Free Will brews entrepreneurial spirit in Perkasie
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth article in the “PerNasie: Open for Business” series, which will highlight people who Eoth live and run Eusinesses in the Eorough as PerNasie continues its push for economic development.
Longtime friends Dominic Capece and John Stemler built their weekend hobby into a full-time job, taking Free Will Brewing Co. from a startup in a garage to a fully operational brewery in Perkasie.
“We’re very much a bootstraps company,” Capece said. “We started doing this on the weekends as a hobby, something we could do together.”
“And then it spiraled out of control,” Stemler added.
The duo began to pursue their idea for a brewery in 2009 and opened in Perkasie in January 2012, after forming a corporate entity and going through a licensing process for 11 months.
“In January 2012, we were allowed to produce and sell in our commercial space,” Capece said.
Free Will is currently located at 410 E. Walnut St. in Perkasie, in a building that wDV nRW WHHLU fiUVW FHRLFH.
“Ultimately, this was what was available to us, and it was the best choice, alWHRuJH nRW HxDFWOy RuU fiUVW choice,” Stemler said. “It’s also less than a mile from our homes.”
Stemler graduated from Pennridge High School in 1996, and Capece graduated from Souderton Area High School in 1998.
“We are Perkasie residents,” Capece said. “This is a good space for us, and we had support from the borough in getting established, which was huge.”
Capece explained that other breweries and municipalities have had nightmar- ish experiences dealing with zoning and licensing, which can slow or even halt the establishment of a brewery.
Although Free Will is still a relatively new business, its reputation has begun to grow, with Capece and Stemler seeing big growth in the past several months.
“We’re barely keeping up with the current demand,” Stemler said, adding that they hope to continue expanding in the future. “If you compare what our business looks like now to what it was six months ago, you would see two different businesses. This location is big enough for our expansion expectations. I think we’ll be here for a while.”
Free Will offers free taste testings during open hours, which has become a big part of business.
“When we started, we expected to have maybe 20 people come to the taste testings,” Capece said. “We can get more than a hundred people on Saturdays. It’s really popular.”
At the tastings, patrons can also purchase a growler — a 64-ounce jug of beer fresh off the draft tap.
“It’s the freshest way to enjoy our beer,” Stemler said. “Our customers say nothing beats our growlers. We have regulars who come in 15 minutes before we open, saying they’ve got to get a growler before we get busy.”
The other large part of the business is wholesale, a process that works differently for beer wholesalers than most trades.
“Wholesalers sell to retailers in beer distribution,” Capece said. “We have two wholesalers that covers most of Eastern PA: Stockertown and Voelcker. When we talk to a bar about selling us, they ask us who our wholesalers are.”
The number of locations selling Free Will brews is growing, as the company builds its reputation and brand-name recognition.
“Philadelphia accounts for about 65 percent of our product sales,” Stemler said. “We’re regularly featured in popular Center City bars.”
“Having the bottles with our labels is great for business, too,” Capece said. “It’s a way for us to get our product out there. The bottles are ambassadors of the brand.”
Free Will’s beer Rapunzel won third place in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s brew competition for best new regional beer.
“That gave us some credibility,” Capece said. “It changes the view of our company and increases our notoriety. If you win one award, buyers are likely to think the rest of our stuff is a good high-quality, too.”
While Free Will has been met with a lot of success, the DuR LV nRW VDWLVfiHD.
Stemler has been growing hops in Bedminster, in hopes of substituting purchased dry hops for fresh wet hops.
“It makes a huge difference in quality,” he said. “It’s such a better taste.”
To keep up with the grow- ing demand for its beer, Free Will is also looking to add two full-time jobs to the company.
“We’ll add two more jobs to Perkasie, and we’ll keep growing. We’re happy with what we’ve done here, but we only think about what we can do next,” Capece said. “Entrepreneurs have to be ambitious.”
Perkasie Economic Development Director Steve Barth believes the same thing and said he wants to grow Perkasie into a town that welcomes young aspiring business owners.
“There are young entrepreneurs in this town, people who wanted to create their own business,” Barth said. “When they’re looking for a future, I want them to see it’s here.”
The long-range vision for rebuilding Perkasie relies on the ideas of entrepreneurs to grow the areas of Perkasie that are being rebuilt, he said. Under the new comprehensive plan, Perkasie’s town center will be rebuilt, and previously unused lots and space will be developed to expand the town. The success of that rebuilding relies on the presence of new, innovative businesses that will interest and engage Perkasie residents.
“I want to attract new businesses and create new jobs,” Barth said. “Another really large piece of what I’m doing is trying to create an economic prosperity in the borough. As you create new spaces and businesses, it brings jobs in the borough, the housing prices rise. There are a lot of perks that come from development.”
The key to Perkasie’s economic development plan is the support of the organizations in the borough.
“All of the organizations within the borough are committed to Perkasie being business- and developer-friendly,” Barth said. “Everyone is going to have to work together to grow Perkasie.”
For more information on Free Will Brewing, visit its website at freewillbrewing. com.
Free Will Brewing Co. founders Dominic Capece, left, and John Stemler stand outside the company’s location at 410 E. Walnut St. in Perkasie.
Mike Standish serves up some of Free Will’s brews during a free taste testing.