Local brewers show how to bring home brewing from hobby to livelihood


Chris O’Neill (left) and T.J. Waldofsky (right) of One Well Brewing

Story by Jayson Bussa

Almost any home brewer would tell you that his or her ultimate goal is to open up their own brewpub, where they can sling their crazy concoctions to thirsty patrons every night.

A few beer-savvy individuals in Kalamazoo are proving that, what might seem to be a pipe dream, is actually quite attainable.

Meet T.J. Waldofsky and Chris O’Neill, a pair of Kalamazoo 30-somethings that are relying on a little help — and cash — from their friends and family to launch their new brewery, dubbed One Well Brewing.

The duo isn’t alone, either. Just last year, Kevin Tibbs and his wife, Cindee, launched Tibbs Brewing Co. in Kalamazoo with the same mentality — a little green, some hard work, and what they considered to be damn good beer.

Waldofsky and O’Neill are not there yet, but they are certainly on track after recently signing a lease for their space at 4213 Portage Street in Kalamazoo. Here, they plan to serve up their own beer, while tapping local wine makers to get in on the action.

The pair did what most would do in this situation — run to mom and dad and beg for some money. Mom and pop were feeling generous, and Waldofsky and O’Neill have around $80,000 to work with. This might sound like a generous sum, but isn’t exactly the ideal amount to stock a full brewery and brewpub.

“We want to grow it organically,” Waldofsky said. “Many of the microbreweries (throughout the country) are able to throw a lot of money at it. We don’t have a lot of money, and that’s why we’re doing many of these things on our own.”

Luckily, they have some generous friends and family, who are willing to do a little heavy lifting. Waldofsky and O’Neill have tapped their support system to do all the renovations that don’t require professional help.

Picking through reclaimed wood and metal not only saves money for the duo’s thin bottom line, but also lends what is shaping up to be both a rustic and authentic look to the brew pub.

“A lot of places will use reclaimed wood, but they end up paying thousands of dollars for it,” said Waldofsky, who is more than ready to unveil such brews as One Well’s jalapeño blonde ale. “It ends up looking kind of artificial. I might be biased, but I think it’s going really well the way that we are doing it.”

One Well is officially slated to open in 2015, but if everything goes smoothly, particularly with the necessary licenses and permits, the duo could be up and brewing late this year already.

In downtown Kalamazoo, at 402 S. Burdick, right next to the State Theatre, Tibbs Brewing Co. is going strong nearly one year into operation. Kevin Tibbs, a home brewer of five years, and his wife dropped just $40,000 into the operation and didn’t take out a single loan.

He saves on costs by brewing on a two-barrel system behind the bar when the taproom is not open for business. The results have been so popular that he’s struggling to keep up with demand over the counter.

“It just takes a little more work,” Tibbs said. “It can be done.”

Also, with big names like Bell’s, Founders and Arcadia in the same region, brewers like Waldofsky, O’Neill and Tibbs have a refreshingly realistic outlook on where they fit in the local microbrewery tapestry.

“From the beginning, we knew we would just be happy to be that local bar down the street that you could go to to get a drink,” Tibbs said.

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