What is your official titles?
TJ: Co-owners of One Well Brewing; we don’t really have titles. Yeah, Co-owners.
What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?
Chris: Well, there really isn’t an average day. Everything is different every day. Every day is a One Well day, because we’re always doing something with it. People will be like, ‘Aw man, you’re closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so you have the day off.’ And I’m like, whoa whoa whoa, not so fast!
Today is Wednesday, so we are open and have a bunch of people around. When we are open, it’s talking to the customers, or figuring out if people like the new beer we have on tap. We’ll make a lot of changes on our off days based on if people like the beer or don’t like the new stuff. Once we do leave here, we’ll see people out and they’re like, ‘Hey, it’s the One Well guys!’ Yep, that’s us, just normal dudes, having a beer! We have a lot going on right now; it’s very exciting.
TJ: To piggyback off of what Chris said, every day is different. As small business owners, you’re wearing so many different hats; we’re learning something new every day. We’re learning stuff we didn’t even know we needed to learn. We’re constantly growing and having new experiences. My day is a lot of sitting in front of the computer, 10-12 hours a day. Outside of One Well, gardening is my release. Chris does the brewing, and I do most of the business side, but we both wear a lot of hats.
Chris: It’s not as cut and dry, but there are a few things that are clear. Scheduling – talk to TJ. If something’s broken, talk to me.
TJ: Because if you come to me with something broken I’m just going to say, talk to Chris!
What is One Well Brewing?
TJ: It’s a community gathering place; that’s our motif. Our tagline is ‘A Place for Likeminded Folks to Share Ideas, Arts and Culture in Kalamazoo’, and we really embrace the whole community aspect. We made a place where Chris and I would want to come and hang out. We’ve been to tons of other breweries, and we were like, let’s make a place that we would want to go to. It’s humbling that other people enjoy the same things and find value in what we’re doing.
Chris: It’s kind of gotten to the point now that our customers are becoming friends. They’re meeting people they’d never met before. It’s kind of like, ‘Hey, I’ve seen you in here five or six times now, what’s your name?’ We’ll hear that people who met here at our bar are becoming friends and are now out grabbing a beer together at another one of the local breweries. It’s pretty cool.
What makes you different from other breweries in town?
TJ: Two things: beer, number one. (Insert TJ and Chris high five) And the experience that people have when they come here. We have classic arcades, pinball, and over 150 board games.
Chris: I’ll have customers when I’m not here shoot me a text if I’m not here and be like, where are you?! It’s the experience; it’s a place to hang out. I think it’s a lot different from the other places in Kalamazoo. TJ did a lot of market research – yeah, “market research”, you know what that means (beer drinking) – and went to a lot of breweries to see what successful breweries are doing. We weren’t doing this last minute; we wanted to be prepared that when we opened the doors we would be able to create a great experience for our customers. Why not bring in a lot of the stuff that you think are the best parts of your favorite breweries? I think we’ve struck a good balance of not trying to cram too much into it. People ask us when we’re going to have live music. Well, live music is awesome, but it takes away from the chill hang out atmosphere. If we tried to do too much, I think things would’ve turned out really different.
Where can we find your beer?
Chris: We do some minimal distribution around town. As far as we’re concerned, we’ve been on at the best beer bars in town. We’re small enough that we get to pick and choose. Michigan changed things a couple of years ago that if you’re small enough, which we are, that you get to do your own distribution. We get to call the bars that we like, which is pretty cool.
TJ: Then we deliver the kegs – Chris in his Jeep, me in my Prius. It’s pretty funny.
Chris: One of the things we wanted to do that we missed out on this year based on our opening weekend was Greensky Bluegrass weekend at the State Theater. They told us if there is a show that we want to be on tap for in the future to let them know. How awesome would that be? Going to a concert to see one of my favorite bands, drinking my beer; it’s the dream.
What is the most unconventional ingredient you’ve brewed with? Or what would it be?
TJ: Beets was kind of different.
Chris: We’ve used rose hips and rose petals for a Valentine’s beer we did.
