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Andrew & Stephen Oliver | Brother Oliver | The Greenville Music Scene

This week we’re diving back into Greenville’s music scene and putting local folk-rockers, Brother Oliver, in the spotlight. 

Brothers Andrew and Stephen Oliver are from Greenville, not THAT Greenville, but Greenville, Michigan. A tiny little town surrounded by other small-towns and country roads with one Applebees and a Pizza Hut. “Some people will never understand how huge of a deal it was when we finally got a Walmart,” they joked.

Every kid dreams about being a rockstar a little bit, Andrew and Stephen were no different. Their introduction to music started out with private lessons, Andrew on trumpet and Stephen on the saxophone, and they also participated in school band and played in church. 

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“We weren’t allowed to listen to a lot of music growing up,” Andrew said. “Our parents were pretty strict growing up. At the time I was really into skating, we would watch a lot of skate videos and try to make our own. While we were watching the skate videos I fell in love with the music that went with the videos, music I had never been allowed to listen to. My senior year of High School I started losing interest in skating. My skill level had reached the point where I would have to be risking my health in order to get better, so I faded out of it.”

Andrew Oliver (left), Stephen Oliver (right)

Andrew Oliver (left), Stephen Oliver (right)

Stephen jumped in, “At the time Andrew was playing around with hip hop.  Cover videos were really popular on youtube and he wanted to make somee. But I decided to get a ukulele,” he laughed, “I figured the girls would be all about it. Andrew wasn’t about it yet, but eventually he got a guitar and we taught ourselves. We were bad at our instruments, but we had fun with it and started writing songs since we had a basic knowledge of music theory from our lessons and band practice. The next logical step for us was to start a band.”

Andrew continued, “Initially I didn’t have any skills other than trumpet and what I had learned electronically. Stephen wanted to play folk stuff because of his ukulele, so I finally picked up a guitar. We were young enough to not have a lot of responsibilities or bills, so we stayed up late playing and writing music.”

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“Our parents weren’t keen on it at the time. Our dad was a pastor, so there was a little tension. Looking back, we realized that it made us work really hard to prove ourselves. It wasn’t easy to get them on board, but they’re cool with what we do now.”

Andrew moved to Greenville in 2013 as soon as he graduated high school to attend Bob Jones. “I know, I know,” Andrew laughed, “an unlikely spot for a rock musician.” Stephen came down for school at BJU as well but dropped out and started working and lived with Andrew in their small apartment. This is when they recorded their first album, Stubborn Fool. Stephen ended up moving back to Michigan after about 6 months. During this time Andrew worked hard at improving, writing more songs, and even playing solo gigs. “I wrote a record by myself while Stephen was gone. He would come down a couple weeks at a time to record our second album that we called Kudzu, which came out in 2015.” 

“When I finished school,” Andrew said,  “I felt like I had more connections in this Greenville than I did back home. Like I said, we were raised pretty strict and didn’t get out a whole lot, so I stayed here. Stephen finished up an his degree in Michigan and came back down here. We always knew that we wanted to do the music thing, we just had to wait for the time to be right.”

Stephen moved to Greenville in the Summer of 2016. It wasn’t long before they recorded their third and most recent self-titled record, Brother Oliver.

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Lyrically Andrew tends to write about what he called “psycho-spiritual material.” 

“I always want some kind of religious undertone in my lyrics without being overtly explicit,” Andrew said. “I don’t want to be so ambiguous for the sake of ambiguity, I think there is a fine line between the two. I write about how I want people to fully know what they believe, because they don’t take the time to stop and think about it. I feel like everyone needs to tear their worldview down at some point and build it back up again. Think about what you’re doing, what you believe, maybe it’s not as a cookie cutter as you think. I want people to walk away from our music thinking about their own selves, and maybe in a new way.”

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The album art for their self-titled album is a 1500's piece called the Garden of Earthly Delight, by Hieronymus BoschPiece. “The album art is a small portion of a must larger piece,” Andrew said. “It’s a trifold painting. My wife has a copy of it, which is how I discovered it. This piece is a depiction of life. On the left is God and the Garden of Eden, on the right is Hell and all kinds of dark features and figures.”

When you listen to their music you’ll notice that there is a lot of minor keys mixed in with brighter notes. “We like our music to be dark with a little nugget of hope,” Andrew said. 

