Beer 'n brats
Sept. 10, 2012
by Steve Krut
German-style beer has reunited with its greatest complement…German-style meat products…at the Weeping Radish Brewery and Butchery in Grandy, NC. But for founder Uli Bennewitz, putting the two together in the United States was not as simple as he had envisioned.
Bennewitz came from his native Germany in the late 1970s to run large agricultural land programs for investors from his country. He took a friend’s suggestion to establish a side business making beers that reflected the character of his homeland. The problem was there was no provision for such manufacturing in North Carolina and he basically had to work to get a law passed to allow it.
“There were a lot of hoops he had to jump through to get it done,” reflects his daughter Sophie, who serves as manager for the family business. “For those who think getting meat inspection is tough, trying to start the first micro-brewery in North Carolina was a formidable task. After a law was finally on the books, there were more than a dozen federal and state agencies he had to clear before he could start up. This included the Central Intelligence Agency; Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Internal Revenue Service; OSHA and many other trade, tax and regulatory agencies.”
Once the Weeping Radish Brewery was opened in nearby Manteo, Bennewitz opened a restaurant, as was required under the micro-brewery law, to serve local food with local beer.
Bennewitz, who is known by many for thinking 10 years ahead, decided to establish an ecological farming program and raise his own livestock to produce meats kindred to the “purity” laws that reign in Germany for both beer and meats.
“His farm concept was that spent mash from the beer making could help feed the animals,” Sophie recalls. “Water could be used for irrigation. Everything could be recycled and reused in some way for greater efficiency and be environmentally friendly.”
This part of his dream was realized in 2000 when he bought 24 acres of farmland along the busy Caratoke Highway (Route 168) to establish an all-organic Weeping Radish Farm. The road daily ushers thousands of tourists and “snowbirds” to the beach and fishing mecca known as the Outer Banks. By 2006, the brewery and butchery began operating at that location.
The colorfully mural-painted pole building fronting the roadway now houses the brewery, the restaurant and the pub. An organic garden is used to provide fresh herbs and vegetables for the restaurant as well.
Bennewitz embellished his concept by establishing a joint venture with German Master Butcher Gunther Kuhle. They imported equipment from the homeland and set up a production facility in the same building as the brewery to create the German-style meat products. This department is operated under Talmadge-Aiken meat inspection, through which state inspectors are supervised by federal management and the products are allowed into interstate commerce.
Once it was up and running, the Weeping Radish Butchery was allowed to become the first non-German company to enter the prestigious Bavarian Master Butcher’s Guild competition, where it took home awards for excellence in bratwurst and sweet potato liverwurst.
Recognizing the efficiencies of scale, Bennewitz moved to establish business relationships with local farmers who could provide naturally raised livestock, including grass-fed beef and free-range pork. These area farms provide a meat source that can be monitored and provide both meats for the butchery and restaurant and are also returned to the farmers as gourmet processed meats that can be sold under their own labels. It is ironic that much of the original farm is currently being left fallow because of the rapid growth of the brewery and butchery.
The owner continues his joint venture with Kuhle, who serves as a consultant and was instrumental in bringing another master butcher to the operation in Grandy. Frank Meusel, a 34-year meat craftsman from Kassel, Germany, now makes the specialty products and assures customers that all meat offerings are nitrite- and hormone-free.
Among the products flowing off the butchery’s production lines are bacon, uncured pork, brats in regular, apple and beer versions, hot dogs, kielbasa, salami, pastrami, corned beef, bolognas, the sweet potato liverwurst, andouille, a chicken curry sausage and many German-style sausages. And, yes, they do make their own sauerkraut, cooked in white wine, with spices and pastrami pieces.
What’s in a name?
When asked where the Weeping Radish name originated, Sophie explains that it is a German bar snack. A large radish is sliced and salt is added to the slices before it is reassembled. The salt draws all the moisture out of the radish so it looks like the radish is weeping. It is not something that the firm serves in their pub or restaurant.
“Much too salty,” Sophie says.
From the firm’s website, www.weepingradish.com, customers can check out the company’s history and diversified choices at the brewery (six beer styles), the butchery, the restaurant and the pub.
The facility is decorated with a 5-ft. Weeping Radish mannequin that greets customers upon entering, along with Bavarian and other German signage, artwork and collectibles. The location is key for Weeping Radish. When those vacationers heading to the beach get backed up in traffic, the inviting pub and restaurant, and even brewery tours, provide a delightful respite from the turmoil of travel.
Not long ago, Bennewitz teamed up with a local resort to have dinner and a sausage-making class for a small party. Those attending were able to sample the products they were making as part of their dinner fare.
One of those attending was a reporter from The Washington Post and, as they say, the rest is history.
Although most of the firm’s meat products are sold in North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia, their reputation has rapidly spanned the nation. The company was invited to enter its sweet potato liverwurst at the first Good Foods Awards competition in San Francisco, where it won the in charcuterie category.
Being such a stickler for purity, Bennewitz has labored endlessly to build his dream around uncompromised quality beer and meats. The butchery has only Uli and three part-time workers, while the brewery has two full-timers and one part-timer. The restaurant employs eight people.
It’s certainly been a complicated puzzle for the Bennewitz family to put together, but now that it’s assembled, it has to rank as one of the most remarkable small businesses ever undertaken on a friend’s suggestion.
Steve Krut, an industry veteran, is a contributing editor writing exclusively for Meat&Poultry, specializing in small business issues. He resides in Marietta, Pa.