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Big Woods Restaurant Group goes big with new breweries

An interview with Jeff McCabe, co-founder and executive chairman of Big Woods Restaurant Group.

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Big Woods Restaurant Group goes big with new breweries

COVID-19 is not preventing one the Big Woods Restaurant Group (BWQOHT) from forging ahead with openings and new construction.

Up in Noblesville, Big Woods Hazel Dell, had its grand opening on June 26, 2020, as the seventh location under the Big Woods Restaurants umbrella. 

Down in Nashville, there is also news.

Quaff ON! Brewing Co., which began operations in 2012, plans to relocate and build a new 20,000-square-foot brewery at Hard Truth Hills. Construction is expected to begin in the spring 2021.  Beer production and tours will start fall 2021.

Quaff ON! is one of three brands within BWQOHT that also includes Big Woods and Hard Truth Distilling Co. Currently, Quaff ON! beers and Hard Truth Distilling Co. spirits are distributed at more than 2,000 locations throughout Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky as well as all seven Big Woods restaurant locations, according to the news release.

The Original Big Woods opened in Nashville in 2009, with an imposing Alpine decor and a brewing and kitchen operation best described as modest.  It continues to offer a menu of elevated comfort food. Big Woods Hard Truth Hills (Nashville) also offers a brewpub menu; and Big Woods Pizza Co. (Nashville) offers pizza, sandwiches and salads. The Big Woods Restaurants in Bloomington, Speedway, Hazel Dell (Noblesville) and Franklin offer both the brewpub and pizza menus.

I reached out to Jeff McCabe, co-founder and executive chairman of BWQOHT Inc., for an email interview:

RITA KOHN: Big Woods, from its beginning in 2009, has emphasized its “soft imprint” upon the environment within its brewing program. 

The news release cites: “As a company, BWQOHT Inc. is mindful of their environmental footprint and how production waste is disposed of. The new Quaff ON! brewery will include a spent grain system, which makes it easier for the local farmers they partner with to receive the used grains. In addition, the system allows for cleaner and more efficient operations for the environment.”

What is that trajectory? 

JEFF MCCABE:  Our spent grains are all used to feed cattle.  We are in the design phase for our new brewery and we intend to take advantage of 'best practices'  in the craft brewing industry.  Being able to start with a clean sheet of paper (rather than updating the existing location) gives us 'flexibility and possibility' as we think about what a 'soft imprint' means.

KOHN: Planned growth to build community has been essential to the original Big Woods philosophy. What's the story of the arc of locations and brands, from the 'Alpine' element in Nashville, to strategic spots around central Indiana.  What's happening at the 'mothership' in Nashville?

MCCABE:  Great questions.  We take great satisfaction in building an enterprise and a culture that reflects our interests and values. We have always believed there can be great synergy between our restaurants, our brewery, our distillery and our 'destination’- Hard Truth Hills.  We think we're in the experience business.  We look to engage our customers in all kinds of ways. 

Nashville?  We have had thousands of visitors at  “The Original”,  at Big Woods Pizza and at Hard Truth Hills.  We had people who were just looking for a bite to eat or a chance to enjoy a beer or a cocktail while listening to live music at our outdoor venue.  We had two sessions of Camp QUAFF, our adult day camp for beer lovers.  We ran our still at Shiner's Creek with a group of guests who had a chance to reconnect with old friends, eat some venison stew and go home with some “shine” that they helped make! 

Regarding our expansion into other towns, other venues … We are entrepreneurs.  When we see an opportunity that can help us extend our reach in a way that supports what we're trying to do with our brands, we run it through a series of hurdles to determine if it really makes sense.  We love working with folks who  have the same kind of passion and commitment to their business and community that we do.  The town of Speedway is a great example.  Our location in Speedway continues to evolve, just as the community of Speedway does.

KOHN: Outstanding food and sprightly service have been the constant companions, first with craft beer and then with the addition of craft spirits. What’s the compelling culinary experience?

MCCABE:  “Organoleptic” is the word we use a lot when we talk about the culinary experience we're trying to achieve.  We want to appeal to all senses.  We tend to use natural ingredients, natural flavors to achieve the experience we want.  We like to 'surprise and delight' with new offerings and specials that support the core offerings.

KOHN: From its 'small start' Big Woods has been a family endeavor--from imagination to image; what of that continues?

MCCABE: We're all still involved in the business, and we're all still friends! The way the founders work together is, in large part, the way we hope the entire team will work together.  

KOHN: What has been most amazing? Most challenging to make all the effort worthwhile?

MCCABE: For the last few years, we've been learning how to translate our original vision, culture, ethos to a much larger enterprise in a scalable way.  It has been a fascinating experience for my partners and me to see folks join us in this enterprise, to bring their own experiences and to embrace what we're doing.  Our most recent experience in 're-imagining' the Original has been very rewarding.  It’s amazing to see this new team take our original brewpub and make it their own in a way that values its beginnings and looks to the future at the same time.

KOHN: What else? Yes, NUVO and I have been with you on this journey from when that teeny tiny operation hit the Nashville scene...and the beer caught up with the food ...and both became a destination.

MCCABE:  Rita, you have been with us every step of the way.  You and a whole lot of other wonderful people are at the heart of our experience.  We are going to keep on looking for ways to surprise and delight folks and to please ourselves along the way.

By moving the brewing company to our destination distillery campus, we now have a one-of-a-kind facility in southern Indiana with unforgettable experiences for our visitors. Everything from Big Woods at Hard Truth Hills, craft spirits and craft beer are all made onsite. Our main priority has always been to wow our guests, and this move will take our offerings at Hard Truth Hills to the next level.

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