to support us to you know, the people didn’t have to buy that kind of stuff. The grocery store was still operating, you could go get after the first like three or four months, the supply chain started to dwindle back in and things weren’t as dire as they were. People continue to support us through the we had three more shutdowns after that into 2021. Where we have basically two months or more of just having to be closed and your revenue changes we did delivery to were like that we got the state gave a pass on our ability to deliver beers or like taking four packs to people’s doorsteps. I’ve got my servers serving staff or delivery drivers. They’re driving and doing deliveries like it was it was chaos, but we made it work. We came through I think on top we were in a better position because we did what we did. And there were community initiatives that we tried to support as well.

Chad Franzen 28:25

That helped make a difference. So do you ever miss working in corporate America? Yeah,

Brent Schwoerer 28:32

I’ll be honest, the hours weren’t too bad. And that steady paycheck was nice too. I joke that it’s a lot better now. But I joked when I started I went to work four times harder for a quarter of the pay. So

Chad Franzen 28:48

I pass I bet. Hey, I have one more question for you. But first, how can people find out more about Engrained Brewing Company?

Brent Schwoerer 28:54

Well, you can definitely check out our website, would be the best place to go to learn about us you can see where our beers at you know learn more about the brand and the company there.

Chad Franzen 29:06

Sounds good. Hey, if you were to go to Engrained as a customer what would be kind of your food slash drink combination of choice

Brent Schwoerer 29:15

are our most popular item on the menu and one of my favorites is our cheese curd. So I actually a neighboring dairy farmer that I grew up with. He turned his dairy operation into a creamery and 100% of their milk production goes into making cheese and we get their fresh cheese curds. So they’re never more than, you know, a week or two old it’s definitely that like squeaky kind of cheese and they’re just amazing. We have a very light batter that we hand up them in. And so that’s, that’s a go to my beer that I love. I always have some at home is our IPA. It’s a local hop is what it’s called and 100% of the hops are Illinois source And I think there are some very awesome hops, newer varieties that you can only get from, you know, like, say Washington, Oregon, Idaho, but I think, you know, even locally raised hops to don’t have the crazy new variety, you can still showcase this classic American citrus characters. So that’s my my go to.

Chad Franzen 30:25

Beer. Sounds good. Hey, one more thing you. You said you kind of developed the beer. What about the food who developed all this pretty impressive food menu?

Brent Schwoerer 30:34

Yeah, a lot of it came from my opening Chef. Chef Brad, he is no longer with us. But he did an awesome job setting up the menu. And a lot of the things have just stuck because he did such a good job. I mean, the barbecue sauce was his recipe. A lot of it too is kind of dictated by our limited cuts. So we have to make certain cuts of meat of the animal like they have to be on the menu to flow all of the whole animal model. And so like we’ll always probably have pulled pork on the menu we’ll always have there’s a number of kind of angles that we take to make all of the cuts work but a lot of that was from him as well. We do we house care, our corned beef, we house smoke our pork. We have secure our hands. So there’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes to to do that stuff from scratch.

Chad Franzen 31:27

Yeah, sounds like hey, Grant. Brian’s it’s been great to talk to you. I really appreciate it. Thanks so much for your time. And it has been interesting to hear your story.

Brent Schwoerer 31:36

Thanks, Chad. Appreciate it.

Chad Franzen 31:38

Thank you. So long, everybody.

Outro 31:39

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