Soul Sessions Podcast: Conner Reeves for Fertile Ground Beer Co.
On today's show, Conner Reeves is one of the founding partners of Fertile Ground Beer Company, a tap room and brewery located at the Belhaven Town Center in Jackson's Belhaven neighborhood.
Dubbing it "Brewery 2.0," Conner says, being a third space for Jackson is a great way to build community and spark the city's next great ideas.
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Paul: This is Soul Sessions, conversations on culture from Jackson, Mississippi. I'm your host, Paul Wolf, bringing you a look at the people, the places, and the events that make us the City With Soul. And on today's show, Connor Reeves is one of the founding partners of Fertile Ground Beer Company, a tap room and brewery located at the Belhaven Town Center in Jackson's Belhaven neighborhood. Dubbing it "Brewery 2.0," Connor says, being a third space for Jackson is a great way to build community and spark the city's next great ideas.
Music: [We're the City With Soul. We're the City With Soul.]
Paul: Hey Connor, thanks so much for being on Soul Sessions.
Conner: Paul, thanks for having me.
Paul: You guys have one of my favorite new places in town, Fertile Ground Beer Company at the Belhaven Town Center in the Belhaven neighborhood of Jackson. Just briefly for those who may not be aware, that process to start this brewery started many, many years ago.
Conner: Paul, thanks for being such a big supporter. I appreciate that and the opportunity to be on the podcast. This started back in the spring of 2020. It really goes back farther than that. The Belhaven Town Center is a concept that the developers have been working on for about 10 years now. I believe that one of the things that they wanted always as part of that plan was to have a brewery as an anchor tenant in that development. So the developers approached me and my co-founder, Matthew McLaughlin, who's also my law partner at our law firm, about starting a brewery there.
That was at the beginning of Covid. We were coming back at the office every day and having beers on the porch. The weather was nice and obviously we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into on the Covid side, but we started cooking up this idea of putting a brewery in over at the BTC. And you're right, it's a long process. It takes a long time to put together a business plan to come up with a concept and the brand behind it. Big part of us was finding the right team to help run it.
I shouldn't be allowed around home brew equipment. I did it a few times in my earlier years, but none of my stuff was very good. So we knew that if we wanted to do this, we were going to need hire some professional folks to actually make the beer and help us run things day to day because I'm a lawyer, day-to-day. My business partner, Matthew and I have a firm here in Jackson, and we still do that full time. But it's just around the corner from the brewery so we're at the brewery a lot, but we needed a team to help us run it day to day.
So that was part of the process was finding the right team. But then, man, it was raising money. It was doing the design. Getting the architect, the construction team involved. Getting our federal and state licenses. The build out took a long time. That was a huge part of it with some of the supply chain issues and construction delays really outside of our control during Covid and just the normal stuff. We just anticipated that being open sooner than it did but when it came down to it, things took a little bit longer and we were able to open in mid-May of 2022, so just four months ago. And it's been an awesome four months.
We've been blown away by the reception from the community. It's been so much fun to see people come in and drink our beer and see our space and really have fun. It's just been a really awesome experience.
Paul: So I am a personal fan of the product that you're putting out there at Fertile Ground Beer Company. But the brewery experience, the tap room experience itself is just a little different than what we've seen here in the city before. You all were very intentional about that, weren't you?
Conner: So we spent a lot of time talking about how a brewery needs to be a place where folks want to come and hang out and they could feel welcome and really be a third space. You've got your house, you've got work, this is another place to be with your family or friends. We wanted to put a lot of time and effort into designing that space so that it was welcoming and also would appeal to a lot of people that may not have been interested in craft beer before. This idea that we came up with was Brewery 2.0, meaning it's a new look, right? It's not over industrial. It's not dark. Instead it's the opposite of that. It's light, it's fresh, it's airy, there's big windows. It's I think a space is where tap rooms are going. Tap rooms at breweries are being redesigned to look like this.
We wanted something a little bit different. And so far the reception's been amazing. People come in, they're like, oh wow, this is never been to a tap room like this. Or I don't know what they were expecting, but they're pleasantly surprised and we could fit a lot of people in there too. We wanted a lot of place to sit. Different ways to sit down and enjoy coming in and watching football game or listen to live music or just having good conversation with some folks.
We have some booths where you could have a tucked in conversation. We also have some long family style table where you may be sitting near people you don't know before, but people been gathering around beer and in tap rooms for a long time. And we really wanted to create that space where people could come in and we wanted to cultivate community and have a spot where people could drink some beer, try some new beers even, get to know each other.
