Riepstine’s Pub: Returning to a pub’s roots

Good beer and a nice chit-chat with a stranger used to go hand in hand.

Now, generally it’s beer in one hand and a smartphone in the other.

It can especially frustrating for older generations, who aren’t used to a culture of youth whose eyes are glazed over from hours of staring at social media and virtual friends through a screen, rather than talking to the real humans in front of them.

The change in society didn’t go unnoticed to Tess and Bart Rieppel, owners of Riepstine’s Pub, 913 Arch St.

They weren’t sure, going into business ownership only seven months ago, how well things were going to go. Would people come in only to stare at their phones, look for free Wi-Fi or watch sports on TV?

“Back in the day, pubs were that place, you got your news, weather, local gossip who was seen going out of whose house, and who didn’t go to church that day,” Tess Rieppel said.

These are the roots that the Rieppels hoped to return to, even in 2014.

Somehow, the Arch Street brew pub ended up immune to these 21st-century expectations and is doing better than the Rieppels could have ever imagined.

On a Tuesday afternoon, before the pub opens its doors to the public, the back room smells warm and earthy; Bart is hard at work brewing his first lager – a dark lager.

Bart started homebrewing 15 years ago while in college and it has since grown from a hobby into a livelihood.

It has been a long journey for the couple, who have been together 14 years this month, to achieving their dream of owning their own brew pub.

“We kept our goals below realistic, just because we didn’t want to be shocked (if it didn’t work),” Tess said.

Riepstine’s started a Stein Society and sold out of the entire 50 mugs in the first three months of business. They see new faces every week.

What makes it work?

Marriage and business are notoriously known not to work well together, but the Rieppels said that from the start, the partners must have a unique relationship, which they agreed they have.

“You can’t be that couple who has to smother each other or has to check up on each other, because it just won’t work,” she said.

What helps too, in addition to having a naturally at-ease chemistry, is that they work on opposite ends of the business. She is in charge of the kitchen, while he is in charge of the beer.

“I laugh because I don’t tell him what to brew, and he doesn’t tell me what to cook,” Tess said.

While it may sound old fashioned, husband dealing with the beer and the wife in charge of cooking, the Rieppels are anything but.

Tess is strong willed, knows and understands the business and her customers inside and out, very dominant in conversation, and Bart, passionate about the beer he makes, understands brewing so well that he can spout off the science behind the process off the top of his head.

How it all began

Bart started homebrewing out of a closet.

“I started with extract brewing, and once I got into the all-grain brewing, it was a serious hobby,” he said.

“I think a serious hobby is putting it mildly,” Tess laughed.

It takes a major life change for some to create the catalyst needed to pursue a dream. They had joked together about having a brewery someday, and in the fall of 2005, Bart was laid off of a construction job.

Though he didn’t want to attend the company Christmas party at The Valley Inn after being laid off, he did anyway, and it was there that he was able to really try brewing. One chapter of his life shut that evening, but another began.

After searching, the couple finally found the building on Arch Street in Newberry.

When she started telling people about the spot in Newberry, people reacted negatively at first.

“Why does everyone keep giving me that face? We wanted to ease into a neighborhood and get comfortable with the people around us,” Tess said. “Anyone can be a flash in the pan. But the staying power, we wanted to be a part of something. Not just that flash.”

Good brews and good food

Riepstine’s menu constantly changes, beer-wise and food-wise, because neither of the Rieppels want to get bored on the job.

“We only keep four regulars all the time – that’s the IPA (India pale ale) wheat, red and porter. The other eight change because I don’t like to brew the same beer all the time,” Bart, who spends 20 to 25 hours a week brewing, said.

The food at Riepstine’s is minimal because it exists to compliment the beer.

“We get what’s available and fresh and local,” Tess said. “I’m not the type of chef that can make the same thing every day.”

They began offering new drink products from the Catawissa Bottling Company, ending the sales of Coca-Cola products. Sales skyrocketed.

“We went from selling maybe three or four sodas a night, to selling maybe 15 to 20,” Tess said.

She said the menu consists of recipes of her grandmother and great-grandmother’s that have been rattling around in her head, adding that it’s a lot of food that just isn’t made anymore.

The Rieppels have a lot of plans in store as far as their menu offerings, including eventually serving pizza made from spent grains after brewing. Bart plans to brew many other types of beer and plans to start bottling.

Already, folks can find his brews on tap at pubs across the region.

Returning to the roots

Riepstine’s Pub certainly is no flash in the pan.

In part, it’s because of their unique approach of returning to a pub’s centuries-old business structure of minimal technology and maximum, old-fashioned human interaction.

“Everyone looked at us like that’s never gonna work. People are going to want TVs,” Tess said.

But the Rieppels have been proving the naysayers wrong. Every day, they said, they observe customers young and old, interacting together on a level that they never would have expected.

“Yes, beer pulls it in. But they come in because they can talk to each other,” Tess said.

“People sharing their recipes, older folk’ talking to college kids ,” she said, “It amazes me every day; we’ll look at each other and say, ‘It’s working.’ “

Between the Rieppels’ humble personalities, homemade food and beer crafted with love, it’s easy to see why their customer base is forgetting about the lack of technology and embracing Riepstine’s Pub as a haven from the 21st-century distractions that exist just about everywhere else.

The positive surge in business, even without the technology, surprised the Rieppels and even restored some faith in humanity.

For Tess, she believed younger people had stopped respecting their elders, and Bart thought honesty among people was lost.

Through their business, in only seven months, they’ve changed their outlook on both of those things.