Before moving to Greenville, Brother Oliver had played a couple shows for their friends and family in Michigan. They started out in a tiny room in a small bar in front of about 20 people. Their first show in Greenville was at an open mic at Smilies during Stephen’s first short stint in Greenville. Their live performance quickly improved as they shook off the nerves. Now, Brother Oliver has played in front of several hundred people at Fall For Greenville and will be spending most of 2018 touring, playing around 250 shows. 

“We are 100% entrepreneurs,” Andrew said. “I’m very business oriented. We do everything in house, all of our marketing and recording. It’s not just about saving money either, it’s about quality control. We want to be taken serious as a business entity, entertainers, and as artists. The ability to control cost and quality helps us make a living at our shows.”

“We are going full time this year, Stephen said. “We both put in notices at our jobs. We’ve been busting it for 2 years, testing what works in what market and where it doesn’t. This last year has been about building our brand and market research. It’s a little scary, but a lot of fun.”

“We’ve had a great experience growing a band in Greenville,” Andrew said. “We are so grateful for people like Wes over at Radio Room who gave us a chance. I know people complain about the music scene in Greenville sometimes, but we think that there’s plenty of opportunity.” Stephen added, “You get what you give. You can’t just make a band, throw a show, and expect it to be sold out. You have to build the brand.”

Brother Oliver is in the process of recording another record right now. After playing 80 shows in 2017, they’ll be touring regionally full time in 2018, playing anywhere between 220 and 260 shows. Be sure to support them and local music. You can check out their albums streaming on Apple Music and Spotify! 
 

Hunter Ballew | Cornerstone Construction & RoofGEN | Greenville Entrepreneurs

You’ve heard me say this time and time again, but I’ll remind you: Greenville has some incredible entrepreneurs and individuals. Yet, there are few that I’ve met who have as much drive, passion, or as strong hearted as Hunter Ballew does.

Hunter is a rarity as a Greenville native. He was born and raised in Travelers Rest, and he attended TR High School. Hunter never really had ambitions for school, but he did have an entrepreneurial spirit from a very young age. At only six years old he was constantly trying to hustle. 

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With a laugh he told me, “I would literally try to find the dumbest ways to make money. I would catch lizards and try to sell them on a quiet street where no one would drive by except the mail lady. Or, I would go in the woods to find old glass insulators to take it to the jockey lot to sell. I’m not sure if people actually wanted the stuff I was selling or if they just thought I was cute.”

“I feel like I was below average as far as learning goes,” Hunter told me, “but my work ethic was above average. All I wanted to do was join the Marine Corps. I worked various jobs throughout high school and immediately joined the Marines after graduating.” 

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It wasn’t long after training finished that Hunter was back in Greenville. He joined the Fire Department and ran his side business of flipping.

“My go-to business was buying and then selling stuff,” he said. “I would buy appliances, cars, boats, trailers, houses. You name it, anything I could buy below value and make a profit on, I would.” 

Hunter began a moving company of his own in 2012, but within two years he realized he could make a good deal more by continuing his flipping business. It was around this time when he started using Ebay and Amazon and his interest in e-commerce and online marketing came to be. 

His marketing side grew quickly. He started learning SEO and how to teach companies how to brand themselves. 

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“Blue collar guys generally frown upon the idea of digital marketing,” Hunter said. “I found that it’s often because they’ve been scammed in one way or another.” Using that as his inspiration and motivation, Hunter founded RoofGEN, a brand consulting company for roofing and other blue color companies. His goal was to show these business owners that the modern ways of marketing were valuable and could provide insight into their companies. 

In order to prove his thesis, Hunter needed a case study. Thus began Cornerstone Construction. “I figured if I can do it myself and show them I built this company using my knowledge of digital marketing I could tell them, ‘imagine what I can do for you.’ Not only that, I would be able to learn the ins and outs of the construction industry better.” 

Hunter initially consulted with other contractors in the Upstate to discuss partnering. However, he ended up with an experienced project manager and no longer needed a partner. Today, they are the fastest growing roofing company in Greenville and serve both residential and commercial clients all over the upstate.  

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“Even though Cornerstone was just supposed to be a case study, I fell in love with it during the process,” Hunter said with a smile. “It has given me the ability to serve the community so much better than I ever imagined. It’s a blessing to my heart to be able to serve and give back to the community. It blesses my heart to be able to give away tickets and see kids get to go to Drive, Clemson, and Swamp Rabbit games. If you’re not willing to be generous from the start when you have nothing you’re not going to be generous at the end when you have a lot.”

