An Interview with Aaron and Christine Holley
Summit Pointe’s first restaurant tenant, Wasserhund Brewing Company, opens in June 2021! We sat down with Wasserhund owners Aaron and Christine Holley to talk about their brewery, its unique features, and what’s to come from their new location at Summit Pointe.
Tell us more about your background. How did you go from chemical engineering to owning and operating a brewery?
Christine – Aaron and I went to Virginia Tech starting in 2006 and graduating in 2010. Aaron has a double major in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering as well as a certificate in Nuclear Engineering. I hold both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree in Chemical Engineering.
After graduating from college, we moved to Northern Virginia and found jobs in engineering. During this time, Aaron started working on homebrewing beer as a hobby after I bought him a homebrewing book out of the blue. It started with three-gallon batches in our apartment’s kitchen and eventually grew to brewing larger batches in our driveway!
After five years, Aaron was finishing his project in D.C. and we wondered what our future would hold. I wanted to move back to Virginia Beach where our families live, and Aaron said he only wanted to go back if he could open his own business.
Aaron – I spent about a year developing a business plan for a brewery: working on the numbers, writing and revising the business plan, and finally convincing Christine and then a bank to help me move forward.
Christine – It was a 45-page business plan!
It sounds like your business was well thought out before you even opened!
Aaron – Yes, but we ended up with some surprises. We knew we wanted to offer light fare like bratwurst and pretzels, but when we got to our first location, we discovered that the old tenants left a pizza oven!
Christine – We actually became well-known for our pizza, which wasn’t something we were even planning on offering.
It sounds like, by circumstance, that leftover pizza oven helped to evolve your business.
Christine and Aaron – Absolutely!
Aaron – When I was at Virginia Tech, I did some military training and Minored in Leadership with the Corp of Cadets. Every Commander, Captain and General who talked to us always said “grow where planted.” Since then, we’ve always taken that mentality of “if something’s going to change, we’re going to adapt to it and succeed at it.”
Circling back to your backgrounds, is there a tie-in between chemical engineering and beer brewing?
Aaron – The concept of home brewing and the actual manufacturing of beer tie in. I know how a lot of the brewery’s machinery works and how to take care of it because of my background.
Brewing can be very technically-based, but it isn’t always necessary to constructing a beer. When I actually go to develop a beer, I always start with a recipe and consider what kind of beer I want to make. Then I do research to see how other people make those beers and adjust those recipes to my own ideas. So it’s sort of a “yes, but not really” kind of answer.
Christine – The biggest thing we use from our backgrounds is our problem-solving abilities. With an engineering degree, you learn a lot of lessons about figuring out how to do things.
How did you develop the idea for Wasserhund?
Aaron – In 2012, I got back from six months of training with the Navy in Pittsburgh. At that point, I was brewing beer almost every weekend with only a far-fetched concept of a brewery.
That year, we went to Germany for Oktoberfest. That’s where Christine and I fell in love with German beer culture. People weren’t drinking excessively, they were drinking responsibly because beer is a part of life there. We fell in love with that concept. When we decided to open a brewery, we thought “let’s do a German theme for the community aspect of it!”
Christine – That’s how we got the idea, and the Wasserhund name came from us trying to think of a German name for the brewery. One day, we were walking our dogs through a trail in Northern Virginia, and our dogs ran off to play in a lake. Aaron said “I wonder what ‘water dog’ is in German’ and that’s how we found the name Wasserhund! We didn’t know that when we developed our brand and logo (which features a picture of our German Shepherd, Hertz) that it would become a dog-themed brewery.
What’s some of the inspiration behind the beer and food menu you developed?
Christine – Most of our menu came from suggestions from employees and customers, and from ideas of how we could make food unique and special to us.
For pizza, we knew that we wanted to do it as soon as we found the pizza oven in our first location, so we worked on how we could incorporate the beer side of the business into our food. We discovered we could incorporate ingredients from our beer process into the pizza, making the dough with beer yeast for example. We developed our signature Wasserhund Pizza after having some leftover bratwurst at the end of the night that we didn’t want to go to waste. We sliced them up and put them on a pizza, and our signature pizza was born!
