USA, NY: Heroes Brewing to take over Lost Borough Brewings space in Rochester
Like a lot of stories in Rochester, this one begins in the Wegmans beer aisle, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported on June 2.
Dan Western offered to help Marlene Fagen pick out some beers for the craft-your-own six-pack. Western, the co-founder and brewer at Lost Borough Brewing in Rochester's Beechwood neighborhood, assisted Fagen and that sparked a "quick friendship," Fagen said.
So when Western and his co-owners were looking for a buyer for their brewery, they approached the Fagens. Lost Borough, 543 Atlantic Ave. in Rochester, will soon become Heroes Brewing.
"Dan and Marlene got talking about how we wanted to go down this path (toward brewery ownership)," said Greg Fagen, Marlene's husband. "Dan offered to help in any way he could."
"Amazing what relationships can be started at Wegmans," Marlene concluded.
The closing of Lost Borough has as much to do with life changes as it does with growing competition in the local beer scene.
When Lost Borough opened in 2014, there were just four breweries in Monroe County (Genesee, Rohrbach, Roc, Fairport, and Custom Brewcrafters). Today, that number stands north of 20.
Over that time lives have changed. Families grew. Priorities changed. The Lost Borough owners Western, Dave Finger, Trevor DeMott, and Carl Langsenkamp said it was just the right time to move on.
"It wasn't a forced choice," said Finger, who got married and had two children since the brewery opened. "About a year ago, I approached the other owners and said, 'When we started this, my life was very different.' I wanted to refocus my time on other stuff."
"We're all in different places and we're moving forward in different directions," Western said. "I'm gonna miss the Borough dearly. It's killing me, but I couldn't be happier with the time that I've got into it."
Lost Borough had such a promising beginning. The brewery greatly expanded its capacity early on jumping from a 3-barrel brewhouse to a 7-barrel system and even had to close about a month into operations because it simply didn't have enough beer. LBBC also raised more than $20,000 through a Kickstarter campaign.
"We grew through community support," Western said.
Western, a former high school technology teacher, is a talented and curious brewer. His skill grew exponentially. And coupled with Finger's keen designs, Lost Borough had a great combination of good beer and good marketing.
Western originally talked about how he and Finger met and then bonded through a weekly poker night.
But the truth remains: It is harder than ever to compete.
"There are just so many options for people," Finger said. "When Dan started doing his first batches, our hoppiest beer was an English-style IPA. ...What people were looking for has changed so much. I think that's what caught me off guard the most."
There's still an appreciation for the classic styles, Western said, but he had to take chances and be nimble. He never expected to brew beers like a sour IPA or a milkshake IPA. He even made a hard seltzer.
Lost Borough still hopes to host a farewell party. Greg Fagen said there won't be any contractual stipulations keeping Western from returning to the beer industry as soon as he wants. "We won't limit his ability to chase his passion," Greg said.
Moving forward, Heroes will lease the current Lost Borough space from building owner Howard Nielsen. Heroes is acquiring all of Lost Boroughs assets, including intellectual property, branding, social media accounts, and beer recipes. The Lost Borough name will be retired and Heroes will file with federal and state agencies under the new name.
Well reopen under that brand some time in the summer, Greg said.
Greg said some of the recipes will "remain active" but will probably be renamed. "A lot of what we're about is benevolence," Greg said. "If you want to help yourself, the first thing you should do is help somebody else."
Greg, a former Fairport firefighter, said the brewery name is a reflection of this foundational attitude.
"The first responder aspect fits, but we were looking at it as the every-day hero," Greg said. "Its grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. Its big brothers and big sisters. Its doctors and nurses. Its farmers. Its anyone who knows that by putting that act of kindness out there, it creates an endless ripple that touches everyone. Thats who we wanted to build a brand around. Our tagline is, Heroes dont look like they used to, they look like you do.
Heroes is planning to launch four different charity-focused beers, including one to support veterans and another to help animals. Portions of those sales will go to organizations in those areas.
Like many in the brewing industry, Greg got the itch to go professional after homebrewing for many years.
"We looked at buying breweries, starting places around the Finger Lakes and pretty much everywhere in between," Greg said.
The Fagens participated in the Brew in Livingston business plan competition in late 2016 and were among the 10 finalists. (Grants were ultimately awarded to places like Mortalis Brewing in Avon and Rising Storm Brewing in Livonia.)
Through the competition, the Fagens met another participant, Phil Boulanger. Greg said Boulanger is an award-winning homebrewer and will oversee production, while the Fagens are responsible for marketing and other operations.
Boulanger recently won a medal for a double New England-style IPA and also excels with traditional styles. "He's really well-rounded," Greg said.
Finger is hopeful the sense of community fostered by Lost Borough will continue under the guidance of the Fagens and Heroes Brewing.
"We wanted someone to carry on the legacy and continue to support the Beechwood neighborhood," Finger said. "I think that's what surprised us the most, the relationships we built with our customers. We did a ton of different stuff and tried a lot of things, but the market changed a lot over the course of time we did it."
Greg Fagen summed it up perfectly.
"Even though the name over the door is changing, their legacy won't be forgotten," he said.
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