He continued, “With RoofGEN, I can work form my couch. But I truly love getting out and interacting with Greenville via Cornerstone. I love building relationships. One day my hope and dream is to train, coach, love on, and build up others, specifically youth. I have such a big heart for kids. I want company/companies to provide for not only my family but hundreds of families. My end goal is to have the resources to be able to bless others and build others up.”

“As a kid my family wasn’t poor but we certainly weren't rich. I can remember we had an old astro van that overheated and, wouldn't you know, didn't have any heat. So, my dad was pretty innovative. In the morning before school we'd have to fill up 2 liter bottles with water incase the van overheated on the way to school. Well, why not fill them up with hot water, right? We'd hang on to those things and stay warm all the way to school during the winter.”

“When you're young most everyone thinks their life is rough. We all have our own circumstances when the little hill seems to be a mountain.  As I grew I realized that life isn't so bad. From a young age I knew that my life was going to be different.  One day, specifically, the school bus dropped me off at the end of the road and I walked up the the hill towards our house.  At 12 years old in a curve on North Benson Road I said my life IS going to be different. Whatever it takes. I don't want the worries of money. I want to be able to bless others.”

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“As I've gone on from school into the Marine Corps, Fire Department and multiple businesses life has taught me so many things. I've learned to keep your foot on the pedal and never let up on personal development. Always be the best you can be. I've learned to giveback and watch others be blessed. Most of all, I've learned to show love and compassion for all people whether it's family, friends, co-workers, or some guy you meet at QT.”

He concluded, “We truly appreciate the support of the Upstate as we continue to grow Cornerstone. You'll hear this on my Facebook Live videos often. Our promise has been, and always will be, as we continue to grow, we'll continue to give bigger!”

Hunter’s heart and passion for helping others really struck a cord with me. If you follow him and his business’s on social media, you’ll see that everything he and his company does is entirely genuine. It was humbling to sit across the table and hear the passion that flows out of him.
I highly recommend you give Hunter, Cornerstone Construction, and RoofGEN a follow.

Steve Lorch | Table Rock Tea Company | Greenville Entrepreneurs

One of my favorite aspects of living in Greenville is how close we are to incredible views. About an hour drive north from downtown Greenville off of Highway 11 is Table Rock State Park. If you haven’t been there, you should go. While you’re there go across the road, literally under the shadow of Table Rock, and visit the Table Rock Tea Company

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Steve Lorch is a self-described eclectic serial entrepreneur, originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Jennifer, relocated to Mauldin, South Carolina. Steve is also a medical professional by trade as a surgical nurse. 

However, for the past several years, he has been working in medicine part time.

“When I was a surgical nurse in Pennsylvania, I was always on call, always working,” Steve explained. “When we moved down here, I was only 26 and on the verge of have an ulcer. A big part of my life is in my faith, and I knew this is not the way God wanted me to lead me life. You can spend every dime you make but you can’t get your life back.”

Time is worth more than money, and Steve cutting back on his time at “real work” has allowed him to do a lot of things. He’s published three books (working on 2 more), finished a movie script, recorded seven albums, and designed a board game which will be launching on kickstarter. 

When Steve says he’s a serial, eclectic entrepreneur, he’s not exaggerating. “I always joked that I ran with scissors and didn’t play well with other children,” Steve said. “I never liked rules. I liked to make the rules.”

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Before the Table Rock Tea Company was even a thought in their minds, Steve and Jennifer founded a company called Hydromissions International which did water-well projects all over the world. Incredibly, Steve and Jennifer were processing a thousand projects a year out of their home with no staff. A lot of their work had them traveling across the world. It was during a project in Kenya where they discovered tea plants.

They bought their first tea plant online and put in the ground at their home in Mauldin and let it grow. 

“We didn’t think anything of it after we planted it,” Steve said. “It wasn’t until we bought our property at Table Rock when we thought about it again. You see, we have a rule that every plant on our property has to have purpose. It can’t just be ornamental. We’ve been around the world and seen places that use their land so well. We wanted to do the same, and be entirely practical with our gardening.”

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He continued, “We were brainstorming of a way we could line our driveway with hedges. We were trying to figure out what kind of hedge could be both be decorative and practical. Then we looked outside and saw our tea plant. It looks like a hedge, so why don’t we do tea? Turns out, we needed 400 of them to line our driveway. So we decided to start a tea company! That’s honestly how we started,” Steve laughed, “we wanted an ornamental hedge row.”

