Fenton Grads Set to Open Community Supported Brewery in Chicago
Kevin Cary and Matt Ritchey said business will have local focus, something they learned in Fenton.
Beer doesn’t grow on trees or sprout up from the ground.
But that’s not going to stop a couple of 2002 Fenton High School graduates from opening a community supported agriculture-type brewery in a small Chicago neighborhood.
Fenton natives Kevin Cary and Matt Ritchey, both 27, plan to open Argyle Brewing Company next spring, but instead of a bar, restaurant or tavern, the brewery will have members who commit to a monthly subscription to a variety of beers.
“We take part in CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and farmers markets here in Chicago, and we had talked about opening a full scale brewery, so we carried over the idea to a community supported brewery,” Cary said. “We are going to try and approach it that way. The cost is lower and we can start smaller.”
They will open the business with another friend, Brendan Blume, 24, of Chicago, who owns a Pedicab Company in the city.
The business model is possible after Illinois passed a self-distribution law in the spring.
“Now we can sell it right out our front door,” Cary said.
That front door will be in front of a 4,400 square foot facility in the re-invented Ravenswood Corridor, a former industrial complex on the north side of Chicago, now serving as home for many businesses.
Cary said the square footage is much more than is needed, but it's the location the group wants. So they plan to split it down the middle and lease half of the space as a studio for local artists.
“We want to focus on the local idea. We want to try and support as local as we can,” Cary said. “It’s cool how much of local economy there is in a big city like Chicago.”
That small town feel and focus was something learned in Fenton, Cary and Ritchey said.
“We always shopped at VG’s and stayed local,” Cary said. “We want to model ourselves and promote that small town community feel we learned in Fenton. That’s where it started.”
“Growing up we realized the value of community,” Ritchey said. “I’d go to places like Taylor Hardware and appreciate the service and the people.”
Cary learned to homebrew in 2005 after becoming fond of Michigan craft beers. It was Ritchey, however, who took brewing to the next level.
“For me it was a cross between cooking and science class,” he said. “It just kind of clicked. The more I learned the more I liked it. I spent the last three years reading about brewing. I love it.”
“He was making spectacular beers. One day I said ‘what do you think about starting a brewery?’ I’ve been half planning it in my mind for seven years,” Cary said.
The next step for the group is to apply for licenses before they move ahead with their plans. The group is in the planning stages for building, architectural and engineering design work. They expect to begin construction in late January. The group plans to open in the late spring or early summer of 2012.
"Currently we are spreading the good word about our project, meeting our new neighbors and working on purchasing equipment," Cary said. "We are continuing to tweak recipes and prepare them for commercial release, which means lots of free beer for our friends."