Four Stacks Brewing – More than Meets the Eye
Have you visited Four Stacks Brewing in Apollo Beach? If so, you know it’s more than just a pub with hand-made craft beer. It’s a meeting place, art gallery, running club, trivia event, food truck rally, brunch spot and craft brewery all rolled up into one.
It’s also an indication that South Shore is growing up and becoming its own destination.
Here’s the incredible story of Four Stacks Brewing Company and its two co-owners Nathan Hangen and Shawn Christenson as well as the great woman behind the man – Nathan’s wife Heather who played a huge role in getting Four Stacks Brewing up and running and continuing to run.
A Lifelong Entrepreneur
Nathan, originally from Bellbrook, Ohio, became an entrepreneur early in life. In high school he sold Cutco knives. He did so well he was offered a branch manager role, but he declined in favor of going to university. He later went on to start a real estate business and a ‘Running’ community portal.
Nathan graduated university, got married, had children and joined the army. At 27 he found himself in Georgia, working as an Army Combat Engineer. He then moved into Psychological Operations where he became a paratrooper.
It was during an 8 month deployment in Afghanistan that the entrepreneurial bug hit him again.
“All of my buddies would kill time play cards and reading,” Nathan says. “I started selling stuff.”
Nathan created a website to sell Afghan scarves (no longer selling them) until his command shut down his operation. He then began selling How-to Social Media Guides.
Business Partners Meet by Chance
After the Army, Nathan decided to go into online courses. He partnered with a woman in California to sell an online course about bootstrapping your own business. Through this venture he met his current business partner, and Four Stacks Brewing co-owner, Shawn Christenson.
Nathan hired Shawn, who lives in Canada, to build a website for him in 2009. The two hit it off immediately and decided to ‘do something together’.
That ‘something’ was to build a mobile app called Santa Strike, similar to Elf Bowling that many may have played. The Santa Strike app launched in 2010, with much success.
The two partners then went on to form a software company, Virtuous Giant, which has become highly successful, going from 0 to almost 7 figures in a short time.
Nathan and Shawn formalized their company and partnership in 2012. Today, Virtuous Giant is the parent company of Four Stacks Brewing.
A Home in Ruskin
In 2012 Nathan and his family moved to Ruskin. He had one more army-paid move and he and his wife wanted to find a place they could build a house. He and Heather had vacationed in this area for years and Nathan had always dreamed of living where people went on vacation.
The Brandon area was too busy, but Ruskin was just right. So, they moved here.
Shawn remains in Edmonton, Alberta, although he visits monthly (and more often in winter).
Company’s Success Leads to New Venture
By 2015, Virtuous Giant was doing well and Nathan and Shawn were looking for another project to tackle. A trip to San Diego, where several leading craft breweries operate, inspired the partners.
Nathan, who had been a long-time craft brewing hobbyist, decided it might be a good time to find a place to brew his craft beer. Or, rather, his wife Heather decided it might be time for his brewing equipment be located somewhere other than their living room so Nathan went in search of a local place he could rent. He also thought it would be interesting to sell home-brew equipment.
Shawn, also a craft-brewing aficionado, was on board and the two began looking for space in the Ruskin / Apollo Beach area. After stumbling on the location where Four Stacks Brewing now calls home, the idea to simply find a place to house brewing equipment and sell home brewing equipment quickly became, ‘Wow, we could open a craft brewery.’
The time was right. Nathan, Shawn and their fellow craft brew-loving friends had been making the trip to Tampa’s craft breweries for some time, but the commute was getting old. The two partners looked around this area and saw all of the developments. The setting was ideal.
It was time for Apollo Beach to have its own craft brewery.
If You Can Learn One Business, You Can Start Another
“If you can learn one business, you can start another”, Nathan says. The partners leased the current location and went to work learning a new business.
First, the partners hired a law firm, BrewerLong in Maitland, Florida that specializes in building breweries from the ground up. The law firm helped with all of the legal stuff, including permitting.
Nathan set out to discover everything he could about craft-brewery design. He had already had a vision of what the brewery could look like for a long time, but now he needed details. He spent lots of time studying other breweries and their floor plans. “I would sneak tape measures into places and measure the height of the bar and stools,” Nathan admits. Details in place, he finalized his vision.
Nathan and Shawn quickly sourced a designer for the interior, Charlie Schiller of Schiller Design, and they began learning their way around the permitting process, which took longer than anticipated.
During the build-out and development stage the partners were spending countless hours creating and brewing beer as well as sourcing materials and putting processes and procedures in place, all while still navigating the permitting maze.
Four Stacks Brewing Opens
The two partners self-funded Four Stacks Brewing. “It was tough,” Nathan says. “We really needed to open, but everything kept getting delayed.”
Necessity is the mother of all inventions, right? Desperate to open and begin generating cash flow Four Stacks Brewing officially opened in October 2015 with 18 guest taps.
“Being bootstrapped forced us to spend smart,” Nathan explains. “We had to be creative with marketing and buying and opening our doors.”
