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Barbecue entrepreneur brewing up a new project

BY CATHY JETT

VIRGINIA Barbeque’s founder is turning a hobby into a new business.

Rick Ivey, who started the restaurant chain in 2000, recently converted his Ladysmith location into the first of what could become a chain of Hops Brew Shops. It caters to people who are interested in making their own beer.

Ivey and his 20-year-old son Austin started brewing the beverage on the family’s 17-acre farm in Partlow about a year and a half ago. Ivey was interested in it as a hobby, but Austin, who wasn’t even old enough to drink at the time, became fascinated by the details of the process.

Father and son decided to capitalize on the growing interest in home-brewing, and scouted the handful of stores in Virginia that sell supplies for that market.

“We found some things we liked, and some we didn’t,” Ivey said.

One of those things they disliked was that none of the stores explained the process to people just getting started. So their first Hops Brew Shop, which is in the former Virginia Barbeque at 18043 Jefferson Davis Highway, includes a mini-home-brewery setup in addition to home-brewing supplies.

“People are spending $100 to get started, and they’re not sure how to do it or how the beer is going to come out,” Ivey said. “That was our goal, to take what we found was an issue with brew shops and teach people how to brew beer.”

Hops Brew Shop will have a free, in-store demonstration of brewing techniques around noon this Saturday.

People have been brewing small batches of beer at home since the dawn of agriculture. Today, there are an estimated 1 million home-brewers and 1,000 home-brew clubs in the United States, according to the American Homebrewers Association.

Hops Brew Shop’s website, hopsbrewstore.com, lists 14 home-brew clubs in Virginia. Two are local: Fredericksburg Area R T Brew Club and Fredericksburg Brewing & Tasting Society.

“I think that’s new,” Ivey said. “It used to be that everyone did this on their own. Now they’re getting into clubs and sharing and learning from each other.”

Ivey credits microbreweries and the craft-beer movement for boosting home-brewing’s popularity.

“People that home-brew don’t brew Bud Light,” he said. “They definitely brew in the more craft-style, and make different, unique beers. That’s what people who brew it are looking for, that high-end experience.”

Austin Ivey, who started working for his dad when he was 13, runs the new store in Ladysmith.

“This is a big jump up for him,” Rick Ivey said. “He seems to be following in the entrepreneurial footsteps.”

Ivey, who parlayed his first Virginia Barbeque in Ashland into a chain of 13 stores in Virginia and four other states, plans to manage the franchise end of the new business.

“We don’t want to franchise it before we run it for at least half a year, but we do have an application on our website,” he said. “We’re only going to take a certified brewer or someone who has been home brewing for years. We really want to have expert brewers in each store so they can teach people instead of just selling equipment.”

Ivey said buying a Hops Brew Shop franchise and all the stock to open it will cost less than $30,000. That’s much less than the $120,000 to $130,000 it costs to open one of his Virginia Barbeque franchises.

“There’s a lot less cost to get in and a lot less risk since most of the money is in the stock of the store,” he said. “It’s not like a restaurant where you can’t hold onto food for months.”

During the next two or three years, the Iveys would like to join the growing number of breweries and brew pubs popping up across the state—34 at last count—by opening a microbrewery on their farm. They’d also draw on their catering background to host weddings and special events there.

“We want to go to the current Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors about this,” Rick Ivey said. “Right now there are some very pro-business supervisors on the board and in July a new rule went into effect to make it easier to open a microbrewery.”

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407

cjett@freelancestar.com

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/business/2012/09/21/barbecue-entrepreneur-brewing-up-a-new-project/