TJ: Chris wants to do a mushroom beer.
Chris: Gorilla Gourmet is doing a supper club at Beer Exchange, and they’re going to do all Kalamazoo beers. I asked my brew partner what he wanted to do, and he said he looked into it and some other places have done a mushroom beer before. I was like, yes, let’s do it! Maybe it’s not an everyday drinker, but for a food pairing I think it’ll be good.
TJ: Donuts. That’s kind of cool. We’ve done donuts and coffee from Sweetwater’s Donuts and Waterstreet.
Chris: I’m not afraid of using different things and trying to figure out how we can try new things for our customers.
How do you name your beer?
TJ: Chris has more beer names than we have beer; I don’t think we’ll ever run out of name ideas.
Chris: I’ll write ideas down as they come to me and keep them for later. I want to run a fine line between things that are semi-inappropriate in an appropriate way. I feel like there are some places that go a little overboard, and I think it can alienate people. Some beer kind of makes itself evident of what it should be named. Right now we have a beer called Professor Nut Butter’s House of Treats, which is the opening track of Primus’ album Tales from the Punchbowl. Most people don’t have any idea of who Primus is or that it’s a song. I also just went to one of the Grateful Dead shows in Chicago, and they have a song called ‘Deal’, and it goes “Don’t you let that deal go down” and thought maybe we could do something with that, so that’s where our beer Deal Gone Down comes from.
TJ: I rarely think about beer names. Chris names the beer, I name the food. It’s not as glamorous.
Tell us about the food!
TJ: I’d call it upscale bar food; no burgers, no fries. All fresh ingredients. All things you can share with someone else.
Chris: From the beginning, our focus wasn’t going to be on food; it was on beer. Like we said, we’re learning every day, and having the food brings more people in and keeps people here longer. If I go some place that has beer and no food, I figure I can stay for a little while, then I’m going to leave to get some food. We’re not trying to be the next five star restaurant in town, but we want to offer something that tastes good that you would eat at a bar and share with friends.
Can you tell us about your background/passion?
TJ: I’ve always had a love for the industry; I’ve been to probably 150 microbreweries. The craft beer community is unlike any other industry I’ve worked in. I’ve never met an asshole at a brewery. They’re just good, salt of the earth people. I think Chris shares the same sentiment, in that whether we were going to open a brewery or not, we wanted to somehow be involved in craft beer. We both always wanted to work for ourselves, and when we met each other it was kind of a natural fit; Chris could brew the beer and I could help on the business side. We have complementing skill sets.
Before this, I was working in corporate jobs for about 10 years, mostly in sales and sales operations management. I learned a ton from my past jobs that help me run One Well, but this is a lot more interesting to me. I was in Chicago for three years, then Rio De Janeiro for three years, then moved back here.
Chris: For me, it started off as a hobby. I finished up at Western and my buddy and I were like, we’ve got all of this time on our hands now that we’re not in school and we’ve got a few extra dollars in our pockets, let’s figure out something fun to do – let’s make our own beer! We pitched in together and bought all of the equipment to start making our own beer.
I think for me, the turning point was seeing Paw Paw Brewing Company open and seeing what size and scale they opened with. It’s not about having $1 million; it’s about finding a good way to do things and making it your own. That’s what Paw Paw did. They did it with what they could afford, and it took off. After seeing what they were doing what they were doing, I bought a brew system to what they were using. Then I met TJ. It’s funny, people think we’ve been best friends forever, and really we’ve only known each other for a little over two years.
After doing it for a while on a pretty economy scale, I suggested we dial it up a bit. I worked at PNC for five years and realized it wasn’t me and wasn’t what I wanted; I needed to make a change. The plan for me for about six years was to find someone to partner with; find a way to get this going. After I met TJ, it just made sense. He brought the stuff to the table that I didn’t really want to do, and the same with him. We’re finding now that it’s more than brewing beer, opening our doors and pouring a pint. We have to promote why people should drink our beer and we have to tell our story.
TJ: We met a little over two years ago.