And then a lot of great ideas have been cooked up over a couple of beers. And hopefully we can create a space to one, get more people drinking locally made beer, but then also come up with the next good idea that's good for the community or the next business idea or whatever it could be.
Paul: Family-friendly, food trucks, events throughout the week like Lagers and Joggers on Thursdays. There's also a book club that meets there from time to time. There's yoga from time to time. Bringing your food from outside, that's okay! You can dine from District Donuts or Elvie's. I heard your operating executive Matt Jeffries say, "Bring a picnic. We don't care. Just come in here and enjoy and spend time in community."
Conner: That's right.
Paul: It's definitely different. It's definitely welcoming and inviting. What are some of the things that you all have planned in the upcoming months?
Conner: I would love to talk about Oktoberfest. We've got a great Oktoberfest weekend coming up. It's the weekend of the 21, 22 and 23. So it's a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Saturday's going to be the big day. We're going to have, that Saturday, some live music, some DJs playing. We're going to have a Stein hoisting competition. We're going to have a bratwurst eating competition. Elvie's restaurant across the street is going to be doing some bratwurst for sale outside and some pretzels for sale. We're going to shut the street down. It's going to be a big street party.
We're going to have two types of Oktoberfest beers, a traditional Märzen as well as a Festbier. We're going to have glass and ceramic steins for sale. I'll be dressed up in my lederhosen to celebrate. It's going to be a really fun weekend. We hope that a lot of people come out.
Paul: It's already on the visitjackson.com calendar and it's on my personal calendar, too. Can't wait for this at Fertile Ground Beer Company in the Belhaven Town Center. All right, Connor, I've got to ask you this question. You're a Jacksonian, you appreciate the culture here in Jackson. If you bring family and friends into town, I know you're going to take them to the brewery, of course, but where else might you take them if you had 24 hours to show off the City With Soul?
Conner: Oh, man. There's more in Jackson than there has ever been, in my opinion. I mean, I've lived here a long time, and when I got back from college a while back, it feels like every year there's just more going on. It's certainly easier as it gets cooler outside. Recently, we are always taking folks to the Children's Museum and the new park that's over there at the LeFleur's Bluff. That's an awesome place to gather. I was blown away with how many restaurants there are in Jackson. I mean, for a city our size, we've got an incredible number of amazing restaurants. In fact, that's actually a problem, figuring out which one you want to go to.
Paul: It's true.
Conner: And how early do you want to start? I mean, just look around where we're at located in Belhaven, but you can even go farther out. There's just so many awesome restaurants and, of course, that that ties in with living in the South. We're known for our food, but I'm just continually blown away at the quality of the restaurants we've got. The new museums downtown are fantastic. You talk about an opportunity there to showcase fantastic museums. I'm really impressed by that. I love going to the art museum. That's a nice quiet place to go and show people around and see what's being showcased there. So those are just a few.
Getting outside is always important to me. Finding some trails... and there's more going all the time. Recently there was some paved trail put in over here in Belhaven. That's really cool. I ride my bike on that as often as I can. There's also the new mountain bike trails attached to that. That's a great way to get outside and get some fresh air. So there's now more than ever things going on. I'm just very proud of it.
Paul: Yeah, you obviously love Jackson, Connor. You want to see it thrive and grow and be the special capital city that it is from Mississippi. So what, briefly, can you say makes Jackson such a special place?
Conner: I tell you the thing that I hear, I mean, I could tell you what I think, but I could tell you what I hear from other people that are not from here. When they come here, I consistently hear how nice the people are. People say, 'man, people are just really genuinely nice.' They feel welcome here and they get sucked in. They don't want to leave. And so I understand why there's a lot of folks that once they come here, they want to stay here because they get invested with family or friends and they've got a great group of folks and they don't want to go anywhere else.
So whether it be through a church or a community organization, there's just in neighborhoods, there's just great neighborhoods. You get totally invested with those groups of people. The people to me are its best asset.
Paul: We'll put links to Fertile Ground Beer Company in our show notes. And, of course, if you want to find out about what's going on at Fertile Ground Beer Company, just log on to visitjackson.com. Conner Reeves, one of the founders and owners of Fertile Ground. Hey, thanks so much for spending time with us today.
Conner: Thanks, Paul. I really appreciate it.
Paul: Soul Sessions is a production of Visit Jackson. Our executive producers are Jonathan Pettus and Dr. Ricky Thigpen. To learn more about our organization and mission, head to visitjackson.com. I'm Paul Wolf, and you've been listening to Soul Sessions.
Music: [My City, My My My City]