On September 5, 1989, Jeff Polychronis and Peter Cole opened Squatters Pub Brewery in downtown Salt Lake City, three years after Greg Schirf opened Wasatch Brewery (the first brewery in Utah) on Main Street in Park City — eventually the microbrew trailblazers united, becoming a “match made in heaven.”
Polychronis was born in Park City, Utah. Cole was born in Kent, United Kingdom, and Schirf hailed from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the location of ABC’s hit TV series, Laverne & Shirley (1976-1983), a show based on two best friends/roommates, who worked as bottle cappers at Shotz Brewery. Perhaps a young Schirf was inspired by his Milwaukee roots and the show?
Cole worked as a hairdresser in London, New York, and Los Angeles before moving to Park City in 1979 to enjoy small-town living, and to transition to the real estate business. According to Polychronis, all three were real estate agents in Park City during the late 1970s through the early to mid 1980s. Schirf left the real estate business first to start Wasatch and Cole and Polychronis left their real estate agency in 1984 to form their own brokerage in Salt Lake City.
Leaving real estate for microbrewing
Polychronis and Cole were brokering and syndicating commercial real estate projects in Utah and Colorado, but when the tax laws changed in the mid 1980s, the commercial real estate markets were seriously weakened, explained Polychronis.
The pair were working on a project with Red Lion Hotels and traveling regularly. The modern brewpub and microbrewery movement was in its infancy in the US and many of the startups were in the Pacific Northwest.
“We visited many of them [brewpubs and microbreweries] during our travels,” says Polychronis. “The combination of a soft real estate market and the excitement of brewing and brewpubs convinced us to make a career change. We traveled to most breweries in the US — there were only about 50 then — wrote a business plan, secured the location at 147 West Broadway, found financing, remodeled the building, and opened Squatters Pub Brewery on September 5, 1989.”
The relationship between Wasatch and Squatters was always good. At first, they weren’t competitors because Schirf was operating his microbrewery and brewpub in Park City, and Squatters was limited to the single brewpub in Salt Lake City. Later, when Squatters built its microbrewery, it competed with Wasatch, but the relationship remained friendly.
Uniting Wasatch & Squatters, a moment in history
By the late 1990s, there were three major microbrewery players in Utah — Squatters, Wasatch and Uinta. All three were doing reasonably well, but the market was small enough that Polychronis and Cole believed the efficiencies of combining their production with one of the other big three would be beneficial to them both.
“Because of our existing relationship with Greg, we approached him with our idea. It took a while, but in 2000, we combined our production breweries into one and called it the “Utah Brewers Cooperative.”
Polychronis and Cole maintained ownership of their brewpubs in Salt Lake City at the airport and Schirf kept his brewpub in Park City. In 2012, they merged everything together (three Squatters pubs, one Wasatch Brewpub and the Cooperative) and sold it all to a private equity group from Boston, Fireman Capital Partners. Polychronis and Cole retired and Schirf stayed on for a couple years to operate the Cooperative, then he retired.
Squatters/Wasatch was a good marriage, says Polychronis. The brands were different enough from each other, they could market them in such a way that to the consumer, they were competing brands. The relationship also worked well — Greg’s interest was primarily in the brewery, while Polychronis and Cole were more focused on the brewpubs.
Selling to Monster, then buying the brewpubs back
Fireman Capital purchased other breweries across the US, however, Utah was unique in the portfolio because the restaurants were a significant part of operations. Covid damaged the company (now called CANarchy Craft Brewing Collective) to the extent that Fireman and its lenders had to sell the company — in early 2022, they made a $330 million-dollar deal with Monster Beverage Corporation for the breweries, including Utah.
Monster called Polychronis and Cole about their interest in buying the restaurants back (now seven and a commissary kitchen). Polychronis and Cole agreed with the idea, believing bringing local ownership back would be very positive for the restaurants. They put together a group of investors, all Utah based, and formed PRC Restaurant Company to purchase Salt Lake Brewing
Co., owner of all seven restaurants and the commissary. They completed the purchase on February 17, 2022.
“Jeff and I have tremendous respect for the team that operates the Squatters and Wasatch pubs. We have known some of these wonderful people for 33 years. Some of their children now have children of their own, and now we have the pleasure of working with them again. That connection is important to us,” says Cole.
Squatters and Wasatch are iconic Utah brands; Polychronis and Cole are very excited to have ownership of the restaurants back in local hands and to refocus them on local priorities. “When we sold in 2012, we never thought for even a moment that we would once again be involved in ownership. Ten years later, we are. Never say never!” says Polychronis.
“Jeff and I, our partners, and the management team, believe in giving back to the communities we serve, and that is a particular focus for Salt Lake Brewing Co., now we’re back home in Utah,” says Cole.
The last few years, as we all know, have been particularly challenging for the hospitality community, with the livelihoods of tremendous numbers of people severely affected, says Cole. He says everyone in the company, from dishwashers to the CEO, is thrilled the pubs are humming again. “It brings into particular focus what we have always known. Our customers and our team members, at every level, are the company’s most valuable asset.”
Cole says, “It’s brilliant to see friends, families, business colleagues, all happily gathering and celebrating in the pubs again...we’re celebrating too, every single one of us!”
Salt Lake Brewing Co. is excited to help make life fun again, explained Cole. Its pubs provide a great environment to bring people together and offer them delicious food, tasty beers, and great fun. He says they are now offering more than just a great dining and drinking experience: Beer & Yoga, Trivia Night, Sunday Funday and Paint Night are some events that are already happening at some locations, and there are plans in the works for many more.
“We are proud that Wasatch Brew Pub and Squatters Pub Brewery started a great movement in Utah. Smoothing the way for the rich variety of local brewing and distilling that you see today. But you never forget your first, and Salt Lake Brewing Co. is focused on perpetuating that delicious irreverence that made Squatters and Wasatch the iconic landmarks they are today!”
In addition to the above, Wasatch Brew Pub and Squatters Pub Brewery are sponsors and vendors of the Salt City Wine & Dine event hosted at La Caille Estate on Aug. 27. They will each have a booth at the event—Wasatch will be featuring its Beeramisu dessert, their take on tiramisu, made with Imperial Stout, espresso, coffee liquor, lady fingers, and mascarpone cheese. Squatters will be highlighting its famous buffalo wings.
To find a Wasatch Brew Pub location near you, click here. To check out a local Squatters Pub Brewery, visit their website to learn more.