When we spot other Craftspeople, it inspires us to share their story. And sharpen our pencils.
Episode 7

Pete Ternes on building Middle Brow Brewery & Bakery

Tom, Dick and Harry Creative Co. is a craft agency that is proud to tell the stories of craftspeople taking the leap to create one-of-a kind goods, services, and experiences in Chicago. This is the story of a brewpub to know: Bungalow by Middle Brow.

For Pete Ternes, the co-owner and co-founder of Bungalow by Middle Brow, the Palmer Square craft brewpub, the memory of the turning point in his life remains crisp. “I was working as a lawyer in New York, and I was riding my bike under the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. I'd put in 80 hours the prior week of work and thought, ‘I have a lot of energy. I don't love what I'm doing. Why am I working 80 hours a week for someone else's benefit?’… It was well paid, but just not fulfilling.” For Ternes, it wasn’t just about the hours he was working, it was about building a life that that would support his community.

Ternes knew that he was passionate about food, beverage, community, and his hometown—Chicago. Now, the question was, how he could get from point A: lawyering in New York, to point B: serving the community doing what he loved in Chicago?

At first, Ternes kept his job, taking on side projects in food and beverage. It felt better, but it wasn’t the dream. Then, one day, a Chicago-based friend emailed him with a business proposition. Ternes remembers the email this way: “[He said], ‘Let’s start a brewery and let’s donate half the profits to local charities.’ I just immediately stopped what I was working on and put all my energy into that.”

Back home in Chicago, the new venture proved to be slow going. “There was a lot of red tape at the time,” Ternes says. “This was 2010, early 2011, and in early 2011, there weren't very many breweries. There wasn't a lot of know-how on the legal side of licensure for breweries and for alcoholic beverage producers more generally.” Undaunted, Ternes and his business partner stayed the path. While they solidified the fundamental elements of their business and brought on a third business partner, Ternes discovered his interest in wild brewing.

“Wild beer differs from ‘regular beer’ in that it's yeast-forward,” Ternes says. “The flavors and the aromas are much subtler. They can be hard to control or to predict. That makes them exciting from a brewing standpoint and should make them exciting from a drinking standpoint, too.” Whereas a traditional IPA or lager often gives the drinker a singular taste profile, a wild beer simply has more to offer. “In the glass, in the time it takes to finish a beer, you might taste three different beers, given how the flavor profiles that derive from yeast and its fermentation might change with temperature and time,” Ternes explains.

Ternes and his team held such a fascination for the powers of wild yeast that they started paying attention to other gastro opportunities fermentation provided. “We became hobbyists in sourdough baking back in 2013 and 2014 and just had fun with it,” Ternes says. After a period of operating as nomadic brewers using the facilities of more established brands, the team found their current Palmer Square location and decided to expand their menu offerings. Plus, they reasoned, people might like pizza with their beer.

They weren’t wrong: after opening people were impressed by the profiles of their wild beers but also, to the surprise to Ternes, took time out to compliment the “incredible” pizzas. (Author’s note: the mushroom and margherita pizzas at Bungalow by Middle Brown rival the best in Naples.)

As Ternes and his crew continued to evolve their brewery and culinary offerings, they remained committed to their original goal: giving back to the community. Their goal was to work towards correcting the balance between financial wealth and financial need in the city and between safety and danger in our communities. They identified charities that aligned with their values, including the anti-gun-violence, nonprofit CeaseFire, the Immigrant Youth Justice League, the Women’s Health Center, and, as Ternes characterizes them, “some pretty cool LGBT rights groups on the North Side” as charities to connect with.

“The original idea,” Ternes says, “was that we would donate half our profits to local charities. We probably donated more like 75 to 100% of our profits to local charities for seven years. That amounted to over $25,000, which for us was a lot of money.

”While financial donations have been key to providing essential resources for Chicagoans in need, Ternes has also used his business to provide a work training program targeted towards those in under-resourced communities and has donated over 10,000 loaves of bread in the last year to Chicagoans facing food insecurity.

All the while, Ternes is committed to growing his business and expanding his capabilities. One big celebratory growth point is Middle Brow’s official foray into winemaking. “We're formally taking the leap ourselves and becoming a winery,” Ternes says. “We'll expand production of our bread, our beer, and our wine in a new facility likely sometime later this year or early next year.” Middle Brow will be working with and learning from natural winemakers in the Bay Area as well as in Michigan and Illinois as they embark on this new adventure.

To others interested in pursuing work as craftspeople, Ternes has some advice. “Just start doing it. Don't put all the pieces together first. Just jump right in. Don't worry about all the things you're supposed to do. Don’t wait to do things right. Just do things now.”

As Bungalow by Middle Brow proves: the wild magic will follow.