SOMA group hops into brewing business

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SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — South Orange and Maplewood both boast lively downtowns filled with restaurants and family attractions but, until this year, something was missing: a brewery. So Adam and Farnaz Heydt, and Chris and Bianca Froelich decided to do something about it; on Labor Day weekend they rolled out their first two craft beers, made with recipes dreamed up in their kitchens. In the last three months, local restaurants have been serving the SOMA Brewing Company’s ale and IPA, and the two couples have their sights set on opening a taproom and brewery by 2020.

The two couples, whose children attend school together, became friends a few years ago. After discovering that they all enjoy craft beer, the idea took shape to start a craft brewery in an area that didn’t have one.

“We all love beer; I think that’s how everyone gets started,” Adam Heydt said in an interview with the News-Record on Dec. 20 at the Maplewood Mercantile holiday party. “But there isn’t a face to the beer world here. So a conversation at the St. James’s Gate Publick House turned into a plan and six months to a year later, here we are.”

None of the four has a background in craft beer. The Heydts are both television producers and directors, and the Froelichs have backgrounds in sales and marketing. Opening the brewery has been a learning experience on all levels, from creating the recipes to delivering the beer to the restaurants who buy the kegs.

“We started in our kitchen,” Chris Froelich said in an interview with the News-Record on Dec. 20. “We have weekly meetings where our kids are running around and we talk about what we want to do. It’s all happened fast and we can’t sell it fast enough, which is a good problem to have.”

Adam Heydt said craft breweries have become popular across the country in the last 20 years or so, especially in large cities like Brooklyn and Philadelphia. But New Jersey has lagged behind because of dated liquor laws. In 2012, then-Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill that would allow microbreweries to increase their production and sell to liquor stores and restaurants that are not attached to the brewery. The last four years have seen the state begin to catch up with the rest of the country on the local brewery scene.

“There’s a real thirst for craft beer in New Jersey,” Adam Heydt said.

The South Orange and Maplewood area was the perfect place to open their own place, they agreed. In addition to Chris Froelich being a third-generation resident, the families live here and wanted the brewery to be a part of the community.

“We didn’t start here because it’s a happening place to open a brewery,” Bianca Froelich said in an interview with the News-Record on Dec. 20. “We live in the community and our kids go to school here. We want to see it succeed here because we’re a part of this place.”

When developing a beer, the four get together to taste different craft beers and decide what they want their own to taste like. Once they settle on a recipe, they outsource the brewing to a facility in upstate New York. They have a storage space on Springfield Avenue, where the kegs are kept until Chris Froelich and Adam Heydt deliver them to customers. When the taproom opens, plans call for some of the brewing to be done onsite.

Restaurants that have the company’s beer on tap include: St. James’s Gate Publick House, Coda Bar & Kitchen and The Cassidy, all in Maplewood; The Fox & Falcon in South Orange; Capital Craft in Green Brook; Par 440 Restaurant & Lounge in Short Hills; The Hills Tavern in Millburn; Pig & Prince in Montclair; Revolution and Hops Craft in Morristown; and 54 Main Bar & Grille in Madison.

Shortly after Labor Day, SOMA Brewing Company hosted Maplewood’s first-ever Oktoberfest at The Woodland, an event that raised funds for the South Orange-Maplewood School District’s Achieve Foundation. The eight-hour day saw approximately 1,500 people try the two beers they offer, and Bianca Froelich said the community was extremely supportive.

“We asked for people to help us and no one hesitated,” she said. “They were just local friends who said ‘Hey, we’d love to come back and help out,’ and I think that says a lot. So many people have said they’re happy we’re here. We love getting feedback and knowing that people are following the journey. We’re making it for them, so it’s a great thing to have.”

The vision the four partners have for their brewery is a place where people of all ages can gather and connect. Brewery laws don’t allow taprooms to serve food, but they can partner with food trucks and customers can bring their own dinner.

“We want it to be a jewel of a brewery, where people can bring pets and children and enjoy being there,” Farnaz Heydt said in an interview with the News-Record on Dec. 20. “We want to create an environment that is so inviting that you feel like you’re in your own living room.”

The group also wants to hire locally. While the founders will still be the face of the company, as it grows they need to bring more people on, and they’ll need staff when their brewery opens.

“We want to hire all local people,” Adam Heydt said. “People should walk into the place and see the towns represented.”

Farnaz Heydt said that, when talking to the beer lovers in South Orange and Maplewood, many were surprised that there wasn’t already a locally brewed beer available.

“We hear a lot, ‘I’m surprised that this wasn’t here before,’” she said. “It revved us up, because we figured, if we don’t do it, someone else will.”

But before the taproom can open, there is more beer to be brewed. The company is canning one beer in January and one in April, and hopes to come up with more recipes in the new year.

“We love music and hanging out and being with friends,” Adam Heydt said. “Beer bridges the gap to all of that, so we’re excited about it.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic and Courtesy of SOMA Brewing Company