How a pain in the butt turned Fred Karm into a business owner
words by Noor Hindi, photos by Ilenia Pezzaniti
Fred Karm describes his first beer brewing experience as a “pain in the butt.” It was a hot day in 1993 and Fred was dripping with sweat as he and his friend transported a 60-pound vessel of beer.
“I did not enjoy it,” Fred says. “I told him ‘don’t ever ask me to help you brew beer again in my life.’”
Three months later, Fred cautiously took a sip of the beer he and his friend had made. He was prepared to lie to his friend about the taste of the beer until he realized that it was some of the best tasting beer he’d ever had.
He was so surprised that a month later, he joined his friend for a meeting with a home brew club.
At the tasting meeting, he struggled to find a beer he didn’t like. At the end of it, Fred won a pound of barley and an ounce of hops through a raffle.
Clearly, fate was on his side.
“That’s how it all started,” he says. “I slid it across the table and he slid it right back, and he said, ‘you should be brewing at home.’ So, I reluctantly took them home. About three weeks later we brewed our first beer together.’”
Soon after, brewing beer became a weekly ritual. As a musician, Fred would usually spend his Wednesday evenings playing guitar with his musician buddies. Instead, they started bottling the beer Fred was brewing.
“It became a ball of fun, and I never wanted it to stop, and it still hasn’t,” he says.
With an engineering degree from the University of Akron, Fred didn’t expect to fall into a career brewing beer. In fact, he wasn’t even interested in becoming a business owner. But it’s the perfect combination of art and science, which is why Fred loves it so much. Brewing lets him unleash his creative side while also allowing him to embrace his passion for science. This, coupled with his affinity for flavored beers, made it no surprise when Fred started Hoppin’ Frog Brewery.
When visitors walk into Hoppin’ Frog, they might be surprised to find that it doesn’t look like a normal bar. The lights are bright, there are sound-absorbing panels, the walls are painted with warm colors like yellow and orange and the seats are cushioned. Fred wants the bar to be a place where people can comfortably sit for hours.
Fred was inspired by the bars he’d seen while travelling to places like Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.
“We seem to do great here,” Fred says. “It’s amazing, despite the fact that we’re not anywhere around any other bars, or any other restaurants. People come here specifically for us.”
To meet the challenges of the industry, which Fred says is growing in leaps and bounds, Hoppin’ Frog Brewery will start introducing 12-ounce bottles and cans of their beers. Embracing change and being flexible is what pushed Fred through the first few years of the business, which he says was the most challenging time.
“I was like a plane trying to take off but dragging,” he says. “There were several times where I hit bottom. Eventually I took off, and now we’re quite successful, but it was very difficult the first few years.”
Fred says the biggest challenge about being an entrepreneur is personnel. When he first opened, Fred was doing it all on his own. Currently, he has about 30 employees.
“Everyone has their idea of what’s best, and if you let them run with that then it would not be as focused,” he says.
Despite the hard work of running a business, Fred sets aside Tuesdays to get together with his friends to drink beer, play the guitar and have a good time.
When customers visit Hoppin’ Frog, Fred recommends they try B.O.R.I.S The Crusher Oatmeal Imperial Stout, which has been a favorite throughout the years.
Join us on Thursday, March 22 at Hoppin’ Dog to celebrate out three year anniversary! Details here: http://bit.ly/2oCv3Fi
Check out Hoppin’ Frog Brewery’s tasting room at 1680 East Waterloo Rd.
Hours are Mondays from 5 pm – 10 pm, Tuesdays and Wednesdays 11 am – 10 pm, Thursday – Saturday 11am – 11pm. See more information about Hoppin’ Frog at hoppinfrog.com.