HARKER HEIGHTS — Just about every time a new customer walks into Black Hawk Brewing Supply, owner Mark Laack hears the same thing.
“‘I just found out there is a home brew store closer than Austin,’” Laack said. “I hear that pretty much every time a new customer comes in for the first time. For the first six months, we joked we should just put up a sign that says, ‘You don’t have to go all the way to Austin any more.’”
In fact, when Laack was talking to the Herald, Waco-based electrician and home brewing hobbyist Michael Harris walked in and said, “I just found out today there is a brewing supply store closer than Austin.”
“It’s a pretty big deal for me,” Harris said. “I’m in Killeen three or four days a week, and now I don’t have to make a special trip to Austin to get supplies.”
The store, which specializes in beer, wine, mead and cheese-making supplies, will celebrate its first anniversary Wednesday. Laack said the store is already in the black.
He said he is not yet able to draw a salary, but that is because he has reinvested his profits into expanding the store’s inventory. He said Black Hawk has twice the inventory it had when it opened.
Laack credited the store’s early success to the rising popularity of do-it-yourself hobbyists.
“It’s a growing hobby,” Laack said. “It goes along with the Food Network, foodie industry. The American Homebrewers Association saw a 20 percent increase in membership between 2011 and 2012.”
Laack said a newbie can get started in home brewing for between $150 and $200.
“The initial investment includes all the equipment you need and your first batch,” he said. “Getting started doesn’t take up a lot of space either. Essentially, all you need space for is two buckets.”
The store sells a lot more than starter kits. Black Hawk offers more than 50 grains from around the world. It sells books covering aspects of home brewing from beer to making homemade soda. The shelves are lined with cheese and wine products as well as locally made honey.
“We have a wide spectrum of stuff here,” Laack said.
Laack is very happy with the store’s first year, but he is always looking for new ways to generate revenue.
“Our biggest challenge is getting people to know we’re here,” he said. “We do a lot of advertising on the radio and Facebook. We just got a big, new sign, and that is helping immensely.”
Laack is considering working with other local home brewing enthusiasts to raise awareness about the store.
“We are talking to a local home brew club that wants to come out here and teach classes,” Laack said.
“We’re looking into it. In a few months, we will also be doing a ‘Brew Day Demonstration,’ where we will set up a table outside and go through the whole process. ‘How to’ classes are a great way to build a customer base.”
Laack is hoping he will cultivate a loyal following like he did when he was learning the craft as an undergraduate political science major at Baylor.
“I had several friends I only saw on brew day,” he said.