A Conversation With Justin Harris And Ryan Griffin Of Saint Louis Hop Shop On Cherokee Street
The Monday after Thanksgiving is usually slow for some, but for Justin Harris and Ryan Griffin, it was another day to welcome their customers—both regulars and new faces. As stepbrothers and owners of craft-beer store Saint Louis Hop Shop, located at 2600 Cherokee Street, they had been swamped the previous weekend: entertaining family in town and maintaining the hustle and bustle of Cherokee passersby, who populated the street for Small Business Saturday and Black Friday.
It was simply a matter of necessity that prompted the brothers’ decision to open Hop Shop in spring 2015. Noticing that breweries abound but few craft-beer shops at the time catered to the vibrant beer culture in St. Louis, they worked long hours to bring the store to fruition. In an effort to cater to beer-lovers and those with not such an expansive palate (like myself), the brothers offer customers creative features to enhance their in-store experience. Through Hop Shop’s mix six offer, customers are encouraged to mix and match six beers of their choice from the curated selection of available local and national craft beers. In addition, customers can have a seat at the bar and taste some of the brews, or enjoy a glass of the four on tap.
When I visit Monday evening, Harris is speaking with a customer enjoying a beer at the bar who frequents the shop. He appreciates the store’s expansion to its new location, which offers a larger bar. Later, another customer comes in to work on his laptop, sharing that he’s on hiatus from drinking but just likes the atmosphere. In that moment, it’s evident that Griffin and Harris have created a place of comfort in the style of that old “Cheers” tune where “everybody knows your name.”
I spoke with Griffin and Harris to discuss how the business came together, honoring a sense of collaboration and community, and how they worked to get it off the ground.
How did you and Justin come up with the idea for Saint Louis Hop Shop?
Ryan: I worked as a branch manager for Enterprise Rent-A-Car for three and a half years, while Justin worked at Whole Foods in the merchandising-and-ordering section. I came back to St. Louis when I graduated from college in 2011, and he came back from Memphis in 2013. At the time I was living Downtown, and we would always be hanging around, kicking beers back. It got to the point that we were repeat customers to the same shops around St. Louis. Eventually, we got burnt out on them. We wondered why there wasn’t a craft-beer store in a city that has such a rich beer history. Before we started Hop Shop, there were around 30 to 40-plus breweries here in St. Louis city. So it really came out of the necessity.
What year did you open at your original location next door, 2606 Cherokee Street?
Justin: We opened in May 2015. We looked at a couple different locations, but things kept leading us back to Cherokee Street. In 2015, people started focusing more on the city, and—I say this with all honesty—I feel like we were one of the first of that new wave of businesses when we opened. The community is so interested in the well-being of their business owners. We feel like we fit right in, as far as being Black and being in a neighborhood where there is diversity. We have all kinds of customers, of different colors and creeds. And we always convince our customers to go patronize other small businesses. It’s not just about us.
How’d you come up with the name “Hop Shop?”
Ryan: Justin and I used to be up to three or four in the morning, putting in the hours and mentally training ourselves to be serious about this. I think Justin was on the phone with one of our cousins and told him we were thinking about opening a craft-beer store and said, “I think we’re going to call it Hop Shop.” It’s a really catchy name. A lot of people think we sell hops.
Justin: The moment was kind of weird. At the time, I had maybe five different names that I would refer to. Then out of nowhere I called it the Hop Shop in conversation and it just felt right.
Have you all ever thought about making your own beer?
Ryan: We have had a chance to create a beer before. We worked with a local brewery called Modern Brewery—we went to high school with the guys there. Justin’s grandfather also has a pomegranate tree, and he picked a bunch of fruit from the tree for the beer. At first, we thought we would name it Papa’s Perch, and it ended up being Fruits de Labour (Fruits of our Labor).
Modern Brewery had a base beer that was ready to go into the next stages of brewing, and some mornings we would go there for a couple of hours and work with them. We also linked up with Firecracker Press to help us create the label. We started brewing in February 2016 and had our first release in October. At the time, I think it was too young. We did another release on our two-year anniversary this year, and people loved it. The idea behind all of the projects that we’ll be doing with the craft beer is to make it a community project.
Justin: Our first semi-collaboration was also with Modern Brewery. It was a pear cider that they made for us. I hand-picked the pears we used for the cider from my father’s pear tree at our family business, which was really a passion project. We didn’t even sell it at the store. We just put it on tap and let people try it. For a few years, my father would make this pear wine, and it was cool to continue that tradition with my own twist. Fruits de Labour was our first real production collaboration. It was a Belgian strong ale aged in Sauvignon Blanc wine barrels, with Brettanomyces and pomegranates.
What prompted your expansion to this location?
Ryan: We actually outgrew our old store. I think it was a great place for us to get our wings off the ground. I think it’s something we thought our customer base would receive well.
Speaking of the community, you feature a lot of work from local artists and collaborate with with them, too.
Ryan: We do art shows within the store. We’ve met so many local creatives. We want to continue to highlight what St. Louis has by displaying different artists in our store. People always inquire about us selling art, but we don’t sell art. We do Meetups by giving them a card and inviting the interested artists in for a beer. We’ve shown Peat Wollaeger and Cameron Williams, who goes by Art Culture King.
I see you also have Rell Lawrence and Brock Seals.
Ryan: Yes. We actually did an event January 2016 with Do314 where Brock Seals and Cameron Williams did a live painting of our refrigerator. They painted a whole story. We’ve always thought of ways to highlight things outside of what we do.
What are your goals for the future of Hop Shop?
Justin: We just want to continue to grow not only as a business, but also as a partner in the communities that we are in. Saint Louis is changing daily, and with that comes tons of opportunity. Really, we want to just help push the the beer culture in our city forward by exposing more people to craft beer. We want to continue working with different artist, organizations and businesses to re-establish the culture and help re-create the identity of our city. We have a few things up our sleeves for 2018. I’d just say follow us on social media to stay in tune with what we’ve got going on.
Images courtesy of Saint Louis Hop Shop.