By Lori Shull
“We’re always backordered,” Matt said when he gave me a tour of his new space, then under construction. “We average four or five weeks on backorder.”
Pretentious Beer Glass Company has jumped on the craft beer bandwagon in a big way; Matt has created a bunch of forms that have been specially designed to enhance beer’s taste. He’s been brewing his own beer for years and has several recipes that he’ll be taking commercial from the back of his downtown Knoxville shop.
“There’s no real craft beer scene in Knoxville,” he said. “Craft beer is a proven industry and it’s just getting started here.”
It’s also a way for him and his counterparts, Thoryn Ziemba and Sam Meketon, to balance their incomes. Matt and Thoryn especially specialize in glass sculptures that cost thousands of dollars; it tends to be feast or famine.
“There’s this weird myth out there that if you can’t succeed in school, become an artist. What Matt and Thoryn teach is that if you want to be an artist, you’d better be disciplined,” said their professor and mentor Curtiss Brock. “The myths of being a flaky artist die when you have gas bills that are two or three times the average rent.”
In opening the space, which is two connected storefronts, Matt is making his business tangible to consumers, by encouraging them to drink his beer in his glasses and watch glassblowers in action in the studio, as well as giving other glass artists a place to come. The space includes a retail shop, beer garden, the brewery, spaces for artists to blow and craft glass and a gallery. Customers can sit at bar tables and watch it all happen.
The three guys are clearly passionate about what they are doing; they have to be. They are betting a lot on this space and dealing with things that they never thought they would.
In opening the company, Matt has patented one of his designs and selected all but one of the shapes so that they had to be handmade to prevent competition from China.
He’s dealt with commercial leases, all kinds of inspections from the city of Knoxville to make sure they are following zoning, mechanical and fire codes.
One of the spaces – the one that will house the gallery and hot shop, didn’t have any electricity and some major plumbing problems. They couldn’t afford to get the space laid out using computer-aided design, so they visualized it all themselves. Good thing they’re artists and visual people.
After talking to Matt, Thoryn and Sam I realized that as difficult as it is to come up with a good idea, write the business plan and attract investors, it’s even worse to actually make a brick-and-mortar business come to life.
I also can’t wait to go back to Knoxville to see how it turns out.