The partners secured a promotional video, at a discount, from LessFilms and begin marketing, for free, on Facebook. Four Stacks Brewing Video
Approachable and Different
“There’s nothing worse than spending money in a place you don’t feel welcome,” Nathan says. “We focused on making Four Stacks approachable and hiring people with great customer service skills. A lot of our customers have never tried craft beer before they came here, so it’s important our staff know what they’re talking about and enjoy getting customers excited about craft beer, too,” Nathan adds.
The partners also wanted Four Stacks to stand out. Apollo Beach, and the area, has restaurants, but Four Stacks is the first craft-brewery. “People want diversity,” Nathan says. “We want to usher that in.”
The partners have also made sure the customer experience is exceptional and about more than just the craft brews.
Four Stacks sells a combination of hand-crafted beer made on site as well as guest taps from other craft breweries. It’s a way to offer a variety of beer to patrons and maintain an adequate inventory.
From concept to brewing to selling a new beer the process takes approximately 7-10 days. One day of brewing, 7 days of fermentation, and 2-3 days of conditioning and carbonation. Four Stacks can brew 1.5 barrels 5 times each week.
Where do the beer names come from? According to Nathan, it’s a combination. He and Shawn had come up with a few names before opening. Now, it’s a team effort.
“The staff will sometimes beg me to come up with names,” Nathan says, referring to when he names new brews such unsexy names like Batch 15.
Today, the partners host team calls and everyone will throw names around. The latest ‘Octopus Prime’ name came from an employee in a group chat.
Four Stacks Patrons
People come from all over to enjoy Four Stacks and its activities. While they have a huge draw from the neighboring Harbor Isles and Mira Bay developments, Four Stacks draws folks from all over South Shore, Brandon, Palmetto and Bradenton. They also get a lot of snow birds in season.
Four Stacks Activities and Amenities
Nathan and Shawn knew they would not have a kitchen so, again, they got creative. Each week new food trucks are scheduled to set up shop in the parking lot outside Four Stacks Brewing.
Patrons can run outside, order food, and have it delivered inside. Another huge benefit – Four Stacks Brewing can allow dogs since they don’t have kitchen.
Four Stacks hosts live music every Saturday night. Patrons enjoy music from the likes of Zebron & James, Blackbird Anthem, The Cruz Brothers and more.
Brews and Brunch
Every Sunday, 12-5, a different food truck offers a brunch menu and Four Stacks offers fresh-made sangria and delicious beermosas along with your favorite Four Stacks beers.
Nautical Art Gallery
Did you know Four Stacks Brewing has an incredible art gallery, too?
An organization by the name of the Creative Life Project manages the gallery inside Four Stacks Brewing. Learn more about the Creative Live Project here: http://www.thecreativelifeproject.org/ and on Facebook.
Nathan and Shawn had hired the Creative Life Project’s founder, Teri Navajo, to do some chalk art in Four Stacks. That’s where Terri introduced the idea of doing an art gallery. Today, the Creative Life Project launches a new exhibition in Four Stack’s Nautical Gallery every four or six weeks, each with a new theme.
As it turns out the Four Stacks Nautical Gallery is an incredible venue for selling art. The one-eyed creature painting below, created by a 12 year old, hung in one of the Four Stacks art exhibitions. Nathan liked it so much he bought it.
The next exhibit, Sunken Ships, opens December 9 at Four Stacks. More info here. There’ll be a reception where you can meet the artists and peruse the art from 7-10. There’ll be beer, too, which goes without saying.
Every Thursday night, 7:30PM, returning and new individuals and teams gather to play Buzztime Trivia at Four Stacks. Prizes: $20 gift card to the 1st place team, $10 to 2nd, and free pint glass to 3rd.
Join the Four Stacks Running Club on Wednesdays at 7pm. Run, walk, or jog a 5k or 1-mile residential loop. Participants then get $1 off all drinks from 7-close. A food truck will be on hand for the after-run hunger. Open to runners of all experience levels. Kids and pets are welcome, too.
Today, Nathan and Shawn have grown into an efficient partnership. Nathan is the boots on the ground most of the time, while Shawn handles the back-end operations and creative.
Shawn is also a self-taught graphic artist. He finalized the Four Stacks logo, created the Founders’ Society Club (a club for 100 founding members), and does all of the artwork for new brews including Pinfish and Octopus.
The duo hopes to launch a video soon, talking about craft beer and making it approachable for everyone.
The partners have begun researching the possibility of distributing Four Stacks beer in the area, but it’s a tough road. “Craft brewing is incredibly competitive,” Nathan explains. “And it’s the Four Stacks culture that’s our secret sauce.”
Do Nathan and Shawn have any inkling to change the Four Stack name to Three Stacks when the candy-stripe stack comes down? No. The Four Stack name will remain, as a nod to our soon-to-be former skyline.
For more about the TECO Stacks and Miss Candy Stripe’s demolition: http://bit.ly/CandyStripeStackDemolition