In the late morning hours of Saturday, May 18, a crowd began to slowly build up in the parking lot at 107 North Seventh Street.
It was a long time coming for thirsty Mebanites who had been hearing about this new brewery opening up in town - Bright Penny Brewing - and were all too eager to be front and center when the doors officially opened.
For Cristina Carroll and her fellow co-owners - husband Jeremy Carroll and business partner Jason Brand - Saturday’s Grand Opening has been several years in the making.
“We’re very, very excited. We started this almost three years ago, when the concept actually started to be pulled together,” Carroll said in a recent interview. “We really wanted to have a focus in a downtown community. We have family here that live in Mebane. This is really where we wanted to be. So we’re really glad it worked out.”
One of the first questions that has been asked around Mebane in recent months when it comes to Bright Penny Brewing - aside of when they were going to be selling their first pints to the public - has been where the name comes from.
Carroll explained the historical connotations behind the new business’s name.
“(Co-owner) Jason (Brand), he was in the Army. He ran across a story from way back when people were away in the trenches fighting in war, they would secretly make home brew. So if someone made a really good home brew, that they wanted to share with other people, they had a code word for it called a bright penny.”
“The Army men would go around saying, ‘Hey, there’s a bright penny.’ There’s a bright penny.’ And everybody knew they had a really good home brew,” she continued. “We thought that was so cool. We thought, ‘Bright Penny’ should be our name for sure.”
Along with its name, Bright Penny Brewing’s location brings a historic feel to it as well. The site was once an old feed mill that existed for a number of years in Mebane before being converted into several other businesses.
“We really wanted to purchase a property, so we could really establish our roots and settle in. The timing worked out, and we were able to purchase the building,” Carroll explained. “We did a lot of renovations. Over the years, after the original mill company, it changed hands lots of times. There was a consignment shop, as well as a HVAC company.”
“We really have worked hard since last August on the renovations,” she added. “Weather elements obviously played into that. It slowed us down a little more than we wanted to be. But I think the timing is great to open up in Mebane on a beautiful day. We restored all of the original hardwoods, and left the brick. The bathrooms include repurposed wood from an old tobacco barn. We painted, and did some beautification. But for the most part, we tried to leave it (the way it was) as much as we could.”
Bright Penny Brewing built its brew house next door, where it will be able to produce large amounts of various types of beers. Inside the feed mill itself is the tap room and restaurant.
The brew house currently features five fermenters, which can produce hundreds of gallons of premium craft beer. But there’s plenty of additional room to double or even triple the number of fermenters in the future.
“We actually did a Kickstarter campaign back in the fall. Every fermenter that you see here, we had people that did a donation, and you could name the fermenter,” Carroll said. “They became members of the mill company. We have a founder’s club. We did a private opening for them last weekend. All of these will end up being named for people who purchased those.”
“We have lots of space that we can continue to add equipment,” she continued. “Our cooler should get here in the next week or so. From a storage capacity, there’s a whole lot more room for all the beers that we’re going to be producing.”
The company’s long-term vision includes not only producing its own beer that will be canned and sold in local stores, but also to have its unique beers sold in other local bars in Mebane.
“We will start brewing our own beer, hopefully in the next couple of weeks,” Carroll said. “In the tap room itself, we have a lot of guest taps (on the opening day). We have one of our own that we have on tap that we did a collaboration with a brewery in Oxford. There will be a wide variety of beers to choose from. Hopefully when we get this up and running, we’d like to do a canning line, so that we can actually can it and sell cans. That’s long-term, big picture. What we’d really love to do as well is have the local restaurants, be on their local tap handles, and distribute to them.”
Head Brewer Scott Schenk described his vision for Bright Penny Brewing’s beer offerings.
Schenk, a N.C. State graduate, attended the Master Brewer Program at the Siebel Institute and studied brewing concepts in Europe before honing his craft at breweries in Charlottesville, Virginia and Dallas, Texas.
“As far as the brewery, we’re just trying to make nice, approachable beers for a small town, and try to get people accustomed to craft beer,” Schenk said. “And I’ll have a pilot program where I can do some crazy stuff. We’ll start rolling that out on the big system. We just want to make it somewhere that people can come hang out, have a beer that that can rely on that is always going to be there they can enjoy, and also have some variety that they can come in for occasionally.”
Schenk explained that of the 16 taps available at the bar, there will likely be two ciders and two guest taps, along with four to six core beers that are on tap at all times.
“And then we’ll have a couple releases in very small batches that are just for fun,” he said. “We’ll have seasonal stuff, like Octoberfest, and I have a Cinco de Mayo beer. We’ll have bigger batches of that. We’ve got 16 taps, so we’ve got a lot of room.”
Along with what will be a growing and eclectic selection of beers, Bright Penny Brewing is also offering food choices, including pizzas, salads, and appetizers. The pizzas and other food options received early rave reviews on social media following the opening weekend.
“We have a full restaurant. We initially weren’t thinking of a food concept. But then when we started talking to the city, we thought it would be a great idea to have a restaurant, and have something in addition for Mebanites and people in the community to have,” Carroll said.
Inside the kitchen is a large Marra Forni pizza oven, covered over its surface with none other than bright pennies.
“Our pizza oven, we really wanted to showcase that. We thought it was pretty neat to have copper penny blanks (covering the exterior of the oven). The pizzas cook on a high temperature, and are ready in 90 to 120 seconds. So food comes out quickly,” Carroll explained.
“Our head chef and GM, his name is Tory Williams. He’s just phenomenal. The menu creation - he actually did every bit of that. We do Neapolitan pizzas. Lots of pizza options. We have salad options. We have appetizers and small plates, as well as a few desserts.”
Outside, the restaurant and brewery has a wooden deck with considerable seating and umbrellas to protect guests from the sun. Behind the building, there is a multi-terraced area that holds additional patio space.
Eventually the owners are looking to have live music on the weekends along the back patios.
“We love the deck that we put together. It’s wide enough that we were able to do a lot of outdoor seating. We have two patios as well. We’re fortunate, because we have a lot of outdoor seating,” Carroll said.
The business held a soft opening earlier last week in order to get its wait and cooking staff some experience leading up to the Grand Opening, and the positive comments poured in.
“We had a lot of positive feedback about the menu and the food and the beer. The experience as a whole - everybody loved the building. They loved what we did with the space. We really tried to pay homage to the original owners of the feed mill. We’re really excited,” Carroll indicated.