L’uva Bella Enters into Partnership with Brew Kettle

LOWELLVILLE, Ohio – L’uva Bella Winery is now part owner of The Brew Kettle, a Middleburg Heights-based brewery and taproom/restaurant chain, in a deal that puts the winery’s two owners in management roles at the brewery and will put each company’s beverages in the other’s outlets.

The deal will close in the coming weeks. L’uva Bella co-owners Marisa Sergi-Schumann and Evan Schumann were on-site at Brew Kettle last week to familiarize themselves with the operation. Sergi-Schumann, L’uva Bella CEO, is Brew Kettle’s chief revenue officer, and Schumann, the winery’s president, is Brew Kettle’s CEO.

“We didn’t want to wait any longer to get started because there’s a lot of work to do,” Sergi-Schumann said.  

L’uva Bella now has a 10% ownership stake in Brew Kettle, and the brewery has a 10% stake in the winery, Bryan Weber, Brew Kettle’s majority owner, reported. Weber first invested in the brewery in 2016, assumed majority ownership in 2020 and assumed operational control of the company in July 2022.

Sergi-Schumann said she and Schumann, her husband, met Weber in the spring and have been in discussions since then about going into business together.

“They’re highly motivated, highly educated and very detail oriented,” Weber said.

The couple, who have expanded L’uva Bella distribution into 11 states, also understand what it takes to grow a business and to motivate sales staff, he continued.

“It’s one thing to grow revenue. It’s another thing to grow EBITDA,” or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, “and another thing to grow net operating income,” he said.

Brew Kettle, which opened in Strongsville in 1995 as Ohio’s first on-premises brewery, has grown to five taprooms, including one in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Village in Canton, and is developing one in Brunswick Hills, Weber said. Its flagship brew is White Rajah, an India Pale Ale, and patrons also can brew their own beers from hundreds of recipes.   

Other Brew Kettle offerings include Utah, an imperial IPA, Winter Warmer and several Rajah variants. Weber has bought other northeastern Ohio breweries, including Canton Brewing Co.

The partnership also will allow Brew Kettle to upgrade its wine offerings, currently provided predominantly by a sister company, Your Wine Cellar, at Strongsville, where patrons can craft their own wines, Weber said.

“It’s not the quality of wine that L’uva Bella makes in its premium line,” he said. He recounted how he conducted a blind taste test with members of his wife’s wine club using the label’s premium cabernet sauvignon, and all picked the L’uva Bella wine over the other choices.  

In addition to bringing L’uva Bella’s various brands – which include the Red’s, Purple Rain and Passion lines – to Brew Kettle’s taprooms and the brewery’s beers to L’uva Bella’s bistro in Lowellville, Sergi-Schumann will focus on expanding retail distribution channels for Brew Kettle.

“There’s so many craft breweries out there. Everybody thinks you open a brewery and you just make a ton of money. Well, that’s not the case,” Weber said. “You have to gain scale. And until you have scale, you really don’t have the ability to be highly successful.”

The partners said their goal is to grow Brew Kettle, now the 11th largest craft brewery in the state, into one of the top five in the next three to five years. Production capacity is about 26,000 barrels annually, which she would like to expand to 40,000 or more within the next two to three years.

“We plan to scale the Brew Kettle, just as we did with L’uva Bella. But our main focus will be winning in Ohio first and then expanding outward,” Sergi-Schumann said. “Our salespeople will be able to sell beer and wine, which are seasonal, and the seasons complement one another.” 

They will be able to represent both products and be able to make more money and service accounts better because of the seasonality, Sergi-Schumann said.

With the expansion, Weber reported he has several friends from Strongsville and Hudson who have relocated to the Mahoning Valley and complain they can’t find Brew Kettle beer.

“That’s going to change,” he said. “Youngstown is going to have some of the best craft beer that they haven’t had access to soon.”

Sergi-Schumann said she and Schumann “really put a dent in things” last week in terms of discussing topics such as rebranding strategy and lining up distributor meetings.

“It’s been exciting. There’s a lot of energy at the offices and a lot of energy at the brew pubs,” she said. “We’ve gotten a warm welcome, and everyone is super-receptive to our ideas. But we’re also learning from them.”

Pictured at top: L’uva Bella co-owners Marisa Sergi-Schumann and Evan Schumann.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.