Just as any fine brew requires the right combination of ingredients to achieve its distinct flavor, veteran restaurateurs Faye and John Swift and son Matt Swift needed the right mix of talent for their venture into the craft beer business.
With years of experience in the restaurant industry, they didn’t have to look too hard to find the necessary components for Big Grove Brewery.
First came Doug Goettsch, general manager and partner. As a former sales representative and culinary services consultant with Hawkeye Foodservice, Goettsch had known the Swift family for 20 years through his work with the family’s first restaurant, the former Sluggers in Coralville.
“Doug is a veteran restaurant guy with a true passion for the industry and for hospitality,” Matt Swift said. “We’d been wanting to partner with him, but had to find the right project.”
Goettsch, who attended the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone and is a certified Chef de Cuisine, had been working for the Culinary Institute in Napa Valley, Calif.
During a trip back to Iowa in 2012, he stopped in at another Swift family restaurant, Red’s Alehouse in North Liberty, and the Swifts approached him about the potential partnership.
“A year later, in May 2013, I returned to Iowa to open Big Grove Brewery,” Goettsch said.
A brewery also needs a head brewer, and the Big Grove partners found theirs in another friend of the Swift family, Bill Heinrich.
Heinrich got his start brewing beer at Millstream Brewing in Amana, worked as a beer distributor at John’s Grocery in Iowa City, and was working for a brewery in Reno, Nev., when the Swifts hired him as beer specialist for Red’s Alehouse.
Heinrich returned to Iowa with a brewery system purchased in Colorado packed into a U-Haul. He spent the next several months running the beer program at Red’s and experimenting with his own home brews until the plans for Big Grove Brewery came together.
The final ingredient needed for the craft beer brewery and gastropub concept was an executive chef. The partners contacted Benjamin Smart, who had worked for the Swifts at Sluggers as his first job out of culinary school.
Smart was working as executive sous chef at The Herbfarm, a five-diamond restaurant in the Seattle area, but he was contemplating a move back to Iowa to raise his family.
Goettsch said the timing was a stroke of luck. “He’s an extremely talented chef, one of the best young chefs in the country.”
Big Grove Brewery opened in August in a new 5,200-square-foot building constructed on the site of the old Jonesy’s Restaurant in Solon. The building was designed by Swift’s uncle, architect George Pappageorge of Chicago, in a style Swift and Goettsch call rural contemporary.
“We put a big emphasis on design,” Swift said, noting features like 24-foot-high ceilings, exposed trusses, and lots of locally-sourced wood.
Big Grove Brewery offers eight of its own beers on tap and a menu featuring local and seasonal ingredients.
“There aren’t a lot of places you can go for an experience as authentic as Big Grove,” Swift said. “Everything is made in-house, even the beverages.”
“We’re bringing world class beer and world class food to Solon.”
At a Glance: