WEST JEFFERSON-Toiling away last week in a gray t-shirt drenched in sweat, Gary Brown might not always look like a man who’s at the forefront of the state’s surging craft brewing industry.
But Brown, the founder and owner of the Ashe County-based Boondocks Brewing brand, is on pace to top $2 million in sales this year between his downtown restaurant and brewery.
Not bad for a guy who wasn’t completely sure he was ready to open his own venture after taking early retirement just a little more than three years ago.
“When people heard I planned to open a craft brewery and a restaurant in West Jefferson, I heard the term ‘crazy’ a lot, along with ‘that’ll never work,” Brown said. “I don’t hear that as often these days.”
And while Brown is joined by a handful of micro-brewery businesses across the High Country, he’s likely the only one that currently calls Ashe County home.
30 year love affair
Brown first began experimenting with brewing his own beer in the early 1980s, and said he fell in love with the art and craft that comes with producing your own suds.
He dreamed of one day launching his own brewery while still holding down his day job as an IT specialist for RBC Centura.
His opportunity finally came in 2012 when RBC was bought by PNC Financial Services. He opted for early retirement instead of transferring to PNC’s Pittsburgh, PA-headquarters, and moved to Ashe County, where he’d had a vacation home for years.
That same year he took over the property that Fraser’s once called home and set about transforming the space into a combination restaurant and brewery. That included adding a second bar to the restaurant in 2013, and later unveiling an outdoor covered “Boondeck” that allowed for comfortable outdoor dining.
“It’s about taking great beer and great food and combining it with the best service we can provide,” Brown said. “If we do that, we really think we’re going to create something that visitors are going to love and locals are proud to call their hometown spot.”
Drawing people to downtown
But Brown expanded his brand further last year after taking over the spot once owned by Geno’s.
He spent more than $200,000 to convert the space into a larger craft brewery that allowed him to more than double his monthly beer output but more importantly, host larger events like wedding receptions and even theatrical productions.
And Brown said he’s got further plans for the Boondocks brand that he hopes will draw other visitors to downtown.
By next spring, he’ll launch an outdoor beer garden near the current Boondeck, that’ll feature space for games, and an additional 100-square foot covered deck on the top of the brewery building.
For the foreseeable future, Brown said he’s not focused on outside distribution of his beer, but creating a business that’s interesting enough to bring visitors downtown and comfortable enough to keep locals coming back every weekend.
“If we can do that, we’ll reach every goal I’ve set for this place,” Brown said.
Reach Adam Orr at 704-869-1819 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr