After patiently waiting for its federal and state licensing, Company Brewing located at 735 E. Center St. in the former Stonefly Brewing Company space, is finally on track to begin brewing. Even better, the brewpub expects to host a soft opening mid-month and be ready to go for the public by late April.
Co-owner, George Bregar, started out as so many brewers do, by home-brewing. For years, he developed his own recipes, eventually sharing a percentage with his former employer, Colectivo Coffee, and assisting them to start their own beer brand.
But, ultimately, Bregar wanted his own brewery. He spent months thinking of a name – something that didn’t violate his own personal set of rules for naming a brewery – namely, no peoples’ names, no animals, no places.
"I was actually driving on 94, and the name just came into my head," he says. "The word ‘company’ is really ubiquitous. It’s at the end of so many names… such and such coffee company, brewing company. I really liked the idea of putting it first. At the same time, beer is also a social beverage. It should be consumed in company."
Bregar also became fairly sure that he wanted to go the way of a brewpub, rather than just establishing a brewery. But, he knew he’d need a strong partner for the food component.
"I knew that I wanted a level of food that really had the capacity to complement the beer," he says. "And that would require someone who really knew flavors."
He reached out to Karen Bell, owner of Bavette La Boucherie in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, hoping she’d have suggestions for someone with whom he might partner.
"As we started talking, I made some suggestions for who he could work with," says Bell. "But, the more we talked, the more interested I became. I knew it would be crazy to try to take it on, but I didn’t know if I wanted to let the opportunity to let it pass by."
At the time, Bell says, she was expanding the café menu at Bavette, and in doing so, she realized how much she missed the process of being involved in the planning for a restaurant.
"It was really appealing to think about doing a full-on restaurant," she says. "And it was exciting to think about having an open slate."
So, the two began a series of brainstorming sessions, most of which took place while sipping cans of LaCroix pamplemousse.
"It got to be a little bit of an obsession," says Bell.
Bregar agrees. "When we got together and started to finish the business plan, we’d always drink a pamplemousse. And it got to the point where, before we started anything, I’d be like ‘"Wait a second, don’t say anything. We have to open a pamplemousse first.’’
The habit got so ingrained, they decided they had to capture it on the beer menu.
"I’ve never really been one to do too many fruity beers," says Bregar. "I like yeast, hops, barley, malt. But, we decided we had to do a grapefruit beer to keep the good juju going. The beer is called Pomp and Pamplemousse, and it’s a double IPA style with grapefruit."
Bregar says the beer will be one of a number of core styles offered by the brewpub, along with four to six additional rotating beers.
"We’ll have some guest taps," he says. "But, ultimately, the plan will be to have 10-12 different styles of beer on tap at a given time, with things rotating out all the time."
What ends up on the menu, Bregar notes, will depend in part on creativity, and in part by what people respond to. And, when it comes to the food side, he says they’re keeping things simple.
"’Quality nourishment’ is a sort of slogan we’ve been using," he says. "And I know that might sound like we’re underselling, to a point; but, it’s really about serving the kind of food that’s genuinely good to eat."
According to Bell, the menu will depart from the stereotypical bar-type fare. There won’t be a lot of deep-fried items, and the emphasis won’t be on sandwiches. But, she says, there will be a fairly wide selection of offerings, including sausages, charcuterie and bar snacks, along with a selection of fish, vegetable and meat dishes.
"We’re not doing small plates," she says. "But, the items will all be things people can choose to share, or not."
There will also be notable amount of collaboration when it comes to matching the beer with food.
"I’m actually a wine drinker," says Bell. "But, interestingly, the food I create lends itself much better to pairing with beer. I use a lot of acidity, and stronger flavors – both which tend to pair better with beer. And it’s been a lot of fun to think about the possibilities. You have a bit more room to play, to experiment."
In keeping with Bell’s nose-to-tail philosophy – which places sustainability at the helm -- diners can expect to see a wide range of meat cuts represented, including flat-iron steaks, cod cheeks and the like.
Diners may see options like the "trotter tot" – a croquette made from potatoes and the rich, mellow meat gleaned from pigs’ feet.
"One thing that we’d like to do is to offer some family style options, which could be ordered for two or more," she says.
Bregar and Bell envision an environment that serves not only as a neighborhood bar, but also a destination to visit for great food and beer, as well as entertainment. So, music will continue to be a part of the equation.
"This building has a long history as a music venue," says Bregar. "Some great bands have played here. Sharon Jones and the Dapp Kings played here. TV on the Radio… And we feel as if it’s our duty to keep that going -- that it’s been passed on to us."
Ultimately, it all rolls back to the name, says Bregar.
"Company Brewing," he says, "It’s what we are. We want to keep it front of mind here that, we make great food and beer – but also that we want to build a great company. We want to take care of our people. The mission statement is right in the name."
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.