“This has been a long adventure that started over a year ago,” said co-owner Tommy Jenkins. “And it has taken on a life of its own the last few months — people here are excited, which tells us that we’re onto something good.”
What was once the old town hall, the structure has been transformed into a state-of-the-art production facility and taproom. Opening its doors on May 20, the brewery is a frenzied space, where a warm ambiance of strangers and friends alike is coupled with a curiosity and passion that is solely unique to the craft beer industry.
“It’s something pretty special that now you can taste a fresh beer made in Franklin, and be confident that what they’re tasting is good,” said co-owner Ken Murphy.
From the ground up
The idea for Lazy Hiker started brewing in the minds of Jenkins, Murphy and Lenny Jordan. As the three main owners behind the project, they were looking for something that not only could be a successful business, but an entity that could also be a missing piece to the puzzle of Franklin’s uncertain economic and cultural future.
“We felt like we needed a double bottom line,” Jordan said. “We needed the brewery to be viable, and also be able to do something for the community, to add to what makes this place special.”
A former executive for UPS, Jordan left Atlanta and moved to Franklin in 2012. Murphy, a former corporate executive for Acuity Brands (also in Atlanta), had already been in Macon County for a year. The two men became fast friends in their retirements when both of their wives kicked them out of the house in hopes they’d find something to do with their free time. That something became a shared passion for craft beer.
“I’ve always been interested in wine, and craft beer is becoming a lot like wine, in that there is so much variety. It’s a rabbit hole — once you go down it, it’s pretty hard to get back out of it,” Jordan laughed.
Soon, Jordan and Murphy came into contact with Jenkins, a lifelong resident who also serves as the director for the Macon County Economic Development Commission. If there was anyone who knew about the business climate of the area, what locations would work, and what type of industry could be a hit, it was Jenkins.
“Tommy has been the unsung hero in all of this,” Murphy said. “Before we went public with the idea, he was showing us places, making sure we’d done our research. All of us had an interest in craft beer, but we really had an interest in doing something for Franklin and Macon County — to create a destination for people.”
“During the past few years with the economic downfall, in particular with downtown Franklin, we were looking for ways to help redevelop the area by bringing businesses downtown,” Jenkins added. “And as we know, Western North Carolina has become a hot bed for the craft beer industry. We’re also just two hours north of Atlanta, which gives up a geographical advantage — it just made good sense, something for the local folks, something for the tourists.”
Thus, the trio put their vision into motion. They settled on the idea of renovating the old town hall. They got all the right permits secured. They even opened up their business to have other investors involved, 29 to be exact, a move which resulted in the needed capital to get the brewery off the ground.
“All of our investors either are Macon County residents or have deep roots here,” Jordan said. “The building had good bones, but needed a lot of work. Whatever the total dollars were needed to invest, no one person wanted to do that alone, and every investor we have knew it was a good idea, and something that the community needed — the energy and desire was pent up in this town to do this.”
The man behind the beer
And all that remained was someone to steer the ship, to produce the mesmerizing ales that would put not only the Lazy Hiker, but also the town of Franklin on the craft beer map. After a nationwide search, Noah McIntee was hired. Formerly the director of brewing operations at Pearl Street Grill & Brewery and Pan American Grill & Brewery in Buffalo, New York, McIntee was eager to head his own project, with the Lazy Hiker the vehicle to do so.
“It has been the culmination of a lot of work at light speed to get this point of opening day,” the 36-year-old said. “Asheville has an incredible scene, and it says something to come into this region with a well-known craft beer scene already — good craft beer leads to more good craft beer.”
The brewery runs on a two vessel 15-barrel system that includes three 30-barrel (and one 15-barrel) fermenters. With Asheville, a worldwide recognized craft beer mecca, an hour and a half down the road, McIntee likes living, thriving and creating in the small mountain town.
“Franklin is far enough away to where we can do our own thing, and yet, we’re close enough to still be part of what’s going on in Asheville,” he said. “Craft beer is a production industry where you can see the immediate results, and that’s something I like, where I can make it and I can walk upstairs and see people drinking it.”
Strolling the floor of the taproom, there’s a buzz in the air. Faces from down the street, around the county and across the region are congregating. They hold their glasses high and in celebration of another day in this paradise we call Western North Carolina.
“The thing that I like is seeing people who were at our soft opening already back again,” Murphy said. “You can only admire the renovations for so long, you’ve got to make great beer to keep them coming back, and I feel like we’ve hit a home run with our beer.”
“I enjoy seeing the people at our community tables,” Jordan added. “People who might not know each other, but they’re sitting together, enjoying craft beer together, talking about the products, enjoying their company. It’s what we wanted from the start, and now it’s a reality.”
That said, just what is a “lazy hiker”?
“Look at us, do we look like hikers?” Jordan chuckled.
Want to go?
The official “Grand Opening” bash for the Lazy Hiker Brewing Company will be at noon Saturday, June 13, in downtown Franklin.
At noon, the taproom and Fork In The Road food truck will be open. Brewhouse tours will run from 1 to 4 p.m. with new beer releases available. Live music will be provided by Zorki (singer/songwriter) at 2 p.m., Hank West & The Smokin’ Hots (jazz/swing) at 6 p.m., with Chalwa (roots/reggae) to follow at 8 p.m. www.lazyhikerbrewing.com.