For five years, an old mansion sat abandoned in Atlanta, Georgia. The façade was covered in graffiti, and the inside was dusty and dilapidated. The surrounding historical neighborhood, known as Inman Park, had largely been restored to its old glory, but aside from occasional drifters, the home remained vacant. It had lived many lives since 1900, serving as home, church, dance school, and antique store. The beauty and rich history of the building tugged at the heartstrings of those who saw it, but a much-too-high asking price and the extensive restoration required kept buyers at bay.
Not so many years ago, a young couple in Ames, Iowa, dreamt of growing old together and opening a mom-and-pop brewpub they would call Dr. Bob’s Pizza and Brew. The pair, Bob and Kristine Sandage, graduated from Iowa State with engineering degrees, and soon after Bob’s pursuit of a PhD took them south to the Georgia Institute of Technology. The unique community of Atlanta inspired them to build a life there, eventually leading them to Inman Park.
In 2009, the paths of the old mansion, known as the Wrecking Bar, and the couple crossed. Only three days after selling DAQTron, Bob’s engineering business of 15 years, the house went into foreclosure. After years of admiration and imagining it as the idyllic place for their brewpub, it was the right time for Bob and Kristine to buy the house. One year of paperwork later, the Wrecking Bar and the Sandages were ready for their new adventure together.
The Wrecking Bar Brewpub, which opened June 19 of this year, is not quite what the Sandages envisioned when they thought up Dr. Bob’s Pizza and Brew. The couple has matured, as has their taste in beer and food. There is no pizza on the menu, instead what the couple calls a “beer-centric” mix of starters, salads, sandwiches, and entrees come fresh from the kitchen. They have created an inviting place for beer lovers from all over to visit and taste the up to twelve beers they plan to brew.
“We are beer people,” says Kristine. Beyond enjoying a beer with meals, the couple plans whole vacations around it and has traveled to Berlin, Oregon, San Diego, and Denver for what she calls “the granddaddy of all U.S. beer fests.”
Before bringing in patrons to the Wrecking Bar, a two-year renovation of the 18,000 square foot house took place. It was an undertaking that may best be described as a labor of love. Although contractors were hired for the bulk of the work, Bob was there nearly every day as both a supervisor and laborer. “I am admittedly a bit of a perfectionist, and as such, I feel if you want something done your way, you have to be intimately involved,” he says.
Kristine and their two young children Colin and Nathan shared in the work, along with interested community members. “We had six volunteer days where friends, neighbors, and Facebook friends helped scrub floors and bricks, haul pavers out of the basements, and pressure wash granite columns, among other tasks,” says Kristine.
Had this personal attention not been paid, the Sandages believe treasures in the Wrecking Bar would have remained buried or even been destroyed. One afternoon behind layers of paint they found, quite literally, the writing on the wall. It reads: “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Snore and you sleep alone.” It is one of many original details delicately preserved and placed throughout the brewpub.
More than physical aspects of the house are incorporated in the brewpub. The name comes from the house’s previous moniker during its 35 years as an antique store. The main floor of the house, due to open in the fall, will be an events center called The Marianna—the nickname the original owner Victor H. Kriegshaber gave the home in honor of his daughter.
While the historical preservation was appreciated, Bob and Kristine needed more than that to receive a permit to open. The residential location of the building meant it wasn’t zoned for any kind of restaurant, least of all one brewing and serving alcohol. Neighbors had halted previous efforts to turn the house into a restaurant, but the Sandages were able to convince them that their brewpub was a good investment for the community. Bob and Kristine live only five blocks from the house and spend time planning festivals, participating in neighborhood groups, and Bob even served as the area’s vice president of public safety.
“Other entrepreneurs couldn’t get past immediate neighbors, but our dedication to this neighborhood and creative use of the space won them over and allowed us to proceed,” says Bob. “It just took the right people to do it.”
The Sandages wanted to make sure they surrounded themselves with other people who were right for the project. Their goal to create a long-term, solid team from the beginning came from Bob’s experience at DAQTron, where he didn’t have that luxury starting out.
“I learned along the way that you need to fit the right people to the positions to be most effective,” he says.
“You can have people tell you what to do and you can read what to do, but until you go down the road and make the mistakes yourself, you don’t really understand the decisions that need to be made,” says Kristine. “The engineering company gave us experience as business owners, and we learned that the most important thing in business is to surround yourself with people who are experts.”
Longtime friend and professional brewer Chris Terenzi is one of those experts. Terenzi took a break from brewing to work in the technical field, but Bob says, “He is now back to his true passion.”
Although the couple’s time is focused on a passion for food and beer rather than engineering, both Bob and Kristine agree they have been positively impacted by their education and experience in the area.
“The logic and engineering problem solving skills learned at Iowa State help me manage complex projects, budget efficiently, and deal with people,” says Bob. “I would not be as effective in business or every day life without those skills.”
He continues, “At one time, I couldn’t imagine myself being out of the engineering field because I greatly enjoyed the challenges of problem solving. Now I feel that if I have passion for the endeavor and there are even non-engineering challenges, I will be happy.”
He uses the engineering term “feedback loop” when describing the couple’s role at the Wrecking Bar. “We will be interacting daily with the management team to ensure we are hitting short- and long-term financial goals, while at the same time keeping true to our vision,” he says.
Both Bob and Kristine have a clear idea of what that vision is: “In the future, we see the Wrecking Bar getting international recognition as a destination location for beer lovers and to provide a neighborhood hangout where friends come together to share a beer and some laughter.”
More information about the Wrecking Bar and pictures of its restoration can be found here.