Growler Haus and Craig Kinley: Building Community One Beer at a Time

The Growler Haus, with locations in Anderson and Spartanburg and a third to open later this summer in Fountain Inn, is all about beer—and according to beer aficionados, it’s about really good beer. But in addition to a wide selection of beers on tap, it’s also about building community.

The community building starts before a store even opens, with crowd-funding initiatives that are as much about community buy-in as they are about funding the business, says Growler Haus owner Craig Kinley.

Kinley’s home town of Anderson was the pilot market. “We built a model with the crowd funding where cash flow was positive from the beginning,” he says. “And in Spartanburg, we were part of their economic development, with their first Main Street Challenge.”

While the crowd-funding in Spartanburg took a Kickstarter-type route, it was more of a hand-sell in Fountain Inn, with Kinley out selling beer through the Chamber of Commerce on St. Patrick’s Day and introducing Growler Haus to Fountain Inn on Friday nights after that. Early contributors become members of the “tribe”—a word, says Kinley, that was chosen because it conveys a sense of community. Tribe members received merchandise such as pint glasses, a growler fill, and a t-shirt depending on funding level, and there are special events annually as a show of appreciation for their support.

Aside from the extensive list of quality craft beers, the atmosphere inside the Growler Haus, both in Anderson and in Spartanburg, invites visitors to sit and talk. There is a bar with stools, but most of the seating consists of groups of chairs and comfy couches, which not only makes it easy for guests to converse, but it also makes for an ideal meeting space for groups and special events.

Some of those special events are planned by Growler Haus staff, like the Grain Ideas sessions that took place in both locations last year. “In those cases there was a need in the market,” Kinley says. “If a community wants to execute something, we help to provide a jump start. We’re always taking ideas from the community and finding ways to help them—using our space, social media, to broaden their community awareness.”

Other events are community-driven, like Growlers and Games, a once-a-month board game group that meets in Spartanburg, and Frothy Fellowship, a Bible study group in Anderson. Or, like the recent Tech-n-Tinker event powered by Project Hub Spartanburg or History on Tap, hosted by the Spartanburg County Historical Association, they are partnerships with community organizations.

A Means to an End

Although Kinley is a fan of the craft beer movement, it wasn’t only a love of beer that motivated him to open the Growler Haus. He is a member of the Liberty Fellowship, a group dedicated to developing leaders in South Carolina, and as part of the fellowship program, according to the web site, “each Fellow identifies and begins a project reflecting his/her passions.”

Kinley’s passion was small business incubation, helping entrepreneurs not just to get off the ground, but to be successful, so his project was e-Merge @ the Garage in Anderson, which he describes as a hybrid incubator/accelerator/workforce development model. With the support of industry partners, an advisory board, mentors, an angel network of funders, and local experts, e-Merge maximizes a start-up’s chance of success.

Three programs that have emerged out of e-Merge are Cyber Saturdays and Cyber Summer Camps, where participants cover a variety of IT topics in a hands-on way; LemonADE Stand, a start-up business program geared towards high school students; and e-Spark, a 12-week boot camp-style programs for companies in the early stages of development.

So what does all of this have to do with beer? “I came from the corporate world,” Kinley says—his background is in the wireless telecommunications industry—“so I needed to understand the process of starting a small business from the inside. Beer was a proxy.”

But whether it’s craft beer, community building, or economic development through entrepreneurship, it’s all a means to the end of making life better in the Upstate, and that’s something to raise your glass to.

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at SharonPurvisWrites.com