“Before discovering tea in Kenya, we didn’t really even drink tea a whole lot,” Steve said. “That was the first time we were handed single source tea. It was only 90 minutes old.” 

Steve went on to explain to me that, while freshness was a big deal, single source tea is also vital to making a high quality tea. I learned that tea, much like wine, is effected by its region. The tea growing in one place could taste completely different than somewhere else because they had a different earth. I learned a lot about tea during my brief time with Steve. And I learned even more once I took a tour at his farm. 

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“Agriculture tourism is a the bread and butter of our business,” Steve said. “We regularly offer free tours of the fields and facilities. We have volunteers come during planting season. We want Table Rock to be known as Tea Country.” 

He continued, “We’ve had a lot of people come through here that decide they want to grow tea… but then they don’t have the means to process the leaves. We’ve worked it out so they buy plants from us, they grow them, and then we buy the leaves from them and processes them. A tea consortium.”

During their hydro mission days, Jennifer wanted to learn how to make soap and pass that along to the women they worked with in Africa. So Jennifer  went to the library and checked out a book that taught her how to make soap. Of course, Steve being Steve, “mechanized” his wife’s soap. “We were in a one stall garage in Mauldin, making 700 bars of soap a day for 23 states, sending it to places like Whole Foods.”

“I really like micro-factories, I like things that involve processes, taking them from base ingredients and turning them into a business,” Steve said with a grin, “I’d love to do a tv series called GarageBiz. I’ve got some friends in television I’m trying to pitch that to.”

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Steve continued, “There’s a difference between a business person and an entrepreneur. One requires the ability to take a risk, one doesn’t. A lot of people don’t have the stomach for risk. We found that people in developing countries might not have the margins for risk, because sometimes taking risk meant the literal death of your family. That clamps down on entrepreneurialism. So we started Opportunity.org, the charitable micro-enterprise branch of Table Rock Tea Company.”

10% of Steve’s gross revenue with Table Rock Tea Company goes to opportunity.org. Acting as a source for micro-enterprise loans and providing scholarships for farmers and entrepreneurs in developing companies. “That’s a long time down the line,” Steve said, “but we knew we had to set it up from the beginning. Once we are are up and running, we would buy their tea from them. This is the long stretching vision for Table Rock Tea Company.” 

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“The first four years have been proof of concept,” Steve said. “When growing tea, you have to check several boxes off first. One, is the plant going to grow at all. Two, is it going to reproduce. Three, is the tea going to taste any good, and you won’t know that for 3 or 4 years. Last year we made our first real tea and were finally able to check all of those boxes yes. This is when we built a commercial green house and planted our first 3000 plants. We’ll be planting 1 to 2 acres a year, with roughly 4300 plants per acre.” 

He continued, “I don’t get swayed by money, it’s just not a motivator. We’ve been a company for 4 years now, and it’ll be a decade before bleeding stops. That’s just how the tea industry works, it’ll take a long time. With Table Rock Tea Company, this is the first time I’ve wanted it to be a financially successful business. I want it to be able to provide jobs for people. In order to do that it has to be commercially viable for many years down the road.”

“I start things because I’m passionate about what it is, Steve said. “I’m one of those crazy people that believes I can change the world. In this case, Table Rock Tea Company is trying to change a region. If we can successfully turn Table Rock into ‘Tea Country’ that will provide a ton of jobs.”

Steve hopes to open a cafe right off of Highway 11. With 400,000 people going to the state park a year, it’s certain to be a hit. 

 

Shawn & Lindsay Johnson | Birds Fly South Ale Project | Greenville Craft Beer Series

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My exploration into the Greenville craft beer scene continues this week with the story of the Johnson Family: owners and masterminds behind the incredibly unique Birds Fly South Ale Project. You’ll find this funky Birdhouse at Hampton Station, located in the historic downtown Water Tower district.

Shawn and Lindsay’s story began in Clearwater, Florida, where they met and married. Shawn’s career in the Coast Guard brought him to Clearwater. This line of work required their family to be nomads.

Not long after having their first child, the Coast Guard presented Shawn and Lindsay with two choices: Hawaii or Kodiak, Alaska. “We are risk takers,” Shawn said, “so we chose Alaska.”

“We don’t regret it for a second,” Lindsay told me. “The massive adjustment of moving from Florida to Alaska shaped us into who we are today. When it gets dark at 4pm, when it’s constantly snowing, or it’s so windy you feel like your house is about to fall apart, you tend to spend a lot of time indoors. We had to start creating hobbies for ourselves.”

