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Stoup Brewing

Northwest-style IPAs and more

Three people with passion, complementary skills, a plan, and a love of beer came together to create a brewery that would serve a neighborhood. They made it happen in Ballard, and then Kenmore. Different neighborhoods, different concepts, same great beer.

L-R: Lara, Brad, Robyn

Lara Zahaba, married to Brad Benson, says their relationship was founded on pints of beer. "Brad had his beer epiphany in college. He was hiking in the San Juans and saw Red Hook at a store. It changed his feeling about beer," recalls Lara. "Brad introduced me to craft beer. All our travels involved craft beer."

When a job working for an Italian wine importer came up, Lara, who worked in the wine industry, took the job. Brad moved with her to Hoboken, New Jersey. "While there, Brad started home brewing. We suffered more than one brewing incident in our tiny apartment," laughs Lara. "A bar down the street changed to a brewery and I suggested he brew there. He worked at 4 or 5 breweries while we were there." On returning to Seattle in 2003, Brad, a forensic chemist by education and career, went back into the lab. Working for distressing employers, they started wondering why they weren't working at something that made them happy.

Brad and Robyn producing

After college, Robyn Schumacher coached high school basketball, then became a high school biology teacher. She quit after 13 years. "It's a hard job and 13 years is a long time." At one time, she taught with Kamala Saxton who started Marination Mobile with Roz Edison. They were friends with Lara and Brad and introduced the three. Robyn worked at Marination while figuring out what she wanted to do. She had always loved beer and discovered Widmer Hefeweizen which led her to craft and imported beer. She began home brewing, learning all she could. Her now wife gave her a kegerator about 15 years ago. She and Brad started emailing each other about brewing and, eventually, about long term goals. "I didn't fully understand what I was doing, and it helped to talk with Brad. I was fastidious about cleaning and following processes, but it was just okay beer. I interned/shadowed at a local brewery."

Lara and Robyn hadn't really connected but found themselves at the same party. "It was a sushi feast and we discovered we both love to eat. I'm usually the last one eating and Lara was right with me!" says Robyn. In the meantime, Robyn decided to get her cicerone certification. "Not a lot of people were doing it. In 2012 I became the first woman in Washington to be certified. For me, it was part of my studies and a learning tool."

From there, Brad, Lara, and Robyn started talking about doing something together. "We met up and it was like an awkward first date, we didn't know each other all that well," laughs Lara. But they forged ahead and signed the Ballard lease in April 2013 and opened in October 2013. "We found we had complementary skills and were able to open our business doing most things ourselves. Brad wrote the business plan and worked with the Small Business Administration to get our first funding." Lara worked with Sean Sifagaloa to design the physical space, and she is the creative/merchandising/marketing person. Robyn brews but is also integral in day-to-day operations and staffing. Brad is Director of Brewing Operations. He had been part of a brewery build-out in New Jersey which was really helpful when we were designing Stoup.

Early years were exhausting. Brad and Robyn brewed every batch. Lara and Robyn worked taproom shifts. "Robyn is more introverted than me," says Lara. "On her break, she'd find a back corner, on my break I'd talk to people." Robyn adds, "It was also exciting. When I had a moment to think I'd realize we had a brewery! It was very satisfying. Our dream came true." On top of opening a business, Brad and Lara had two boys, aged 2 and 4. "There was a lot of juggling," laughs Lara. "I worked taproom shifts for the first four years so I could connect with people." "We're all workers," says Robyn. "Brad and I still brew, which is unusual for owners of a brewery this size. You find you 'do' less and 'manage' more."

Ballard's beer garden

When the pandemic hit, they had 30 kegs of beer that couldn't be sold. They'd been thinking about canning and in the first summer of the pandemic, they purchased a canning line. They added a to-go stand out front, started home delivery, revamped the website and started online ordering. The pandemic reinforced how well their skill sets match, allowing them to make many changes in a short time.

Two of Stoup's original customers were James Weimann and Deming Maclise. When they decided to re-concept Seaplane in Kenmore, they saw that breweries were doing well. They invited Stoup to partner in the new venture in 2021. Jason Stoneburner stayed on to oversee the menu, executed by Chef Russel Ocsan. "Kenmore fits our desire to serve a neighborhood," notes Lara.

Both Ballard and Kenmore have event space that can be rented. Ballard's upstairs room is self-contained and has an outside deck. People can bring food in. Kenmore has a full restaurant.

In Ballard, they've expanded their production area to the building behind them, where they also brew mixed fermentation beer like sours. "We also do quicker-turn sours, like fruit and dry hop sours," says Robyn. As Lara points out, "These are accents to what we do best, traditional-style beers with an emphasis on Northwest-style IPAs."

While they have always self-distributed, this year's venture is helping other small-volume breweries distribute. "We like the flexibility that self-distributing gives us and want to share that with others," explains Robyn. "We don't actively sell other beer, they may pre-sell their beer and we deliver it. Or we may send out a brewery's fresh sheet to help them sell what they have."

One of the benefits of being owners is being able to support the community in a way that's meaningful to them and their staff. "With Pride Month, we held a series of Wednesday events that highlighted local LGBTQ+ organizations and artists, and we support a variety of issues throughout the year," says Lara. "We can do more as a business than we could do as individuals."

They started with three fermenters and now have 21, with room to grow, currently producing 7,000 barrels. Production is expanding. Although not actively looking, they're open to finding more neighborhoods to serve if the right opportunities arise.

"We get a lot of joy out of what we've created."

Connie Adams/July 2022

Photos courtesy of Stoup Brewing

Stoup Brewing

Ballard
1108 NW 52nd
Seattle, WA 98107
206-457-5524

Kenmore
6704 NE 181st St
Kenmore, WA 98028
425-470-6222

www.stoupbrewing.com

Photo of Stoup Ballard wall by Seattle DINING!


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