Brewing Up Business in McConnelsville

Clutch MOV is proud to sponsor this year’s Mid-Ohio Valley Entrepreneur of the Year. Clutch MOV envisions a community where citizens can take risks on the promise that success would uplift the residents of our valley. Our artists, creators, innovators, and small business owners strive to build something new, better meet the needs of our community, and nurture the entrepreneurial spirit of our region. These entrepreneurs are on the edge, finding new ways to build, create, and serve. This year we received dozens of nominations for innovative, forward-thinking, community-building entrepreneurs from the Mid-Ohio Valley. The panel believed five individuals stood out for the impact they are making through their work. We are sharing their stories in this series.

Dean Ponchak had been thinking about starting a brewery in the back of his mind for some time. When he retired from the Ohio EPA at the relatively young age of 51, he knew he would need something to keep himself busy. “My wife Jennifer and two of my sons discussed the idea and decided to move forward. Lucky for us, the perfect building went up for sale shortly after our decision,” said Ponchak.

After two long years of renovations – and a whole lot of brewing – Old Bridge Brewing Company opened in McConnelsville in June of 2020. Located on the corner of West Main Street and North 3rd Street in view of the ‘old bridge,’ the brewery is housed in a two-story building that was an auto repair shop in its former life.

“This immediate area was lacking a place for people to gather and relax,” said Ponchak. “Breweries have a history of providing just that type of family-friendly atmosphere – and also tend to jumpstart other businesses along the way. Since we opened last year many customers have commented to us how they appreciate having a place to go to meet people and just kick back and relax.”

We had a vision, and through a lot of hard work by a lot of people, that vision has become a reality.

Ponchack is originally from the area, growing up on a farm halfway between McConnelsville and Beverly. He began brewing shortly after retiring in 2014, while also working at his wife’s construction company. When he was ready to expand, he purchased a brewing system from a brewery in Michigan, Fourth Street Brewing, and consulted with their brewer, Doug Beedy, who offered to help Dean set things up.

Old Bridge Brewing has both a 15-barrel system, which can make 465 gallons, as well as a half-barrel system, which makes only 15 gallons. This allows the brewery to experiment with small batches and perfect the process before moving varieties to the larger system. Last fall, less than a year since opening, Ponchak and his team submitted four brews to the Ohio Craft Brewers Cup. Of the four brews submitted, the three that placed were: Beernnormous in the Imperial Stout/Porter category, Bourbonormous in the Wood Barrel Aged over 8% ABV category and the Red as Reba in the Amber/Red Ale or Lager category.

On the weekends, it is common for the brewery to have a food truck parked in their lot and a patio full of people. As they serve only drinks, the Ponchaks have partnered with area food trucks and local restaurants to provide a variety of cuisine options for their patrons. Guests can have pizza delivered from nearby Maxwell’s, BBQ from Boondocks, or treats from MoCo’s Dip-n-Sip just across the alley, in addition to whatever delicious dishes are being served up by their featured food truck.

Ponchak appreciates being able to work for himself and see his vision through. “I enjoy being able to call the shots on how our business is operated, and then seeing the decisions that were made being put in place and working as planned,” he said. “We had a vision, and through a lot of hard work by a lot of people, that vision has become a reality.”

As a business owner, Ponchak says he never really ‘clocks out.’ “I’m at the brewery most every day for at least a few hours making sure that everything is cleaned and operational.”

On the one day a week the brewery is closed to customers, he brews – sometimes for 16 hours or more. “Even when I’m not at the brewery physically, I’m here mentally, thinking about how to manage all of the daily issues that come up.”

Since opening last June, Old Bridge Brewing Company has become a hub of activity in the community. In good weather, the garage doors are open and tables are full inside and out. Ponchak and his wife work closely with other area businesses, including their friends Dan and Amy Smith who own the newly renovated downtown bed & breakfast, The Inns at 8th & Main, to cross promote and market to potential visitors.

With the uptick in working remotely, many people are looking to escape urban areas, and what better place to escape to than the Mid-Ohio Valley?

“We have customers at the brewery from all over Ohio, as well as from surrounding states. Having people travel to this area helps to show what a great place southeastern Ohio is to live and work,” said Ponchak. “With the uptick in working remotely, many people are looking to escape urban areas, and what better place to escape to than the Mid-Ohio Valley? I’m certain that several of our customers have decided to purchase property nearby to pursue that goal.”

Ponchak said it was truly a community effort to open the brewery and that he could not have done it without the help of friends and family. “There were many late nights and holidays spent completing tasks to keep the project on track,” he said. He appreciated the helpfulness of all of the regulatory agencies he worked with. “There was never a ‘roadblock’ we couldn’t work through.”

To those thinking about going out on their own, Ponchak said developing a business plan is one of the most important steps you can take. “Work with experts in whatever field you’re working in to make sure your business has a chance for success,” he said. “Do the groundwork first – don’t just start throwing money at your passion and hope that it succeeds as a business.”

Clearly, Ponchak’s hard work has paid off, but he still has big plans for the future evolution of the brewery. “Our next step is more extensive keg distribution as well as canning and bottling. After that, we intend to investigate the possibility of a second brewery either southeast or northeast of our current location.”

He said that being recognized as a finalist for Entrepreneur of the Year has already increased the brewery’s name recognition in and beyond the Mid-Ohio Valley. “This comes at a time when things are tight due to the restrictions we had to institute last year due to COVID-19 mandates,” he said. ““Being a finalist is quite an honor and completely unexpected.”

The 2021 MOV Entrepreneur of the Year will be publicly announced during a special program during the Mid-Ohio Valley Entrepreneurial Expo on September 23rd, 2021 hosted by Marietta College, following a panel discussion with all five finalists. Register today!