While their newly opened business is the latest in a rapidly growing franchise, the husband and wife owners of Craft Beer Cellar, located at 120 Ouachita Ave., have made it clear their venture is a family affair and they want to extend that feeling of community and family to their customers.
Justin and Jen Schalow held their grand opening Oct. 1 for their retail craft beer bottle shop and taproom which is part of the Craft Beer Cellar franchise started by Justin Schalow’s sister, Suzanne Schalow, in Boston in 2010. The franchise now has 45 stores in various stages of development, with the Hot Springs store the 26th to open.
Jen Schalow, a therapist at Therapeutic Family Services, said coming to their store to relax and enjoy some of the huge variety of craft beers they offer can be “a form of therapy,” noting, “People go into therapy looking for someone to solve their problems, but come out feeling better just having someone to talk to. That is the atmosphere we hope to create here. People can come in and just fellowship and talk with each other and build relationships.”
It was a long journey that took the Schalows from their native Hot Springs around the world and finally back home, developing a love of craft beer during their travels.
Jen Schalow said she and her husband met while they were both in high school, she at Lake Hamilton and he at Lakeside. “My best friend was dating his best
friend and they introduced us on his farm,” she said, noting Justin Schalow’s family operated Humphrey’s Dairy Farm.
“He was helping a cow have a calf and I thought he was the weirdest person,” she said, laughing. “We started being friends and it led to more.” The couple married shortly after graduation and he enlisted in the U.S. Army. While they were stationed in Boston, she got her degree in psychology and criminology at a satellite campus from the University of Maryland on the base.
Justin’s stint in the military took them to Germany and they eventually “traveled all over,” going to places such as Amsterdam, Paris, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic, discovering all the “wonderful” beers they had to offer.
“With the culture and lifestyle there, people just have beer or wine with whatever they’re doing,” she said. “That kind of sparked our love for it and our desire for the different flavors. It was an amazing experience. We were over there for four years so we tried a lot of beers.”
She said the appeal of craft beer is “it is so much richer in flavor than your average beer, it’s not mass produced. I just love the passion that goes into it. These brewers are artists. When you’re traveling Europe and meeting these people who are making this beer and you’re hearing their stories and all the passion that goes into what they do. You kind of get taken away by it. It really created that passion within us.”
After Justin left the military, they ended up settling in Atlanta for awhile, where he went into the seminary to do church planning for the North American
Mission Board. After completing his internship, they decided to move
back to Hot Springs and join his sister’s franchise. “She had wanted to open one in her hometown and we wanted to come back home,” she said. “We love beer and we love people so it was a win-win situation.”
Suzanne Schalow said she and her partner never planned to have a franchise, but having spent 12 years in the restaurant business in Boston they “needed a break” and decided to open a beer store. “I just wanted to get away from the restaurant business for a little bit, to refocus.”
She said they opened their first craft beer cellar and stressed, “This was no dreamed up business school, five years in the planning, kind of deal. This was pure happenstance.” She said they opened the store and were “having a lot of fun,” so about six or eight months in they opened a second store, but soon realized “we were never going to be able to give the love and attention to that store that we did with the original.”
So they sold the store and soon ended up starting the franchise. “I didn’t know anything about running a franchise, but I did some research. Talked to some business people. There’s a lot of crazy stuff out there, but we decided to try it. We figured there was only one way to do it, find those other people like us passionate about craft beer.”
She said the rise in the craft beer industry grew out of the organic movement, where restaurants were offering “farm-to-table” choices for the customers who “care about the food going into their body.” She said it was inevitable that the option of “farm to glass” would come along, starting in the wine industry and then spreading to the beer world.
Suzanne said it’s slowly catching on in Arkansas, noting in Boston and Portland, Ore. and other places the percentage of beer drinkers drinking craft beer is 30 to 35 percent, while in Arkansas it’s still around 7 percent so “we’re a little behind here.” She said Jen and Justin “have done a great job of putting together a selection of beers people have never seen before. It will blow them away I think.”
Jen Schalow said, “It’s about pairing the person with the right beer,” and that people, especially some women, who think they don’t like beer can find something they like with all the varieties they offer.
She said in keeping with their plan to make Craft Beer Cellar a fun place to hang out, they are going to have different event nights, such as movie night, trivia night, poetry night, a social painting night put on by a local artist and educational classes on Thursdays or “beer geek classes.”
“It’s going to be great. We’re all passionate about people here. What’s pushing the beer is our love for people.”