“This is when we really began to invest in the process of brewing our own beer,” Shawn explained. “We learned to lean into our marriage, to the growing partnership, and this helped build our foundation as a family and as a business.  Relocating our family in such a drastic way is directly parallel to the experimental nature of what Birds Fly South Ale Project is today.”

Lindsay added, “Moving to Alaska was a challenge that helped us grow as brewers. There are limited resources in Kodiak, so we really had to experiment with our recipes. Way back then we laid the foundation for our craft beer philosophy.”

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Five years later the family of now four was transferred back down south to Florida. The couple invested further in the craft beer world, building their home-brew set up, attending countless festivals, and researching, reading, and talking about their beloved craft.  “We were able to try so many great beers at the festivals,” Lindsay said. “It really developed our creativity further.”

During this time they met Bob Sylvester, renowned brewmaster and founder of Saint Somewhere Brewing outside Tampa, FL.  Bob took Shawn under his wing and played an instrumental role in helping develop his brewing skills. Shawn interned for several years as a brewer under Bob, learning about farmhouse ales and brewing methods.

“Most of what I know came from Bob,” Shawn said. “He is an inspiration and a teacher, a true mentor. I call him my beer dad.”

The family of five made one last stop in their ale project evolution when they transferred to Washington, D.C. where Shawn was supposed to be stationed for 4 years.  They quickly became involved with the brewing community and helped open Fair Winds Brewing Company. They gained valuable hands-on experience in launching a startup, a skillset much different than brewing beer. “I’m so grateful for that chapter in our lives,” Lindsay said. “We learned so much that we were able to apply with the creation of Birds Fly South.”

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At the end of just one year came another plot-twist in their story when Shawn was unexpectedly transferred to Greenville, South Carolina. “We had never been here before,” Lindsay said. They quickly fell in love with the city and connected with the craft beer community. “We had been implanted into a Coast Guard community in the past,”  Shawn explained, “but that wasn’t the case when we moved here. So we started at local bottle shops, found our people, and went from there.” Greenville soon became their home.

More than a decade after beginning their craft beer journey, and many months into a search for their future ale project home, the Johnsons landed at Hampton Station. “Shawn was able to connect with the guys at Thomas Creek, who gave him space to brew our own recipes and store our barrels,” Lindsay explains. This allowed them to get their beer into the public, and helped them establish a brand in the growing craft market.

“We call our kids birds,” the pair explains. “When the time came to head south we were ready. We landed in Greenville and it felt like a homecoming.” Lindsay, Shawn, and their 16, 12, and 8 year old sons opened the aptly named Birds Fly South Ale Project doors to the public on September 1, 2016.

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“Everything about this place is a partnership,” they add. “It’s not one person brewing beer and another running operations. It’s about a team, shaping and being shaped by a community, creating quality relationships and quality craft ales.”

“The brewery atmosphere was influenced by our time in Alaska,” Lindsay said. “Up there people were able to live more openly, without feeling like they had to conform to a certain expectation.  We want people to feel that no matter where you’re from, what you look like, or what you do (or do not) believe in, you’re welcome here.”

From what I can see, they absolutely succeeded in doing that. The very first time that I came to Birds Fly South I remember telling my wife that it felt like I was attending a family reunion. People brought their dogs, families playing corn hole, friends throwing around a frisbee, and there was genuine socializing around the outdoor beer garden.

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“We want to stay true to how we’ve always lived our lives,” Shawn added.  “We’ve gone to new communities and we’re well versed in what it feels to to be the new people.  We want to be a gathering spot for people who hadn’t found their place yet, or if they’re new to town, don’t know where to start.”

I highly recommend that you make plans to visit Birds Fly South Ale Project at Hampton Station. Before you leave, be sure to shake Shawn and Lindsay’s hand. You won’t find a more genuine and passionate pair.

The Story of Seven Partners | 13 Stripes Brewery | Greenville Craft Beer Series

The existence of 13 Stripes Brewery is the product of seven partners. Actually, seven friends. 

Seven lives, seven paths, and seven different stories. 

As you know, I’m here to tell stories. However, it’s not exactly possible to get all of the partners in the same room at the same time. They have different roles; some hands on, some hands off. I had the privilege of hearing the story of 13 Stripes from the perspective of Aaron Robinson, the director of operations. 

