Brewing up a good time

Oaken Barrel Brewing Company owner Kwang Casey partners with Greenwood to give back to the community that supported him

Kwang Casey. *Photo by Nicole Davis

The Greenwood community has supported Kwang Casey since he opened Oaken Barrel Brewing Company 23 years ago. The business has seen steady growth, Casey said, and in return, he does whatever he can to give back to the Greenwood and Southside Indianapolis community.

“I like the rush of the business, on a busy night, handling three things at once,” he said. “It’s challenging, but when you sit back and watch the customers, you get to see familiar faces and see them enjoying dinner. That’s why I feel like I owe something to the Greenwood community, or the Southside of Indianapolis community. They’ve given so much to us. There are 49 employees plus me here. They call this their home. They make a living. So I feel I have to give back to the community.”

Casey came to the Southside of Indianapolis in 1977, where he continues to reside. A graduate of Southport High School, he’s worked in restaurants his entire life. He ran Broad Ripple Steakhouse from 1990 to ’94. There, he met the owners of Broad Ripple Brew Pub, the first craft brewery in Indiana, which sparked an interest in Casey to start making beer.

He opened Oaken Barrel, Indiana’s second craft brewery, with two business partners, Bill Fulton and Brook Belli, in 1994.

“I wanted to open on the Southside,” Casey said. “I know how Southside people are, what they like and dislike. We planted our roots here 23 years ago, before the craft boom. They said you guys are crazy.”

Originally his concept was to sell beer and simple food like a bar, but his chef helped him make the business a full-service restaurant, for which Casey said he still thanks him to this day.

Not every business endeavor has worked. Nearly 20 years ago, Casey said they tried hard to get into production and get the Oaken Barrel craft beers on the market. Maybe Indianapolis wasn’t ready for that at the time, but Casey eventually realized that’s not where he wanted to make his money. Instead, he focuses on local.

“There’s more profit in selling more beer here, doing community events or beer festivals,” Casey said. “So I refocused my business away from retail and focused more on in-house beer sales. It’s worked for us.”

Through the course of 20 years, the business has doubled in size. The brewing system has doubled which doubled brewing capacity, Oaken Barrel added a beer garden, packaging area and a second bar area.

Oaken Barrel partners with Greenwood for many of its festivals and events, such as the Summer Concert Series at Craig Park and Adults Only Swim Night at Freedom Springs.

“When I look at these events, we make money and that’s great,” Casey said. “Even if we don’t make money, that’s okay because it was a community event. You see people happy. Say only 200 people came to an event, but 200 people are happy, that’s investment down the road. People tried your beers and know where we’re at. You don’t do it to make a ton of money. You try to help the city have the events grow. Knock on wood, we’ve been successful at these city events.”

It was Casey’s suggestion that sparked Rock the Clock, a community festival in downtown Greenwood which features live music, local wine and beer, food trucks and more for all ages. The purpose is to connect residents and visitors with the businesses in Greenwood.

“I’ve been to cities that a one-day festival turned into a three-day festival with a national act,” Casey said. “They started out small. I jokingly said to the guys at the parks department to do something downtown Greenwood because it is centrally located. They had a new clock they wanted to show off. Last year was the first year. We kept it low-key on purpose to work out the kinks. Last year, people that came to the event, after the event was over, they went o Revery for dinner, Oaken Barrel for dinner, Mallow Run for wine and food. It went off without a hitch. People had a great time. We’re hoping to make it bigger and better.”

This year’s Rock the Clock is Sept. 23, 1 to 8 p.m. in downtown Greenwood. The live music stage, with LivingProof, The Why Store and Tastes Like Chicken, will be on the street, making space for the new addition of a zip line.

Casey’s investment in the Greenwood community goes beyond events. Casey and Bemis Group are partnering to open a banquet hall in Franklin, expected to open in the spring of 2018.

Last year, he and Bemis Group purchased the strip center where Oaken Barrel is located, and the city is helping develop the area.

“We want to make this when you come to downtown Greenwood, this is the gateway,” Casey said. “I thought about purchasing it 10 years ago and I didn’t do it. The landlord lives in Cleveland and he wanted out. Right now we want to redo the parking lot and curbs. We already installed new parking lot lights. We will work from the outside in, replace some of the older materials to modern building materials. This building is over 30 years old. It needs some new windows. Once we get the outside done, in a year or so, we might do some remodeling in here (Oaken Barrel), but a lot of our regular customers say don’t change too much. They feel comfortable here.”

Getting to know Kwang…

-I’m a huge Colts fan, since day one. We tailgate every home game. I own a Colts bus. There’s 15 of us that ride the bus down and another 50 that join us for the party.

– I  have a family full of runners, except me. My wife, Kathy Casey, is a professional runner. I have four children, who run.

– I like to golf, but I’m not a golfer.

– I’m a big cigar fan.

Best advice: If you treat your customers like a guest at your house and your employees like a family member, you’ll go a long way. My grandfather told me that.

Worst advice: Working hard is the only way to make it. I realized as I got older, you can work smarter at the same time as working hard. I wish someone would have told me that.

Best decision: Some of the staff I hired. From day one, they worked and had faith in me to make it. Twenty-five percent of my staff has been here since day one or the first year.

Secret to success: My staff. As much as I like to think I know about the business, you’re only as good as your staff.

In 5 years… I’ll be less involved in day-to-day operations. I’ll have the events center. Maybe I’ll have another restaurant concept.

Oaken Barrel Brewing Company

50 Airport Pkwy.

Greenwood, IN 46143

(317) 887-2287

oakenbarrel.com