Creating an inclusive environment

April 9th, 2018

By Stephen J. Bailey | Input Fort Wayne

With a fifteen-barrel brew house, Hop River Brewing Company has seven to nine beers on tap with plans to grow that number by this summer.

But what they are building is more than a brewery and taproom.

They have relationships with other local breweries, like Junk Ditch Brewing Company and Mad Anthony Brewing Company. Both are currently available on guest taps.

On top of that, the taproom is open to all ages—not just ages 21 and over. It’s not uncommon to see kids and high schoolers sitting at the community tables, playing board games.

In many ways, the brewery has built an inclusive environment on Fort Wayne’s Historic Wells Street Corridor that is not only a welcoming place for guests, but also for the staff.

With 13 employees, the brewery puts as much emphasis on its team members, its relationships, and its community as it does the quality of its beer.

It’s this emphasis that is paying off.

A brewing family

The 1515 N. Harrison Street location is home to the Hop River Brewing Company staff, and it is clear that their love for each other is as great as their love for beer.

The brewery started as a dream in 2015 by co-founders Ben Jackson, President, and Paris McFarthing, Vice President.

Hard work by these founders and their team members lead to a grand opening on January 29.

Team members include Kevin Debs, Mary Corinne Lowenstein-DeGood, Amanda Wendt, and Zach Croy.

Watching them interact is like watching siblings with a long history. They get along, and there is an easy camaraderie among them.

Debs, the Head Brewer, moved to Fort Wayne from Detroit to join the Hop River Brewing Company family.

“I moved here for the job, and to be able to share beer with people,” he says. “I wanted to be able to develop recipes and a beer culture. To turn people on to different beer styles they didn’t know about is what this is all about.”

Lowenstein-DeGood, Director of Marketing, came on board in January, 2017, and is equally excited about being part of the team.

She says the opportunity to be part of a community and a business focused on staff culture was what she signed on for.

“We have learned each other’s dynamic, and we grew close during the process of opening the brewery,” Lowenstein-DeGood says. “We rocked the grand opening because we learned to trust each other.”

A longtime local resident and previous employee at downtown hangouts like Dash-In, Wendt is the Head Bartender at Hop River.

She has enjoyed the process of building a new hangout from scratch.

“Being part of the building process is important,” Wendt says. “My fingerprints are all over this place. There was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. I love seeing everything we have worked so hard for now coming to fruition.”

Croy is Head Chef and says he feels like connecting with the Hop River Brewing team was “kismet,” something destined or fated.

“Because of the blank slate it feels like the sky is the limit,” Croy says. “That is what drew me here. They allow us to have creative freedom. Everyone gets to take charge of their area. There is a lot of trust here.”

Trust and community. They’re simple, traditional concepts, and they’re at the root of the creativity that allows Hop River employees to dream.

Their collective creativity can be felt in the food, the environment, the marketing efforts, and all of the beer.

“Serving and bartending is more than just a job because of the relationships,” Wendt says. “Working in a place that is beer-forward and community-oriented is everything I could ask for in a job.”

A growing downtown

Hop River Brewing is located just a few blocks north of Phase 1 of Riverfront Fort Wayne’s multi-million dollar development that is currently under construction and plans to open in 2019.

The changes happening in downtown Fort Wayne are being felt in the surrounding neighborhoods, including the Historic Wells Street Corridor where the brewery is located.

When a concerned neighbor stopped by the taproom after worrying about a “dive bar” coming to the area, she was greeted with a tour of the facility, a free dinner, and a conversation with one of the founders.

She left relieved and happy, Lowenstein-DeGood says.

Hop River Brewing’s welcoming spirit to their neighbors is an example of their commitment to the community, at large.

Lowenstein-DeGood is on the board of the Wells Street Corridor. As such, she is using her connection to Hop River to host city and community events, including Riverfront Fort Wayne’s educational series that took place March 12 and attracted a turnout of more than 160 people to discuss Riverfront development.

Debs says the excitement about projects like Riverfront Fort Wayne and the rebirth happening around northeast Indiana is part of what attracted him to leave his former brewery in Detroit and make the move to Hop River.

“It’s cool to be in a place that is this excited about itself,” Debs says. “There is a great energy in downtown with what is happening to the city. It’s great to be a part of that.”

Future plans

There are plans to open the beginning phase of a beer garden this summer. It will consist of picnic tables, and then will grow into a more developed green space with fire pits and landscaping in 2019.

“Our community focus goes large scale all the way down to small scale,” Lowenstein-DeGood says.

She explains that Hop River will be looking to the community to see how the space will unfold. It did the same for the large community picnic tables in the current dining area.

There are also plans to offer everything from tasting rooms to event areas that are open to the public.

There is plenty of room to expand on the property, and the brewery is looking for the best way to utilize their space for parking while making the most of unused space in the facility.

The team at Hop River Brewing speaks with excitement when they talk about the future. Their positive outlook matched with a determined work ethic gave them great results in their grand opening.

Now, their goal is to maintain that in their future growth and contribute to the region’s ongoing evolution.

“The life I can live and afford here is so much happier than when I lived in other states,” Croy says. “I wouldn’t be able to have all of this in one spot other than here. It blows my mind compared to 10 years ago.”