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Talks of opening a brewery began in 2012 between Aaron, his brother Michael, and their childhood friend, Jeremy. Jeremy was the expert in home brewing at the time, and now he is the head brewer of 13 Stripes. 

Michael’s college roommate, Brandon, joined the conversation. The partnership grew to four. 

Michael was stationed in California with the Navy while Aaron, Brandon, and Jeremy were still in their home state of Florida. Unfortunately, the distance between the partners put things on hold. 

“Michael and I had started home brewing and wanted to come up with a way to support his family when he finished his service. He and I didn’t work well when it came to working for other people,” Aaron said. 

Aaron went on to say he never enjoyed working for other people. When he finished high school, he decided to go the college route. After realizing it wasn’t for him, he dropped that and went to a private school for graphic design. 

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Any work he found didn’t help him with the mountain of student debt that he had acquired. “None of it was satisfying or allowing me to lead the life I wanted to lead,” Aaron said. “It was always in the back of my mind that I was going to do something on my own.”

Brandon introduced everyone to his brother-in-law, Kentworth, who is an entrepreneur with his hands in several different businesses. “When he got on board, he started pushing us towards making this happen,” Aaron said. Kentworth is now the marketing director. 

When Michael was transferred from California to Georgia, their dreams began to turn into reality.

During the brainstorming process, South Carolina was only a drive-through state to them. They liked the idea of setting up shop in the New England area, but Kentworth encouraged them to look into Greenville. Aaron and Michael started looking at pictures online and saw potential. They decided to visit and immediately fell in love. So they packed their bags and drove north with the sole intention of opening 13 Stripes Brewery. 

“Mike and I are huge Revolutionary War buffs,” Aaron said. “We came up with the name 13 Stripes - representing the thirteen stripes on the American Flag. Part of the reason we were interested in New England was because of the Revolutionary War history, but we found out that South Carolina had more Revolutionary War battles fought than any other state.

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All of their beers follow their theme and are named after figures, ships, battles, and quotes from that time period.

They got their logo made and started looking for investors. Originally, they wanted to have a full blown restaurant, but the price tag for that was too high.  “We got a lot of ‘no’s’ from investors,” Aaron said. The few ‘yes’s’ that we got turned into ‘no’s’ at the last minute. So we began looking into small business loans.”

Once they applied for that, they started the first step: finding a location. Unfortunately, it proved to be more difficult than they anticipated.

“We would have landlords cancel appointments on us at the last minute,” Aaron said. “It’s so limiting on where you can put the massive equipment needed for brewing. We looked in downtown Greer, at the West End Coffee Roasters former location by Fluor Field, the now location of the Anchorage, and none of them worked out. The Taylors Mill turned us down because they wouldn’t allow alcohol to be served.”

It took them about a year before they were able to find a place. Things finally started looking good when the Taylors Mill had a change in ownership. The new owner reached out to them and offered them the location which they are currently in today.

Brandon brought his brother, Robbie, on board as project manager. Investor, Jason O’Neal, joined the team as the seventh partner and as an investor. 

To get a brewery outfitted the way these gentlemen did would usually cost a pretty penny. Brandon and Robbie, having contracting backgrounds, were able to lead the construction project and keep costs low. Between the seven of them, they built and designed virtually everything in the brewery with the exception for plumbing and electrical. They were able to get equipment ordered, and after about a year and a half of construction and acquiring permits, they were able to open their doors. 

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“For a whole year while we were working on opening, I drove an armored truck for Dunbar,” Aaron sad. “It was the worst job ever. Every time I got in the truck I  had to keep the vision of 13 Stripes in my head. It’s all I could do to keep myself sane.” 

It took a lot for all the pieces to fall into place. “We’re still growing and testing things,” Aaron said. “We’ve got a great partnership. Of course, we get into disagreements, mostly my brother and I. Usually it’s over stupid stuff though, like what type of glassware to order.”

They have become a giant family that grows with each new customer.

They envisioned a place of community. No TVs line the walls. Instead, large tables are set up for people to talk and commune together.  “We might be setting up a projector for movie nights, big fights, and bigger Clemson games,“ Aaron laughed, “It’s interesting, not a single one of the seven of us really watch football anyways. We primarily want people to be able to socialize with people they may or may not know. We’ve found that a lot of or patrons appreciate that we don’t have TVs.”

“Every brewery in the upstate has it’s own style and taste,” Aaron continued, “The aesthetic here is a recreation of an old school pub. This matches our more English style beer, meaning we have a healthy balance of malt and hops in our recipe. We joke that we have an English balance with American strength in our beer.”

