Restaurant Notes extra: Hop River Brewing Company hoping to open in December
Ben Jackson and Paris McFarthing, co-owners of Hop River Brewing Company, want to make something clear: they’ll be a brewery not a restaurant.
“Fort Wayne has tons of amazing restaurants,” McFarthing said, “and I think those people are doing a great job, and we have a great food culture; our job is to be on the flip side of that and support them with beer.”
Not to say they won’t have food, but they have a priority.
“We’re focused on the beer,” Jackson said. “We’ll have food, but we’re not a restaurant. We’re a brewery that you can get some snacks at, but really, all about the beer.”
They’re going to develop good true style beer that’s high-quality and tastes goods,” Jackson said, and they’ll “start with 4-6 core beers that we can offer right away so people can identify with and know what we’ve got, then extend into anything we want.
“We’re not trying to be the most this or most that. We’re just trying to be the best at what we do.”
The two hope to catch the craft beer wave that they’re seeing in Fort Wayne amid the riverfront development.
“We’re trying to make this a real production-style brewery,” Jackson said. “… we’re trying to have enough capacity to sell to bars and restaurants and liquor stores in town, in the county in the region and then throughout the state, so we’re starting a bit bigger than some people do.”
The duo hope to see Hop River start brewing in late December to New Year’s in the 1920s-constructed Rousseau building at the corner of Harrison and Fourth streets.
Jackson, 43, and McFarthing, 33, both homebrewers, had each been thinking about putting together such a business when they met. Jackson moved to Fort Wayne where his wife’s family has been “for several generations” and her sister owns the Dash-in. The couple left Washington D.C., where they both worked as lawyers, to settle on the south side of town with their young children. He saw Fort Wayne as a great place to develop the brewery scene.
McFarthing, a Fort Wayne native who graduated from Bishop Luers High School and Indiana University-Purdue University, brings in his business expertise. He worked during school at Phil’s Hobby Shop and bought the business after college. It was through his work there that he found the Rousseau building, a former DeSoto showroom close to the current riverfront development.
“Being only four blocks from the riverfront project, we’re hoping to be a little bit of an anchor, a small anchor,” Jackson said.
Hop River’s portion of the 13,500-square-foot building is mostly empty now except for plastic-wrapped steel brewing tanks. The construction company that owned the building will keep its offices in about a third of the building for another year, then Hop Brewing will expand into the space. It will feature a family-friendly tap room for its brews as well as wine and soft drinks.
“We just want it to be an open communal space,” Jackson said, that will develop as they become acquainted with their customers tastes. “We want them to figure out what they like about us and then we can reflect that in the design and in the layout.”
They’d like to reach out to homebrewers like themselves to come in for educational programs and have hands-on special events.
Windows will give patrons a view of the brewing process.
They’re hoping to get city of Fort Wayne facade grants to build the dog-friendly beer garden that’s about a city-block long at the back where construction debris now sits. They’ll likely open with a patio and expand as money becomes available.
They’re so committed to the $1.2 million project, with the help of financial backers, they recruited Kevin Debs from his native Michigan to work as their head brewer.
“The first thing he asked about was Fort Wayne’s water,” said Jackson. That’s when he knew they’d gone with the right man.
Debs has helped Hop Brewing get the word out on, or perhaps the flavor of, the crew’s brews by taking part in area brew festivals. They’ll be at Teds Beer Hall, 12628 Coldwater Road, 3-7 p.m. Saturday for the OctoBEER Fest, a celebration of craft beer featuring local and area brewers, plus 17 lines on tap, for those ages 21 and over. Tickets cost $25 at www.teds-market.com/rsvp.
“We’re basically open to any beer festival in the area, the region that can help us get our name out,” Jackson said. “…We try to have something different each time” to get feedback.
Rounding out the team is Mary Corinne Lowenstein-DeGood, their director of marketing, who recently moved back to Fort Wayne.
They’ll hire a head chef and bar manager soon.
Have restaurant news? Call Lisa M. Esquivel Long at 461-8354 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or write Restaurant Notes, C/O The News-Sentinel, PO Box 102, Fort Wayne, IN 46802.