Chris McKim is downright giddy. For 18 years, he and his wife Pam have run The Brew Kettle, helping it blossom from a little mom-and-pop shop in Strongsville into an award-winning brewery and, arguably, the most popular and respected brew-on-premise operation in the state. Along the way, they called all the shots.
But now the McKims are partnering with an investment group, with an eye on improving the restaurant and expanding the production brewery that makes such well-known beers as White Rajah, 4 C’s Pale Ale and Jack Hammer Barley Wine. The group, called The Brew Kettle Strongsville LLC, also wants to open other locations.
"I think we can really blow this thing up," McKim said Tuesday night about the new marriage. "I’m excited as heck about the whole thing."
The Brew Kettle fans shouldn’t be nervous, he added. "There are no real changes that people should see. It should be nothing but better."
McKim wouldn’t divulge the names of the new investors, other than to say there are eight of them and they are experienced in the restaurant business. One of them is related to a Panini’s owner, leading to rumors that The Brew Kettle had been sold off to the Panini’s chain. But McKim said that isn’t the case.
"They just want to kind of hang in the background and do what they do and let me do what I do," he said.
McKim, who was the original brewer at The Brew Kettle, said he will manage the production brewery, while his wife oversees the brew-on-premise operation and the new investors run the restaurant side of the business.
"I’m ready to play with beer again," he said, adding that head brewer Jack Kephart is still with the company. "It’s so hard to be focused on the restaurant and brewery ... The only thing I knew about restaurants [before opening The Brew Kettle] was that I had eaten at one."
McKim said he was never big on the idea of franchising The Brew Kettle. With the help of the investors, though, he can open other locations under The Brew Kettle brand, he said.
The owners are scouting possible sites now, including space in Northeast Ohio. It’s unclear whether those sites would involve a brew-on-premise operation or not, he added. And he said he isn’t keen on pulling customers away from the original brew-on-premise site.
As for the production brewery, beer fans can expect big expansion. Last year, the brewery produced 2,500 barrels. It is now capable of doing 5,000 barrels thanks to recent improvements. And McKim said there’s space to ramp up to 10,000 barrels. "We’re ready as soon as the market is ready," he said.
Going forward, McKim said, his title will be founder.
"My business cards were always blank," he said. "I never put a title on them. I just always signed the checks. Now I’ve got a title."