Who are you and how did you get here?
I'm Jonathan Fritz and I own Hopewell Brewing Company with my partners Samantha Lee and Stephen Bossu. We got here by getting interested in beer together and then eventually deciding we wanted to open up a company in Chicago around that idea.
What does Hopewell do, and what’s your role?
We are a brewery here in Logan Square in Chicago, and I set up our sales and the distribution side of the business.
Why Logan Square?
I'm originally from Lombard, about a half hour west of Chicago, but I've lived in Logan Square for about eight years. My partners Samantha and Stephen were living in Oregon and then in New York. They would come to visit and we realized that this was a really cool area with a lot going on and we wanted to be a part of that. Logan’s driven by a lot of independent businesses and restaurants that we look up to. Lula Cafe really put a flag down first, and of course there’s Longman & Eagle, which we love. Logan Square is easy to get to with public transit. That was always something that was important in our plan. It was easy for our employees to get to and easy for people to come visit us. We didn't want to open up a brewery in the middle of an industrial park, we wanted to open up a production brewery in a neighborhood where the residents could visit us on their way home from work.
Is Hopewell sold outside of Illinois?
We're not. Most of our business is within five miles of the brewery. It's important that people know about you if they're going to order your drafts. We really want to be building our business at home before we think about moving out of state. That's not really the idea. If we do expand, it wouldn’t be somewhere close like Indiana- we might pick a city that we think fits our brand and our brewery.
How is Hopewell organized?
We really operate three different businesses within Hopewell. We’ve got the front of house bar where people can come in and see who we are. They can make this space their own- they can play games and have parties in here. The second part of the business is our brewery, which can be seen from the bar. We’re essentially running a factory, and the third component is our distribution network. My partner Samantha leads up our front of house and events and marketing, her husband Stephen runs our production, and I’m on the distribution side. The distribution side is where we see the eventual growth of the business. Right now we want to be partnering with the buyers right next door to us. We wanted to start local and get things right in the neighborhood and the city first.
When did you guys start the company, and how has it evolved since?
We opened in February of 2016, so we just turned 2 years old. We opened as a draft only business where we were only selling to retail accounts that had direct lines to some bars. Right now we're in the process of expanding our packaging so people can bring our beer home with them in cans, and we do some specialty bottles as well. So the heart of the business is very much the same. We're trying to build the community around our beer and make a really approachable, clean beer that people can enjoy. But we're just trying to make it easier for people to bring that home with them and bring it into different parts of their life than necessarily going out to a bar to see Hopewell. People are always going to throw parties and have barbecues, and we want our beer to be a part of that.
So why beer?
It's easy when everybody loves beer. The three partners, me, Samantha, and Stephen got interested in beer together while in college at Illinois. Stephen was the first one who was really into it and then kind of brought us in. But it's an easy thing to like and a lot of people can see that. And we’re like, “we like beer, let's start a brewery.” So we tried to take it one step further and think: What kind of business do we want to own? We think of ourselves more as small business owners than brewers. Anyone can make beer and it’s a lot of fun on the homebrewing scale. But we're a beer production company; we’re a sales company; we’re a hospitality company, and we try to really bring our values into all of those as we tell our story. The whole point of the brand is to be accessible and approachable to everyone. Craft beer can be an insular community. It doesn't bring new people in very well. And I love those brands too. But we're we're trying to be the brewery in Logan Square where people who don't “drink beer” come in and find something that they really like.
How do you decide which beers to make?
With any beer that we make, we bring in the whole team. Jake, our brand manager, Samantha, Steven and I think about what we want from a new beer. And we always aim for something that’s clean and bright and inviting. With any style that we're making, we're not so much focused on the tradition of that style, but rather our interpretation of it, which is probably why I end up liking all of our beers. It also kind of opens us up to not being shackled to tradition.
We have a new beer out right now called Clover Club. We actually worked on it with some local businesses- The Whistler, a cocktail bar on our street, and Letherbee Distillers in Chicago. It's based on the classic clover club cocktail, which has gin and raspberries. So we used a kettle sour base, added gin botanicals that we worked on with Letherbee, and added raspberry puree into the finish. It doesn't really sound like a beer when you mention all those ingredients, but when you drink it it's really nice and dry. There's a slight tannic bite. It's a really balanced cohesive statement of a beer, and that's how we try to approach all of the beers that we make.
Before we started Hopewell, we said the best compliment we could get is someone ordering the same beer back-to-back. We started as a draft-only company, and no one is going to buy a whole keg of something if you can’t drink more than a pint of it. Interestingly, to make light bodied crisp beer with a lot of flavor is very difficult. I think that the mark of a good brewery is a good lager because it's really tough to produce something that’s light, but full of flavor.
Is that something you guys have tried to hone here?
Yeah, but we like to play in the big crazy beer world too. We have a barleywine, we've done a Belgian, and we'll do some really hopped-up wild stuff, but our core beers that we have year round are beers that we really want to get behind. It's all about restraint and it's all about balance and how you’re going to make that a really interesting beverage. We try to find complexity and balance, rather than something you sip once and know exactly what the main flavor is.
If you could collaborate on a beer with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
Well hometown hero Chance the Rapper would be really awesome to collaborate with just. We're all fans of him and he seems to be doing some really cool stuff in the city.
What does Hopewell do best?
I think what we're doing really well right now is building a community around our beer. We just celebrated our second anniversary and threw a little party and it was just really great to see everybody come out. People were here playing games, people really make this space their own and interacting with Hopewell. We want our fans to feel ownership over our brand.
Where does that name Hopewell come from?
Hopewell is a word that we found when we were looking for words that were intrinsically Midwest. So there's actually an archaeologist with the last name Hopewell, and he discovered a lot of stuff around the Great Lakes area. But the main thing for us is that “Hopewell” puts two really positive words right next to each other. It’s a nice sounding name with no meaning attached to it, so we can kind of make it our own.
What other companies serve as inspiration for what you do?
That’s a really good question. We definitely look up to a lot of our local companies. We like the spots that Land and Sea Dept. is building--community spots where people spend parts of their life. A third space. We also go to a ton of shows at Thalia Hall. I think that's one of the best venues in the city. Plus it has a Michelin-starred restaurant attached!
How is your industry changing and how are you adapting?
There are definitely a lot more breweries this year than there were last year, and there were two years ago. There's going to continue to be more breweries opening up because it's a “cool” industry to be in. We are adapting by making sure that we're doubling down on brand design and that our quality is always top notch.
If you could give advice to Jonathan from five years ago what would it be?
Backup all your pictures. I've lost a lot of digital pictures with every new phone I get. That’d be my main advice. Opening a business is a stressful thing to do, but it's great to be doing it with an awesome team. I'm glad that I'm working with my friends. Keep working harder. And backup the pictures. (Laughs)