“We want to stick with what we do best,” he said. “With other styles we want to carry what others do best. This way we can encourage our customers to go and check out every brewery in town. They’re all fantastic and owned by great people. There’s not a single place I would tell people not to go to.” 

The camaraderie between brewmasters in the upstate is a beautiful thing. 

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Big changes are coming to the Mill next year. There are plans to turn the parking lot in front of Due South and 13 Stripes into a green space and create a beer-garden. The guys at 13 Stripes hope to eventually have a BBQ smoker outside and to flesh out their kitchen so they can prepare sandwiches.

Every month, they pick a different local charity to donate 10% of their sales gross. Since 13 Stripes has been open, they’ve brought $10,000 in sales tax to the Greenville community and are on track to bring $100,000 in sales tax to Greenville alone in their first year of being open. 

“One of the books that inspired all the partners,” Aaron said, “is called the Search for God and Guinness.”

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It tells the story of the original Guinness Brewery and all they did for their employees, employee’s family, and the community. They were involved in several social programs, they worked to provide healthcare for employees and education to employee’s children. They even provided beer to soldiers on the frontline during WW2. 

“If your cup overflows it’ll come back to you,” Aaron said. “When you open a business, you’re not going to win everyone over. You just have to do the best that you can for the people that you get and then give back to them. We want to go out and help the needy as best we can.”

All Photography by Bernie Anderson - www.bernieanderson.com

Brian & Nicole Cendrowski | Fireforge Crafted Beer | Greenville Craft Beer Series

Craft beer is making a surge in Greenville. Several breweries have announced their opening in the past year alone. 

I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not, but I’ve developed a taste for craft beer in the past year or so. For a long time, the only thing that I could stomach were ciders, like Woodchuck or Angry Orchard. Now I find them entirely too sweet.

I suppose that means my palate is maturing and my taste is becoming more diverse. I’ve acquired the taste, if you will. 

Recently I had the privilege of sitting down and talking about my beer palate and about everything else under the sun with Brian and Nicole, founders of FireForge Crafted Beer. They are on the path to opening up their brewery and taproom on the corner of Washington and Church street. 

brian

Brian graduated from College of Charleston in 1999 with a computer science degree and immediately landed a job at a web development firm. 

Though, self-admittedly, Brian wasn’t the greatest programmer, “There were guys that would work all day and then go home and code for fun,” he said. “I, on the other hand, would go home and drink a beer with friends. I quickly realized that these dudes would smoke me at coding and I thought, ‘I better find something else to do.’”

nicole

While Nicole was in her teens her interest in microbrewing was already growing. “I think it was because my Dad was into it,” she said. “He traveled for work, and I would go with him from time to time. In the evening after his meetings, I would go with him to the brewpub, and I became fascinated with the brewpub atmosphere.” 

Nicole laughed and said with a smile, “At 16 or 17 I totally NEVER had a brown ale.” 

Nicole knew nothing about the brewing process, but it was just something about the atmosphere that drew her in. It was different than your normal bar or club. This translated to her waiting tables during college. But not just at your neighborhood Outback Steakhouse, but at a brewpub called “Hops.” 

So you see why it makes sense that Nicole was the one who got Brian into enjoying beer. “I started with ciders,” he said, “specifically Woodchuck. Over time, Nicole introduced me to Guinness and then onto other flavors and styles. I didn’t even like coffee before I started hanging out with her. I’m convinced that the bitterness of coffee helped my palate adapt and learn to appreciate different flavors.”

When the internet bubble burst, Brian was laid off from his programming job. This furthered his suspicions that he wasn’t in the right line of work, so he went to business school. He ended up bouncing around jobs for several years from small company to big corporation, then back to small company, then back to big corporation. 

“I realized about 2 or 3 years ago that it wasn’t really about the job. It was me,” Brian said. “I was never going to be happy doing the same role over and over again.”

Brian had been brewing at home since 2007. It all began with the homebrew kit that Nicole got him for Christmas. January 4th, 2007, they brewed their first batch on their stove. 

And so it began.

“I always liked to brew stuff that I couldn’t buy. I’d try to put a little twist on a traditional style to ‘jazz’ something up. Sometimes I would try a cocktail and it would give me an idea. One night we were having Thai food, and I thought, ‘how could this translate to a beer?’ Lemongrass and ginger!”

