My Day with the Beer Baron

Emily Letterman, Features Editor

If I were a betting woman, I would have laid money on the idea that if I spent a day with Springfield beer baron Jeff Schrag, at some point, he would offer me a beer.

I would have won that bet and, had I not been on assignment, I would have happily taken that beer, or two, or three he offered.

In all fairness to Jeff, while much of his day is spent at the helm of downtown’s two-year-old Mother’s Brewing Co., much of his day isn’t. Just one reason among many I was eager to greet him the morning of April 11 for Springfield Business Journal’s Day in the Life series.

Jeff was all smiles from the moment he greeted me outside the Mother’s office and the laughter continued until I left him that evening during an after-hours brewery tour.

I knew the assignment would be a unique one from the beginning. While some subjects often wake up quite early – such as Crista Hogan who went running just past 5 a.m. – Jeff had a unique request: He wanted to start off  his “day” at a bar at midnight.

I’m pretty sure that’s a first in SBJ history.

We spent the better part of the morning in the brewery. I watched him sign payroll checks, take phone calls about a water shipment and generally chitchat with the staff. As I sat there in the old machine shop of the Butternut Bread factory, it struck me how informal Jeff was with his staff. His desk was situated among the others in an open-room format. There was no corner office, no walls, no cubicle dividers – just a guy who owns a beer factory and his friends going about their business.

It was a theme that seemed to carry on throughout the day. We spent the early afternoon at Jeff’s original business, The Daily Events, and the set up was much the same – an open room format with lots of desks, no walls, just friends on a mission together.

But don’t let the laughter fool you. Jeff is a shrewd businessman with his hands in more ventures then I knew going into the assignment. Moving to Springfield to purchase the legal publication from a retiring couple, Jeff began to diversify after months of online research through the Wall Street Journal and other avenues. So what was his choice business to keep the death of print at bay? A formal wear company that ships cuff links to tuxedo rental stores across the nation. Then, to seal the deal, Jeff bought his only competitor and cornered the market – the makings of a true businessman.

Despite how many people call Jeff their boss, I still got the overwhelming feeling they first called him their friend.

I respect the way in which Jeff has built an under-the-radar empire in the Queen City and the way in which he treats his staff as more than just employees, but as family. Now, I’m proud to call him my friend, as well.

Reporter’s Notebook
They say behind every great man is a woman. In this case, it was a woman with a notebook.

I didn’t know what to expect for my first-ever Day in the Life interview, but I knew it was going to be fun from the moment I walked through the door.

It’s interesting what little tidbits of knowledge you learn when you spend the day with someone. For example, Jeff was raised a Mennonite in central Kansas, he subscribes to more than a dozen local newspapers and trade publications and despite having an iPhone, he still keeps a trusted paper desk calendar with all his appointments. All the office furniture at Mother’s Brewing Co. was left over from the building’s previous tenants and the building’s light fixtures were constructed using parts from old bread machines.

Notice the light above the tasting room bar in this photo, it’s a fan from the bread oven. Also, cameo by my hand and notebook. Despite spending the entire day with Jeff, this is the only picture we have “together.”

Notice the light above the tasting room bar in this photo, it’s a fan from the bread oven. Also, cameo by my hand and notebook. Despite spending the entire day with Jeff, this is the only picture we have “together.”

SBJ readers got a front-row seat of Jeff’s day thanks to photographer Wes Hamilton – see the full gallery here. As Jeff’s fly-on-the-wall for the day, sometimes my view was up-close and personal, and sometimes, I was shuffled to the back. My less than pro iPhone photos tell more of the tale.

Sitting at his “primary desk” at The Daily Events, this was my view of Jeff for the majority of the afternoon. The ample sunlight and wide variety of houseplants made the rehabbed downtown building feel warm and inviting.

Sitting at his “primary desk” at The Daily Events, this was my view of Jeff for the majority of the afternoon. The ample sunlight and wide variety of houseplants made the rehabbed downtown building feel warm and inviting.

One of my favorite appointments of the day, Jeff and I walked the three blocks down Walnut Street to his afternoon Pilates session.

One of my favorite appointments of the day, Jeff and I walked the three blocks down Walnut Street to his afternoon Pilates session.

During the after-hours tour for emergency management officials, I stood at the back and watch Jeff conduct the tour like a maestro before his orchestra.

During the after-hours tour for emergency management officials, I stood at the back and watched Jeff conduct the tour like a maestro before his orchestra.

I think this photo best sums up my day with Jeff. From running a newspaper to opening a new brewery, Jeff does everything with a little bit of heart.

I think this photo of the brewery floor best sums up my day with Jeff. From running a newspaper to opening a new business, Jeff does everything with a little bit of heart.

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