by Lee Noles
MONROE – Dustin Gatliff is a person who has always thought outside the box. So, when he and his friends were sitting in his garage one night five years ago, Gatliff came up with a spontaneous idea.
“I was at home and I was doing some home brewing, and I said to them, ‘You know, I think I’m going to open a brewery,” Gatliff recalled. “It wasn’t that easy because it took me five years, but we have opened.”
What has transpired for Gatliff is Southern Range Brewing, the first bar and brewing company located off Main Street in what used to be a tractor dealership.
How Gatliff even started the process of opening the brewery almost two years ago goes against conventional wisdom. Instead of getting loans and investors, Gatliff, with his wife, Elise, financed everything themselves.
He also did nearly all the work on his own. He replaced the front, which was the entrance into the garage for the tractors, into two glass doors. Gatliff used his experience of working with furniture to build the stage outside the front of the building.
When it came to the interior, Gatliff heard about a bar closing in Charlotte. He drove to the establishment and talked the owner into giving him the wood in the building, which came from an old farm off Rea Road. Gatliff worked on the wood and turned it into what is now the bar and covers that go against two walls.
Gatliff said the only thing he didn’t do himself was the plumbing and electrical work, which was contracted out because of city regulations.
“It’s always nice when you get it done and you did it yourself,” said Gatliff, who even designed the logo that goes on the cans of beer at the brewery. “You do it with your blood, sweat and tears.”
Gatliff and Elise also realized they couldn’t just jump into making their own beer and selling it right out of the brewery. They devised a plan that was broken into four phases. The first was serving craft beers from other breweries to build up revenue. Then they built a smaller brewing system in their building before going into their third phase, adding up to 15 barrels, which can make around 200 gallons of beer, five days a week. The couple’s fourth phase of distributing their own beer to surrounding areas has also begun.
There have been some ideas, however, that haven’t worked out as planned. But like any entrepreneur, the Gatliffs find creative ways to solve their problems. Take for example when they first opened, they were trying to sell food out of the brewery. Dustin Gatliff said it took too much time to prep everything. The couple decided instead to talk to restaurants around Monroe and see if they could set up a delivery system. Patrons can come into the brewery, find a menu and call with their order to one of the local eateries, which would then bring the food to Southern Range.
“Now, we don’t have to make food and deal with it,” Gatliff said. “But you are still supporting other places, and they are supporting you.”
The Gatliffs are also creative in trying to get people into the brewery. On Wednesdays, they have trivia, which ranges from general knowledge to music or movies. The weekends have musical acts that can go from bluegrass to classic rock. Some nights are filled with local comedians performing a stand-up routine.
“I think it is something that people can go to and have fun,” Elise Gatliff said. “And not just be about the beer, but also having families here and supporting artists as well.”
The website for the brewery has also been helpful in letting people know about what is happening. The Gatliffs have set up a calendar on their webpage so customers can see who is performing more than a month in advance. They also have a section on Facebook where people can ask questions or give comments on a variety of subjects about the brewery.
Even with their individual way of doing things, the Gatliffs understand they need to stay up with the latest trends that are going through the craft brewery business. One of the current fads is selling beer with a unique flavor to it, like peppermint or coffee. Assistant brewer Tim Newton brought this to the attention of the Gatliffs, who quickly jumped on it by creating a Russian Imperial stout named Cookie Doh.
“We are definitely staying up with what is trending,” said Elise Gatliff, who also offers beer named after famous songs like Stairhaze To Heaven and Bittersweet Hophony. “But people can get a normal beer here as well. … We have a variety.”
Since they opened, the Gatliffs said things have gone so well that their entrepreneurial minds are already thinking about adding a fifth phase to their brewing plans. Dustin Gatliff said he wants to install a canning line in the brewery and hopefully move the distribution out to more locations.
“I would like to get it into the grocery stores and the bottle shops in Charlotte,” he said with a smile.