Auburn’s new brewing company opens this November
By Gwen Clayton | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly
Downtown Auburn is getting a new brewery this fall — something targeted to the younger crowd but still keeping in line with the city’s classic car heritage.
The building that used to be Dick’s Big Boy Toys auto service center at 309 N. Main St. is the new home of Auburn Brewing Co. Owners Josh and Emma Metcalf are planning a soft opening in October and a grand opening Nov. 17.
“We knew we wanted to do Auburn because we felt Auburn was missing something for people our age,” said Emma Metcalf, age 29; her husband Josh is 31. “We love the coffee shop. We love to go out and do stuff, but neither of us smoke. Five years ago when we started talking about all of this, you could still smoke in all the bars here. So, we didn’t like to go to them because we weren’t smokers; we’d have to drive 30 minutes just to get a drink somewhere. We knew there was a gap in Auburn for our needs, especially in our age group where people could just hang out and have fun and play games or whatever.”
When the couple were looking for their dream location, they knew it had to be downtown Auburn because Emma’s retail shop — Lyn-Maree’s Boutique — was downtown.
“We’ve gotten really involved the last few years down here,” Josh Metcalf said. “We feel that it has a strong small-business community. People are starting to love it. People are reinvesting into downtown right now. So downtown was a must.”
The Metcalfs wanted an old, historic building that had charm.
“We’ve been to a lot of breweries that had no character,” Josh said. “They’re in just a strip mall. Even if the beer is good, it doesn’t make me want to be there a long time.”
The site also needed to be a big enough space to allow them to have their brewery area visible to the patrons.
“We love to be able to sit and see where everything happens,” Josh said.
The original plan was to set up the brewery in the back of Lyn-Maree’s at first and expand later on, but the owner of the defunct service station — which had become a private car-storage facility — decided to sell it to the Metcalfs.
“This space had everything we needed,” Josh said. “The only downfall was it being an old gas station. (The environmental cleanup) was a lot of work but I think a lot of people are excited for what we want to do.”
The Metcalfs originally hadn’t planned on giving the brewery a huge car theme, but since it had been an old gas station and service center for most of its history, it made sense to roll with that theme. Their motto is, “fuel yourself.” Even the beer tap handles will be made from aluminum and shaped like gas-pump handles.
Sparking the dream
Their interest in beer started during their trip to Utah, shortly after they got married in 2011.
“We were out and about, going to different places and eating and they had a lot of breweries there,” Josh said. “It’s the first place where we’ve ever been where they’ve had a decent amount of them. We loved the atmosphere, the people, the food, the beer.”
A year later, Emma bought Josh a Mr. Beer kit for Christmas.
“I don’t know if you can even make good beer from it, but I did it,” Josh said.
As more breweries starting popping up in northeast Indiana, the Metcalfs started visiting them. In late 2014, they decided opening their own brew pub was something they wanted to work toward as a long-term, retirement plan. But in March of 2015, Josh pulled an LLC “just want to work on the name and get things rolling,” he said.
They spent about six months to a year working on a small-business plan, and as their ideas grew, they started thinking about the future.
“So we reached out to this building owner and said, ‘We love your building. We’d like to own it someday, long term,’” Josh said. “He said, ‘Maybe in five to 10 years we’ll sell it.’ We said, ‘Perfect. We just wanted to put our name in to be the first dibs.’ About two weeks later, they called us and said, ‘Hey, let’s meet. We love your idea. We’ll sell it to you.’ That was kind of like a shock.”
That put the project on the fast track.
“Pretty much everything we’ve been working on had to be redone,” Josh said.
The Metcalfs worked with the Indiana Small Business Development Center to help them build their business plan.
“I had the basics of it, but they helped it get into a form that a bank would understand,” Josh said.
When they approached the bank, they were well prepared and approved quickly but the environmental issues slowed them down. Being an old gas station from the 1920s, and having too many gaps in the ownership history caused them to spend nearly a year and a half trying to get through the environmental portion of the business plan.
The site was originally Thatcher’s Service Center back in the 1920s. Then it was a Smith and Moore and one point, a Williams, and then it was Dick’s Big Boy Toys before being sold to the people who owned it before the Metcalfs.
The last owners of the building had photos on the wall showcasing the site in its former glory. They left those photos for the Metcalfs to use in the brewery.
“They kept the front room like a private museum,” Josh said. “They just stored their personal cars here. Anytime during ACD Fest Week, they would open it up for friends and family and strangers, and they would walk in here and see everything on the walls. We talked to them about the story and they decided to leave the pictures for us.”
A taste of Auburn
Now, with their dreams in motion, Emma plans to focus on administrative management of the business, while Josh serves as brewmaster.
“I have a lot of interest in craft beer but I don’t have an interest in making it,” Emma said. “It takes a lot of patience. I like the beer tastings, the events, being able to be part of the community. That really draws me in.”
Josh took the first beer class in the state of Indiana at Indiana University — Purdue University Indianapolis.
“That was kind of like a trial run for them,” he said. “It was awesome. I got so many connections.”
Josh has yet to develop a particular signature to his beer.
“There are some breweries that just do sours or some that just add a bunch of additives to it and make really funky beers,” he said. “Our goal is to do modern beers and traditional beers because we have such a wide palate for liking beer that we’ll make a little bit of everything.”
Starting out, Auburn Brewing Co. will not serve food from its own kitchen. The Metcalfs plan to hire food trucks to serve food at least through this winter, and open its 19’ x 20’ commercial kitchen after the brewery dust has settled.
Their close connections to the community inspired the Metcalfs to include a philanthropic component of their business plan. They created Beer for Good, which is similar to a program from South Bend Brew Werks.
“We have a lot of people who approach us for donations, even now before we’re even open,” Josh said. “Our goal is to partner with three local nonprofits and every beer that you buy, every growler you fill and every sample flight that you get, we’ll give you a bottle cap. That bottle cap, starting out will be 25 cents for a donation.”
Patrons will place each bottle cap in one of three jars slated for each respective nonprofit, and Auburn Brewing Co. will donate the money to the charity.
“Our overall goal is to do 10 percent of our in-house sales to these three nonprofits,” Josh said.
“It makes it nice for the organizations because they know that at the end of every month they’re going to get this chunk of money and it will be around the same every month, hopefully,” Emma said. “They can put that into their budgeting plan for the year.”
So far, the Metcalfs have chosen Big Brothers Big Sisters and St. Martin’s Health Care Services in Garrett. A third charity is yet to be determined.
Both Josh and Emma are natives to northeast Indiana. Emma was born and raised in Auburn, and bought Lyn-Maree’s Boutique in 2012 after partnering with another owner prior to owning it outright.
Josh grew up in the Woodburn/New Haven area. He has spent the last six years as an engineer for a local utility company.