Seniors Ponder Opening a Brew Pub



By John Offalé
Radio Free Ozarks Business Reporter
December 27th, 2021

With the Social Security Trust Fund nearly running empty and the rising costs of Medicare, today’s 60-and-over seniors are worried about whether they can afford retirement. But a new strategy has recently gained a devoted following in the Little Rock metro region and is now starting to enter the national mainstream of financial advice. From Wall Street to Little Rock’s Main Street, financial advisers are starting to suggest that seniors help fund their retirement by opening a brew pub.

“I’ve heard it a lot over the past few months. Every time there’s a new article on Social Security running out of money. We’re known for focus on older clients, seniors, who are nearing retirement or who have just started retirement, and they’re worried about making their money last,” said Jim Walters, President of Ouachita Community Bank. “Our customers in their 60’s and 70’s have been calling, asking whether Social Security will be there when they are 80 or 90 or even 100. What we’ve started recommending is that every able-bodied retiree or near-retiree should open a brew pub to provide supplemental income throughout retirement.”

Ouchita Community Bank President Jim Walters
Jim Walters

“We’ve been working with some local commercial real estate agents, identifying suitable locations in the big shopping districts or near college campuses in the wet and damp counties,” Walters noted. “We’re also developing good relationships with some commercial lenders and hedge funds and construction firms to put together the complete package of financing and real estate leasing and design-building. Help with the liquor license, marketing, that sort of back-end. We feel like we’re the early adopters in a market that is taking off like a rocket.”

One early adopter sat for an interview with Radio Free Ozarks. “We lost our nest-egg back in the dot-com boom. We did recover after a few years but then ran into trouble shorting Tesla stock,” said Ray Eskridge, 73, sole proprietor of Trojan Taproom in Little Rock. “I’d been retired from Lehman Brothers and we moved back to Arkansas a few years ago for the lower cost of living. But lately things were starting to look tight and the wife and I just didn’t like the idea of trying to get by on just Social Security. Then we inherited an old garage building down on South University, and it just seemed right to turn it into a microbrewery that sells onsite and also serves up some fried food baskets and whatnot.

“So then we got a commercial line of credit and went all-out. Built it out all nice with all that wood and brass and crap. My niece does stained glass work and we’ve got some of that up behind the bar. We thought the biggest hurdle was going to be finding a qualified brewmeister, but there’s actually a pretty big pool of them looking for work on Craigslist. Our guy just seemed to want the job more than anyone else. Minimum wage, some snacks and beer, a place to sleep, a mirror and an outlet for grooming his beard, and he’s in there right now cranking out the craft brew.

“So now I’m taking that cash to the bank, literally. So much so that I was suspected of money laundering,” Eskridge enthused, laughing out loud. “I mean, really. But I sorted that out with the FBI investigators and we all made peace over some pints of my exquisite Autumn Harvest Gold Lager. I’m not a beer drinker so I had a Diet Coke. But we are up and open and ready to serve.”

Senior Lady Praises Beer
Image from Ouachita Community Bank Prospectus

With so many big-box retailers disappearing, like K-Mart and Sears, there are many prime retail and entertainment spaces opening up in major shopping districts. Walters noted that some of these larger spaces could easily be subdivided to allow 4 to 10 brew pubs to open in one convenient location. “The possibilities for samplers, live entertainment, theme nights, pub crawls are endless,” Walters said. “And maybe there could be some synergy on the back side, with some common brewing equipment. But that might be a knock against a bar that doesn’t have a hipster window looking out into a steampunky brewing area. It’s all about marketing and placement though.”

Ye Olde Gals Ale House Popcornmeister Mabel Knapp
Mabel Knapp

“Well hell, I never did have nothing unless somebody gave it to me,” confessed Mabel Knapp, 63, of Jonesboro. “As a widow, I took Social Security as soon as I could, but golly it does about run out by the end of the month. It’s hard keeping up with the gals when we hit Tunica. But then Jane’s fancy banker called her about opening a brewery and bar in the old Sports Authority space. It sounded like a fun way to make money. So Jane and us gals – there’s five of us, put up our houses to get the loan and now we are in business. I’m so excited! We serve free popcorn with the beer and I’ve been working the popcorn machine. Who knew that retirement could be so much fun?” Asked about the beers on tap at Ye Olde Gals Ale House, Hanson hesitated. “Oh, I’m Seventh-day Adventist. Not allowed. But the popcorn’s delicious. Try some.”

Walters summarized that “knowing that the fresh, cold pint in front of you came into existence just yards away is a competitive advantage that attracts a wealthy clientele and repeat, sit-down customers who have money to spend. We’ve got at least another dozen locations being built and opening in the next few months, and we are lining up the next batch for financing right now. There’s never been a better time to get in on the ground floor of this new alternative investment strategy.”

Asked to name his favorite craft beer at the bars he has helped to create, Walters paused and looked out across the Arkansas River from his corner office window, then briefly spoke of his commitment to sobriety.