The craft beer industry has cultivated creative ways to give back to the community. For Ryan Mitchell (B.S.’12/H&S), supporting his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, began when he opened Garden Grove Brewing and Urban Winery in Carytown in 2015.
“I really enjoy community outreach, and one thing that I’ve always said is that owning a business has to be family oriented and community focused,” Mitchell says. “Your family and your community are ultimately what is supporting you. It’s not a crazy concept, it’s very, very simple.’
Over the years, brewery staff have helped build a home for Habitat for Humanity, volunteered to read books at local schools, participated in community trash pickup days and given their grain to local farmers.
VCU Alumni recently contacted Mitchell to ask if he would consider partnering on a National Beer Day celebration. Not only did he accept the opportunity, he offered to brew a VCU-themed beer. “Don’t Start No Stuff” Hazy IPA makes its debut April 7, on National Beer Day, with a family and friends event at the brewery April 10.
“We made a nice cool boy hazy IPA,” says Kevin Storm, Garden Grove’s master brewer and winemaker. “We are going to hit it with some fruit and we are looking to have some little juice bombs in your mouth. It is full of wheat and American malt, and the brew is going to have low IBUs.”
While VCU Alumni staff members Lauren Leavy (Cert.’19/GPA) and Sarah Ramkey were on-site making beer for the cross-promotion, they talked more with Mitchell and Storm about the brewery, which specializes in small-batch wine and craft beer.
Why did you open Garden Grove Brewing and Urban Winery?
Mitchell: I’ve always had a fascination with beer, the process of brewing and how breweries, in general, bring people together and raise money for charity organizations. The other reason is I always had a passion to be an entrepreneur and own a business. In 2010, I traveled to Germany, Holland and Belgium and ended up visiting a lot of different breweries. I wanted to bring the concept of true-life beers or true-to-form beer to Richmond, which means using real, organic ingredients. We go back to the basics and let the yeast do the work. If we want a beer to have a certain flavor, we add natural ingredients, nothing with additives and usually locally sourced.
You have been able to create some interesting beverages. What has been your favorite thing to try?
Storm: Mastering the honey wine was the most fun I have had in years, also having the doors open for the possibility of creating something new. Since we are a small business, I can see when something is almost out and I can toss another one on the board. I love working at a brewery this size with the ability to change our minds.
What do you like most about working and brewing at Garden Grove?
Storm: The thing I like the most is the artistic freedom that is allowed in a facility this size. I can be creative and be aggressive with the outputs. There is a lot of beauty in the industry; there are all shapes and sizes of brewhouses. I have worked at bigger breweries, and coming back to a size like this has been extremely rewarding. And in times like these when everything is dark around you, you have a completely clear canvas to find a way to bring light to people.
How did your VCU education prepare you to be an entrepreneur?
Mitchell: VCU came at a very interesting time in my life. I left home to attend a small college in North Carolina, but after a year, I realized that wasn’t for me and I came home and enrolled in Reynolds Community College. While I was a student there, I applied to VCU. When I got in, it was the first time I had a “university” experience. VCU was different from Reynolds. The lecture halls had 250 students to one teacher, and the accountability is on the student. The professor is there to teach their passion and what they love. As a student, you are paying money for this class, and it’s your responsibility to wake up in the morning, get to class, take tests and pass.
I started getting lazy after my first semester, and after my third semester in 2010 I was kicked out of school. The only way back into VCU was to write a letter. I used that time to figure out what I wanted out of life, what I wanted in a career, how to focus on that and be a responsible adult. The letter I wrote said I didn’t take school seriously and I realized that for me to advance my career, I needed to finish my education. VCU accepted me back, and I went to an Introduction to University seminar that they offered to freshmen. I remember the professor talking about how you have to focus on how much you want to get out of the experience. I realized I wanted to get as much as I could. That was an “aha moment” for me, and for every class, I met with the teaching assistant the first day and said, “I want to schedule a once-a-week 30-minute meeting for the rest of the semester.” That’s how VCU taught me how to organize everything.
How has COVID-19 changed everything?
Mitchell: I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past year. Honestly, I have learned how to run a failing business. We’re not talking about a successful business anymore; we’re talking about a business that is living day to day. If that doesn’t humble you, then I don’t know what will. I always try and remember this is temporary.
My grandfather always told me this when I was a kid, “Don’t dwell on the past, play for the future.” I can look back on the past year and be like, “Oh wow, that was bad, but it’s not going to do me any good thinking about it tomorrow.” It has been a stressful year. I work crazy hours and don’t see my kids enough. A lot of people don’t understand how small businesses are the ones that are truly suffering. Target is not suffering. Kroger is not suffering. A lot of small businesses, restaurants and breweries are closing now. If there’s ever a time to buy local or go visit local small businesses, it’s now, because you don’t know if they will be there tomorrow.
You said you liked creating experiences for people and setting up events as part of your business. Why do you like that part of what you do?
Mitchell: I really enjoy doing community events because it allows us to get our name out there while at the same time doing something good for an organization or a group to meet an end goal. We’ve worked with hundreds of local and national charities over the past six years. Typically, pre-COVID, we would work with one or two charitable organizations a month. The Anthem LemonAid Stand through the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU has been one of the organizations we work with regularly. It is very near and dear to my heart because my son has a lot of medical issues. We’re at the children’s hospital quite a bit. I’m fortunate enough to be able to pay for treatments, but not everyone is able to afford them. Being able to help an organization is part of our mission.