Free Will brews en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit in Perkasie

News-Herald (Perkasie, PA) - - ON THE RECORD - By Erin Weaver

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.

News-Her­ald pho­tos — DEBBY HIGH

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.

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