December 19th, 2008
How Squatters brew pub helped to revitalize downtown Salt Lake City and helped Utahns appreciate great beer.
by Richard Markosian & Jonny Glines edited by Kathleen Callen
If there could be a theme song for Squatters in Salt Lake City, it would be Frank Sinatra's "I Did It My Way." In 1989, the only thriving businesses in central downtown Salt Lake were the local heroin trade and prostitution. The 300 South and 200 West neighborhood was, according to Squatter's founder Peter Cole, "a red light district." When Cole and Jeff Polychronis decided to locate Squatters, their new brew pub, in the area, they were confident that their way would work.
"We didn't think about the downside, we thought about what could be," Cole said. "If we would have thought about all the other things, we probably never would have done it."
The Salt Lake Redevelopment Agency had been working on sidewalks, apartment buildings and the Sheraton Hotel in attempts to revitalize downtown. The agency was thrilled by news of Squatters' opening and the infusion of life it and vitality it would bring to the area.
"The city was putting a large effort in revitalization and we were just west of what was going on," said Cole,"We got tremendous support from the city."
Peter Cole and Jeff Polychronis were commercial real-estate agents who saw the tide rising for micro-brew-pubs offering locally brewed beer. While traveling around the United States the pair were drinking beer at one of their favorite spots in Oregon when they agreed they should do the same thing in Salt Lake City. They then toured the West from brew-pub to brew-pub, analyzing what made the most popular ones work. They designed Squatters based on the best of what they saw in each place. At that time, there were very few choices when it came to beer. There were no local brands offered in the supermarkets, just the big macro-brewery beers.
"There was a massive vacuum created, and nobody really realized it," said Cole. "We were all in America drinking very similar styles of beer, with a few of these imports."
After prohibition became federal law, there were very few breweries in the United States that didn't sell their factories to other enterprises. After prohibition finally ended, the macro breweries that retained their factories (such as Anheuser Bush and Coors) were very well received by a buying public, thirsty for any decent drinkable beer. Former beggars aren't often choosers, so the rise of brand names such as Budweiser, Coors, Pabst and Milwaukee's Best was swift and strong. Their production capacity and lower prices were unmatched by smaller breweries. However, in the past 25 years, Americans have become increasingly selective about their beer.
"We saw a fall-out in the industry and now we're seeing sort of a resurgence where people are beginning to make great beer and the demand for this great beer is getting higher and higher," said Squatters' Brew-master Jennifer Talley.
Squatters Brew pub on Broadway and 249 West.
"Once that happened, I think that people realized that there were all manners of beer that existed. Many people had traveled around the world, so they knew this," added Peter. "I think people kind of welcomed this with open arms. It was kind of like being brought up on wonder bread and all sudden a bakery opened on the corner near your house."
Thanks to the demand for quality, Squatters has realized incredible success from day-one of their operations. Their humble beginnings are a far cry from where they are today. Cole describes their first day in operations:
"It was overwhelming, to say we were gratified is a massive understatement, people were thrilled to get a fresh handcrafted beer in Salt Lake City, so we were very lucky the response was great we ran out of beer several times in the first few months and we had to order additional brewery tanks," said Cole. He managed the beer production and had brewing kettles designed from drawings, working with a local steel fabricator. Cole's initial design offered the capacity to produce merely 10 kegs per week with one person brewing beer full-time. They have since expanded their capacity, now producing 28 barrels or 56 kegs per week in their downtown location, which supplies the Squatters downtown as well as their Park City and airport locations.
Besides this they also have their Utah Brewers Cooperative, which produces 105 thousand bottles per week. But now they have even outgrown the capacity of the co-op. They are currently looking to expand their capacity by purchasing more sophisticated bottling and labeling equipment from Germany. So, will Squatters ever grow out of being a micro-brew? According to brew master Jennifer Talley this won't happen any time soon. Despite their output of 25,000 barrels per year they can be classified as a small regional brewery, but the micro-brew designation will remains for years to come.
As Squatters has expanded, they could have gone the easiest route by getting the most accessible ingredients for the lowest price, but they decided to do it their way again. They have always maintained a "triple bottom line approach" to doing business -- people, planet, profit. Their commitment is first and foremost to their customers and their employees; next, to doing business in a way that isn't going to damage the planet, and then to realize profit. Squatters even has a full-time employee, James Soares, who is dedicated to fulfilling this mission.
"The owners always had that philosophy [people, planet, profit] there was just no economic model to it. I was able to bring their formula to practice," said Soares.
Squatters purchases its beef from local ranchers so that the meat travels less distance and arrives fresher. Squatters makes sure the restaurant is as green as possible, from their waterless urinals to recycling. They also reassemble the menu every six months to review and reassess the best foods according to customers needs and desires.
"That has become our soul, and it's been really hard to see this transformation," said Jennifer. "We've become organically certified as a brewery. It's our mission statement and we try to implement it whenever we can."
James says that the triple bottom line approach doesn't always transfer into profits. But with time, they hope to create a market for eco-friendly food, merchandise and beer.This way restaurants and homeowners can buy the goods that least impact the environment while costing less. Their formula seems to work, not just in Utah but on a national level as well. Squatters is known nation-wide for its flavorful beers. Jennifer says that Utah's the forced limitation on the alcohol content in beers has made her concentrate on drink-ability, which is Squatters primary focus.
"I think the most innovative thing we've done here is the "Fifth Element," which is our Belgium inspired farmhouse ale that I aged down in oak barrels for six months. It took me a year to make the beer," Jennifer said. "It was the best experience I've had in the industry and we reaped the rewards, because we won an award at the Great American Beer Festival for that beer." Squatters racked up the awards and learned along the way.
Jeff and Jennifer say the Macro brewing industry is like a club. Everyone helps each other along away by sharing information, while still maintaining a competitive drive for greatness.
Much like Utah's liquor laws, Squatters has come a long way since its creation. Its award-winning brews, eco-friendly establishment and unique history make it more than just a local bar and restaurant. Much like Utah's liquor laws, Squatters has come a long way since its creation. Its award-winning brews, eco-friendly establishment and unique history make it more than just a local bar and restaurant. Squatters spawned a craft brewing culture most would never imagine belonged in Salt Lake City.