Where Smart Growth Can Carry You in 10 Years

It’s been a decade since Fort Myers Brewing opened its doors as the first microbrewery in Lee County, Florida. 

It began with a few taps and a 400-square-foot taproom, and has since expanded into being one of the largest craft brewers in the state with a 22,000 square foot operation and a line of beers and seltzers.

Suffice it to say, the craft beer scene has changed a bit in their neck of the woods since brewery co-owners and erstwhile home brewers Rob and Jen Whyte opened their brewery while still working day jobs with the hopes of making a few new friends.

“The whole beer culture has shifted dramatically in Florida, and very specifically Southwest Florida, over the last 10 years,” the Whytes said in e-mail correspondence with Brewer Magazine. “When we opened, there weren’t any other microbreweries in our area, so the audience has evolved from being brand-new to craft beer to now having dozens of local options to choose from. There are a lot of really good breweries in our area, each one catering to a slightly different crowd.”

Their business model has shifted since the early days, when the Whytes’ taproom was open on Saturdays and Sundays. In the early days, they worked day jobs Monday through Friday and brewed on Sundays.

They started in such a way that made sense for an audience that may have had little prior exposure to local craft beer.

‘When we opened 10 years ago, we opened without an IPA on tap,” they said. “We first introduced a lighter Gateway Gold Blonde Ale as a way to ease customers into the world of craft beer. We then slowly began introducing IPAs, heavier brews and other out-of-the-box flavors as palates grew and eventually further diversified by launching our area’s first line of locally brewed hard seltzers.”

In the early days, Fort Myers Brewing focused on controlled growth and smart investments. They self-funded with a limited budget and reinvested their profits back into the business. Their approach to growth was influenced by the seasonal nature of our area. 

“During the off-season, we focused on acquiring new accounts and maximizing our equipment,” they recalled. “Managing our extreme seasonality is a key to our business’ success – everyone wants to maximize tank space all the time, but if you are doing that in Southwest Florida’s off-season, you need a plan to keep up when our population triples during our high season.”

As they grew, they ordered additional equipment to handle increased demand during peak season. 

“Our strategy was to establish a strong local presence and build recognition in our immediate area before expanding into other regions,” the Whytes said. “This helped us maximize our resources and gain a solid foundation for future growth. We also have kept our tried-and-true recipes consistent, while letting our brewers be creative with more out-of-the-box flavors for taproom releases.”

Another key to growth was taking the plunge and making Fort Myers Brewing their full-time focus.

“Rob left his day job one year to the day of us opening and he likely could have/should have done it a bit sooner, but that was a scary step that we both needed to be ready for,” Jen said. “Being flexible, accepting feedback and surrounding ourselves with good people and partners have all played a role in reaching where we are today.” 

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