“I quickly learned not to try to put EVERY ingredient into it,” Brian said. “It’s better to pick two! Less is more when it comes to brewing. Often times, simpler beers use fewer ingredients which allows those few flavors to shine through. The quality of our beer got a lot better when we learned those lessons and applied that philosophy.”

Their interest in the industry grew, so Brian took a job for a summer at Thomas Creek Brewery and worked in the back on the bottling line while he also ran a beer blog. Nicole, whose degree is in English, began writing for Southern Brew News. These opportunities allowed them to become well-established individuals in the industry. They quickly found that it was a very welcoming community. Even though they were just home brewers, they were greeted with open arms. 

Around 2010, Brian got connected with a job opportunity at Fluor, which would allow for them to bring in some extra income. So he left Thomas Creek, kept the beer blog, kept brewing, but he put the entrepreneurial portion on hold. Once out of college, Nicole applied her English degree skills in the marketing communication field. After a few years with a local agency, she started her own marketing business. “I recognized early,” Nicole said, “that I didn’t know what my life was going to look like professionally 10 years from then, but I wanted to have the opportunity to build something cool.”

They both were thrown for a loop, though, when Nicole took a job opportunity in Tampa, Florida. 

Thankfully there was an established craft brewing community in Tampa that they were able to quickly connect with. 

“The hardest part is getting to the starting line, not actually running the race,” Brian said. “We actually started the business plan for Fireforge three years ago while living in Tampa. We really wanted to start a small batch brewery and sell as much as we could out of a tasting room.”

They then went through the normal steps of opening up a business. Hired attorneys, accountants, and were looking at locations for their operation.

After about a year into the plan, they came back to Greenville in 2015 for the Community Tap beer festival. They quickly realized how much they had missed the Upstate and the Carolinas. After about a week in the Carolinas, they reconnected with some friends and fell back in love with this part of the country. While sitting down over a beer, Nicole said to Brian, “this could be nostalgia, but I want to move back up here.”  

Nicole went on to say to me, “Opening up a brick and mortar store requires a lot of commitment. We had started over twice already, first in Greenville, then in Tampa. Florida was a great experience that we don’t regret. It allowed us to implement certain ideas into our concept that we wouldn’t have thought of if we hadn’t gone on that adventure. But the thought of starting over again was more than we felt like we could deal with, both mentally and emotionally. So coming back to Greenville was the most logical choice. It brought us comfort to not completely start over again. It became very clear exactly what we wanted to do. So many people were incredibly excited when we told them that we were coming back.”

That brings us to the present. Brian and Nicole currently have a space located on the corner of Washington and Church Street. They are in a holding pattern while they wait on the permitting process to be completed with the city. Their space is part of a multi-tenant development property with plans for a restaurant to be right next door. 

Interestingly enough, the Johnson City, Tennessee brewery Yeehaw Brewing will be opening up only a block away from Fireforge in the coming months. I asked about this and if the proximity was a concern. Brian’s answer stuck with me and has given me fascinating insight into the craft beer community: 

“People don’t understand that the scale of beer market is so gigantic. The general public thinks there’s a ton of craft beer out there, but big beer takes up the large majority of the market. Think about the ‘big beer’ shelves of a grocery store vs. the craft beer shelf. We all want to work together to bring more market share for craft beer. As long as we all feel like we are pulling towards the same cause, you’re going to see cooperation. Look at Asheville. They have essentially a craft beer district. All of them within walking distance. There is a camaraderie that forms with breweries so close together.”

He continued, “What drives us isn’t necessarily attracting all the beer geeks. Obviously we wanted to be appreciated and respected, but we’ve noticed that each brewery here has their own personality and each one will attract their regulars. We see the opening of Yeehaw Brewing as a great opportunity. By being neighbors, they will help draw patrons towards us and we hope to do the same for them.”

fire forge

“We aren’t trying to pull people away from other breweries. We just want them to be open to trying something new no matter who brewed it. Our hope is that we grow the amount of craft beer appreciators. We want to guide folks who walk in and aren’t sure what they’re looking for. We can walk them through what beers might translate to their taste," he added.

“We both want to spread the message about craft beer,” Nicole said then laughed, “I guess you could call us craft beer missionaries!”

The name “Fireforge” came to Brian while he and Nicole were driving up the mountains for a craft beer and food pairing weekend with close friends. “Fire is a symbol for passion,” he said, “and our beer is crafted (forged) with my own hands.”

Brian and Nicole are aiming to open Fireforge Crafted Beer this winter.