On paper, it makes little sense to acquire a huge loan to start a business, build a 10,000-square-foot address for it, spend thousands on equipment and supplies and then make it a priority to give money away, but that philosophy is working in Wrightsville Beach, where Jud Watkins has turned his inherited passion for oystering into a community-minded brewery with upscale lunch and dinner menu, merchandise shop with quirky items, live music, Saturday yoga and financial support toward 11 local non-profits. And, of course, beer.
"It cost me 87 gray hairs and temporarily selling my soul to the Small Business Administration and a bank for 20 years. Beyond that, it didn't cost much at all," Watkins says.
Wrightsville Beach Brewery--the brainchild of Watkins, his late father, Bruce, and grandfather, Pete--is the result of an idea formed "a long, long time ago in an estuary not that far away." The three men, each an outdoorsman and proponent of protecting coastal waters, realized the New Hanover County coastline had backyard oyster roasts and low-country shrimp boils, but no homemade beer.
The oysters-and-beer pairing sounded good. "My father and grandfather and I always loved that combo, and a few months before my father passed, we said it's a good idea and we have to commit to it," Watkins, 34, says. "Unfortunately, life throws you curves, and he passed away unexpectedly before we came through on that promise."
Watkins followed through, determined to build their dream and help others in the process. The business was incorporated in 2014, and planning plus construction lasted much of 2016. After a setback from Hurricane Matthew, he opened in January 2017. Watkins also followed through on a staple of his upbringing: help others, give back and support your neighbors. "You can't just be a business. You have to be a good member of the community," he says.
The thing that helps them stand out is their marketing strategy, which combines philanthropy, unique products, on-site activities and a general desire to do good.
Each month, one of 11 Wilmington-area organizations --the brewery's non-profit partners--receives 11% of the brewery's proceeds from its Beer of the Month. In December, each non-profit receives 11% of proceeds from every beer sale. September's beneficiary was the Diaper Bank of North Carolina--Lower Cape Fear. For October, it's Good Shepherd, a center that shelters the homeless and provides meals. November will be the Coastal Land Trust.