Chris: TJ’s childhood neighbor was one of my really good friends. My friend called me up and said ‘Hey, my buddy just moved back from Brazil and doesn’t really know anyone, can I bring him over?’ It was great. He’s kind of like a fungus – he just grows on ya, ha! We were drinking beer and playing board games when we met, and we’re doing it here today.
What do you love most about Kalamazoo?
TJ: I love Kalamazoo because it’s not a crazy big city, but it still has a lot of arts and culture. There is such an eclectic mix of people here. There’s a great music scene, great beer scene. We could’ve moved to Chicago and did it, but there’s more of a community feel here. And specifically, we love this location. We looked downtown, and it’s pretty expensive. We came here to the Milwood area, and before we got here, Latitude 42 was the closest. It seemed natural to be here.
What have you been jammin’ to recently?
TJ: Everything really.
Chris: In the beginning when we were figuring all of this out, we were like, should we get a jukebox? And I thought man, I’m going to kill myself if we have to listen to jukebox music all day every day. We got Sirius XM radio, and we have a few channels that we play. For the most part we play improvisational music, blues, and there’s a channel called Deep Tracks.
TJ: And Outlaw Country.
Chris: Yeah, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. We aren’t going to be playing Top 40.
How do you take your coffee? Or do you?
Chris: I love drinking coffee.
TJ: Black. I think we both like a darker roast.
Chris: I like it when TJ serves it to me.
TJ: We are partnering with Waterstreet right now.
Chris: Yeah, we use Waterstreet for our coffee beer.
What’s your favorite kind of beer?
Chris: Beer. All beer.
TJ: Michigan craft beer.
Chris: I drink mostly Michigan beer, but pretty much anything.
Do you have a go-to spot in Kalamazoo?
Chris: Wherever One Well beer is on tap.
TJ: We frequent all of the breweries.
Chris: I was at Arcadia, Gonzo’s, Boatyard and Rupert’s yesterday. We kayaked and stopped at Arcadia. We got out at Boatyard. Then TJ said he was at Rupert’s, and I thought, well, might as well stop at Gonzo’s on the way! I was at Bell’s on Saturday.
TJ: We always say the better beer Kalamazoo has on the whole, the more people are going to come here. I think it’s great that in Kalamazoo, we’re all so collaborative with each other. We compete, but it’s friendly; we’re collectively competing against big beer.
Chris: We have brewery friends in other areas that are telling us how lucky we are that we have people around us that will give us advice and support. Without Latitude, we wouldn’t have been able to open up with the beers that we did because they got us the hops we needed. Gonzo’s helped us unload kegs with their forklift. We picked up grain from Rupert’s the other day. Whenever we get into a pinch we call around. Arcadia washes all of our kegs for us. It’s at 8:00am, which sucks, but I drive all of our dirty kegs down Portage Rd. to Arcadia, wash them, and come back here.
TJ: The first time was like Donkey Kong because we didn’t have them strapped down in the trailer. We had kegs falling out the back of our trailer; it was kind of a mess.
Chris: Another lesson learned.
If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
TJ: Don’t go to jail. I don’t know. I don’t tend to have many regrets in my life. Just keep on doing what you’re doing.
Chris: Yeah. There have been ups and down, but I think as long as your learn from everything that you’re doing things are going to turn out alright. I’d say to myself, if you’re going to do it, do it!
Who would play you in a movie?
Chris: If we could bring back Chris Farley, I’d want him to play me.
TJ: Jim Carrey – some people tell me that I look like him.
What does the future of One Well look like?
TJ: Hopefully good! We are in the works of an expansion project. We are looking for an offsite production facility and upgrade our systems to be able to make more. The plan is to also use it as kind of a maker’s space, so we can rent the system out to other breweries that want to expand their business.
Chris: That’s our plan for today; it may be different tomorrow. In the end, we want to be around Michigan; we want more people to have a chance to drink our beer. If that’s in bottle and cans, then maybe it’ll be in bottles and cans. Do we need to be Bell’s? No. If we are like Bell’s some day, that’d be pretty sweet. We just want to make great beer for more people, and have a cool place for people to come to.