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5 Questions with Against The Grain Brewery’s Co-Founder Sam Cruz

Sam Cruz, co-founder Against the Grain Brewery
Kindsey Bernhard

Against the Grain Brewery opened its doors in 2011 as Louisvilleā€™s first brewer-owned and operated brewery. And over the past ten years, Against the Grain has grown to four locations and a production facility. From the beginning of the Smokehouse in 2011 to opening the Public House in 2019, ATG has made a name for itself as a brewpub. However, this past year ATG decided to dabble into something more than beer and opened their first music venue, the Flamingo Lounge. ATG went back to its roots, and most recently, opened the ATG Sandwich Emporium which sits above the Flamingo Lounge in downtown Louisville.

So where did the inspiration from all these different venues and concepts come from? PorchDrinking spoke with Against The Grain Brewery’s Co-Founder Sam Cruz to find out.

Against the Grain just opened their third location in Louisville, ATG Sandwich Emporium. When many breweries are opening up second, third taprooms, why did ATG decide on a sandwich shop as their next expansion?

Over the last year Against The Grain has had an evolution of sorts. Wholly due to the pandemic, my partners and I engaged in a great deal of introspection that has altered our trajectory as a company. It goes without saying that the industries ATG was most engaged, were impacted dramatically by the closure of on-premise restaurants and bars. Not only were we forced to temporarily close our flagship location at Slugger Field, but we also lost a great deal of distribution of our products due to losing the on-premise market. It really took a toll on our company, not only from a revenue perspective, but also from the immense turnover we endured. Because of this profound change in the structure and culture of our company, and the landscape of markets in our industry; we decided it was a good time to reevaluate how we identify as a company and our goals. With that said, evolution began.

We have chosen not to limit our engagement of opportunities strictly to the beer related, but rather to look at business opportunities that align with our company’s mission and core values.


Our mission:
We are consistently excellent to our customers and to each other and are committed to celebrating and encouraging the individual. We are unabashedly unique and are dedicated to sharing our good times with the world!

Essentially opening a world of options for our brand to tell its story and impact the community. We have come to recognize the Against The Grain brand as an umbrella company that governs business opportunities that we have chosen in other industries and the beer industry, but must adhere to our mission. The idea that Against The Grain is more than a beer company, but that it is a lifestyle for us and all those who engage with us. So the ATG Sandwich Emporium was not necessarily an expansion, but actually a new concept that we are excited to launch.

As far as why, the space itself had been home to iconic downtown business Another Place Sandwich Shop and Jimmy Can’t Dance Jazz Bar. We felt those concepts were great use of the space and provided an element of quality to the downtown area. So naturally we chose to carry on the value of those types of business, but with our own intention and spin.

How does the ATG Sandwich Emporium fit within the Against the Grain brand?

As I mentioned before, the use of space prior to us was great for the downtown area and increased the value of experience for those living, working, and visiting downtown. So we chose to carry on those types of business to ensure we were being good stewards of the downtown consumer experience environment.

What kind of sandwiches and menu items can people expect at the ATG Sandwich Emporium? Does the menu reflect the menus at the Smokehouse and Public House?

The menu is evolving as we get our feet under ourselves. At its core, the menu is set up to be a hybrid between New York style deli sandwiches and toasted sandwiches. There are elements of the menu that pay homage to our Smokehouse. We have a toasted Cuban sandwich that features our BBQ pork, as well as utilizing our burgoo recipe for a rotating soup option. We also have deli classics like pasta salad, potato salad, chips, pickles, etc. The spot is open from 8 a.m. to 3pm daily (closed Sunday), so we are also serving simple breakfast options. Also, would it be our place without ATG beer?! We serve it!

It was recently announced that you are opening a new bar and music venue called The Whirling Tiger in the former Odeon in Butchertown. How will this be different from your current bar and music venue the Flamingo Lounge? When does The Whirling Tiger plan to open?

Indeed we are opening another music venue/bar. The Whirling Tiger, in similar fashion to The Flamingo Lounge, was an opportunity that fit our mission. With Odeon on the way out, we saw the opportunity to continue on a great Louisville business, but with putting our own spin on it. As far as differing from The Flamingo Lounge, The Whirling Tiger is obviously much larger. This fact alone will command a different type of show. In addition to that, the bar area is vastly larger and has its own character that we will reveal as we reopen the space.

But more to the point of how these spaces and the use fit into our brand. Music has been an integral part of our brand for as long as we have existed as a company. Prior to our pursuit of these concepts, we put on an annual summer music series called The Local Line Up. The focus of the series was to create a unique and quality environment for our area’s local musicians to play. We would throw the force of our brand behind promoting these shows to provide the artists an experience and opportunity to shine. As partners in the community, we felt it was important to foster growth and success for our local artists and musicians. So our entry into the music industry with our venues at The Flamingo Lounge and The Whirling Tiger make a lot of sense.

Like I mentioned before, you see many breweries opening multiple taprooms to expand their brand. Against the Grain is opening sandwich shops, music venues and bars. What is behind these decisions? And why did you want to keep all your locations inside Louisville?

This is a strategy question. The short of it is relative to all that I mentioned previously. But included in this strategy is the concept of diversification. We feel it’s wise to diversify considering the changing landscape of the beer market. All the concepts we are launching have the commonality of allowing us to continue to exercise our mission, in business that is experiential in nature. We know bars, we know food, and we know how to throw a good party. We are doing what we do well!

Why Louisville? Why not?! It’s a great city, with immense opportunity! It’s our home and we feel compelled to take care of it. Also, having everything within a short distance of each other makes for very efficient management.

To learn more about Against the Grain, visit atgbrewery.com


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