THE BEER BEAT: Ted, Shannon, their businesses, and what happens when creative exuberance meets that immovable capitalist object.

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Circa 2011.


“It took us way too long to get the restaurant open.” For businesses to operate on these razor-thin margins and to be able to compete is [difficult]. For us right now, the best thing was just to get out.”

— Ted Miller

I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry.

Brugge Brasserie is safe and sound, though there have been tumultuous times for Ted and Shannon, owners of the Broad Ripple shrine to the wonders of Belgian steak frites and ale.

They’ve been compelled by reality to make a difficult business decision regarding Outliers Brewing and The Owner’s Wife, their newer ventures on Mass Ave. in Indianapolis.

Characteristically, they’ve done so with honesty, humor and grace. It’ll all be good in the end, and I’d give them both a hug if they’d let me — it’s an unprecedented one-time offer coming from a curmudgeon like me — but we’re 110 miles apart, and it’ll have to wait.

I love these guys, so indulge me while I offer pertinent background. The story goes something like this …

Shannon and Ted are Broad Ripple neighborhood kids and have been an item seemingly forever. Ted learned to brew at Broad Ripple Brewing during the early 1990s, then they traveled around the fringes of our planet (Seattle, Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China) while Ted worked as a brewer and brewery consultant/installer.

The family moved back to Indianapolis for the children to attend school, and opened Brugge Brasserie in 2005, pioneering the notion of Belgian-style ale brewed right here in Indiana’s state capital, while in the process vending ton after ton of Prince Edward Island mussels accompanied by Southern Idaho’s yearly aggregate production in frites.

Around 2012, discussions began about a brand expansion, to be located near the burgeoning Massachusetts Avenue district, running just northeast from Indy’s Monument Circle epicenter.

There’d be a new brewery called Outliers, dedicated to providing American beer styles (IPA, Rye, Brown) as well as a Pilsner, thereby balancing and complementing the Brugge Brasserie range of Belgian ales.

out·li·er

ˈoutˌlīər

noun

a person or thing situated away or detached from the main body or system.

It wasn’t the first such experiment. Previously, Ted had taken over a moribund brewery in Terre Haute and dabbled in developing new brews. For various reasons, it didn’t stick. At least the new Outliers would be situated closer to home, just a few miles south of Broad Ripple, and it would be accompanied by a restaurant called The Owner’s Wife.

That’s a humorous reference to patrons in attendance never bothering to learn Shannon’s name.

Photo credit: NUVO.

For those having the opportunity to witness Shannon and Ted working together as a team for all these years, the punning juxtaposition was all the more humorous.

According to a press release the menu will feature “House-cured meats, homemade cheeses, conservas-style canned-fish and an assortment of freshly brewed vinegars.” As with Brugge’s menu when it arrived in 2006, this reads as a foray into a popular European style of cuisine that is rarely seen in America and is non-existent in Indiana.

By late 2013, Outliers was brewing for outside distribution, taps eagerly waiting at Brugge Brasserie, and in the brewery’s own taproom. Speaking for myself, I liked these beers. In recent months, dawdling through the creation of a business plan for a small pub hereabouts, I labeled one file the “Outliers Plan,” which called for me begging Ted to make his beers the fixed basis for my new/old operation.

Meanwhile, the buildout for The Owner’s Wife was delayed. There were historical preservation and code-based issues, and one thing led to another. A whole three years passed before the restaurant finally debuted in February, 2017.

The Owner’s Wife: Best New Restaurants 2017 winner (Indianapolis Monthly)

The long-awaited dining component to Ted Miller’s Outliers Brewing Company debuted in late winter, a low-pressure beer hall with high exposed ceilings, deep wooden booths, and plenty of industrial character.

It was a shock when just two days ago, on June 3, The Owner’s Wife and Outliers both closed.

Mass Ave restaurant, craft brewery set for closure, by Carley Lanich (Indianapolis Business Journal)

… Miller said the downtown operations were no longer financially worth the long hours put in by he and his wife, Shannon Stone.

“Even if sales were double what they are, the return on investment on this is just too far out there,” Miller told IBJ on Friday. “We decided it was probably better just to … sell it and get what we can back out of it, and go back to doing what we’ve been doing” …

… “It’s a hard decision for us because we did work really hard and came up with all these really great ideas,” Miller said, adding no one should feel sorry for him. “Me and Shannon are doing great. Our quality of life is going up.”

Ted elaborates.

Owner’s Wife to close in downtown Indy; New concept coming to upstairs at Brugge, by Jolene (Eat Drink Indy)

 … “We’re closing everything downtown,” he said. “The brewery. The restaurant. It’s a smart decision.”

It’s a good decision, he said, even though “people, including us, are going to lose a bunch of money on this deal. And we’ve had very long conversations with Eli (Schloss), our partner, about losing a bunch of money.”

But they’re still friends, he said.

“It’s a business decision that we’re not throwing any more good money after bad,” he said. “It’s time to sell it, get what we’ve got and move on with our lives.”

“I think this is going to be good for us,” Miller said, “even though it’s kind of sad because we put so many hours and so many dollars. And the place is good. Just not enough people came.”

Let’s take another look.

“It’s a business decision that we’re not throwing any more good money after bad,” he said. “It’s time to sell it, get what we’ve got and move on with our lives.”

I admire Ted and Shannon tremendously, and consider myself fortunate to have made their acquaintance during my time in the beer business. They’ve had plenty of crazy ideas, as with Brugge Brasserie itself, which almost no one “got” until they went there and buried their faces in mussels, stews, crepes and ale.

But of all those qualities for which I might praise them, their brutal realism tops the list, even when delivered with a spoonful of sugar in the form of self-deprecation and wisecracks. After all, food and drink businesses come and go. It’s candor that remains in short supply.

I’ve had my own too-lengthy rendezvous with the hard lesson that dining and drinking establishments are businesses. I’ve chosen a form of professional self-abnegation because of my allergic reaction to the pain of it.

Whether a bank, your silent partner or an original location’s confiscated profits, there comes a point when realism simply must intrude into the conversation. Others may be scratching their heads at Ted’s and Shannon’s decision, as with a few of Pat Hagan’s moves in Louisville this year, all of which have gone toward improving his bottom line for future strength.

Not me.

It’s true that seeing creative and tasty dreams punctured is like losing a close friend, even a family member, but contrary to appearances, money doesn’t grow on trellises.

And as Shannon and Ted understand, their lives are likely to get better as a result. If only I could persuade former current business partners of the merits of this healthy approach to the real world.

Condolences and congratulations to my friends in Indianapolis. You’ll be needing both. We’d planned on a visit in late August while in town for a show. Now it seems unlikely I can wait that long for a Brugge Brasserie fix, although no promises about the life span of those proposed hugs.

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