We cook our sausage and chicken in our beer and make our own beer mustard and cheese. So we incorporate a lot of the beer aspect into our food. This gives it a one-of-a-kind flavor. We also knew that we couldn’t have a German-themed brewery without German food like pretzels and bratwurst!
What makes Wasserhund different from other breweries?
Aaron – Definitely the beer. When we opened, there were not many craft breweries that made lagers, which is what most German beer is. We always have at least two lagers for sale. One of our top-selling beers is a pale coffee lager. It’s different from other coffee beers like chocolate stouts. Another one of our top-selling beers is a German hefeweizen. Even though we make a lot of the popular beers like IPAs, stouts, and porters, we always stick to our roots with German beers.
What do you love about owning and operating your own brewery?
Christine – Owning your own business has a lot of challenges that can be draining, these past nine months especially. But the rewards are that you get to watch it grow. We grew from a two-barrel brewhouse that Aaron built himself to a fifteen-barrel brewhouse that distributes across Hampton Roads, and now we get to open our second location.
It’s fulfilling and humbling to watch your business grow and progress year to year. On the day-to-day side, you can end your week knowing you’ve gone forward and made improvements that are long-standing.
The relationships within the industry are fun, and we enjoy providing a livelihood for 26 employees and making sure they enjoy work and feel fulfilled.
Can you tell us more about Wasserhund’s commitment to helping the community?
Aaron – Christine and I have always gone to church, tithed and tried to give back to the community we’re a part of. Our pastor in Northern Virginia had a sermon on tithing where he said that it’s not just about money but about resources, time, and commitments. He talked about how those who might not have a lot of money can still give their time. So you could cook a community dinner for example, or help people feed the homeless.
While we were thinking about our business and writing our business plan, I thought to myself “we won’t have the same amount of time to devote to the church, but we can build that into our business plan by giving money to local organizations that are the hands and feet helping the community.” When we started the business, 5% of all our profits went directly into the community.
Christine – Now, we donate 30% of our revenue every Tuesday evening, and switch the charity weekly. By doing charity nights once a week, we can focus all of our attention on a charity in one day. It’s been a huge success. As we’ve opened back up from COVID restrictions, we’ve been able to start this again and are excited about it.
What made you want to open a second location at Summit Pointe?
Aaron – I have always wanted to grow the business. We’ve been looking for a second location for almost four years. When we first considered a second location, we wanted to open a huge brewhouse, but around that time we watched the beer market boom come and go. I watched how national craft breweries lost footholds in areas because of local breweries. Everyone wants to enjoy local beer.
As we watched how the average beer consumer changed, we discovered that they want something flavorful and produced locally, so we pivoted to a plan for a smaller brewhouse with a more local feel. We looked in Chesapeake because there are not many breweries in the region. Then, our realtor introduced us to the wonderful community that’s growing at Summit Pointe.
What can those in the Summit Pointe community expect from Wasserhund?
Christine – We’re looking at bringing primarily the same concept from our first location to Summit Pointe. We’re going to go with a more upscale theme here but still keep it dog-themed and friendly. We’re bringing the same recipes to our new location.
Our goal as a German-themed brewery has always been to make sure we’re offering an inviting, family-friendly and comfortable atmosphere with a community feel. We plan on bringing those aspects to Summit Pointe while offering awesome food, beer, and service. We call our Wasserhund in Virginia Beach our “Wasserhome” and we plan on bringing that same feel to Summit Pointe, making it “Wasserhome Number Two.”
What kind of events will take place at Wasserhund’s Summit Pointe location?
Christine – Live music for sure, especially in the summer during the evening, as well as beer releases and specialty beer promotions. Some beers will even be exclusive to the Summit Pointe location!
Every year we do an Oktoberfest at our first location, and we’re considering bringing Oktoberfest to Summit Pointe too! We invite a bunch of breweries from around the Hampton Roads region to join us at this event. Last time, it attracted almost 2,000 people. It’s set up like Oktoberfest in Germany, with a bunch of tents brought by each brewery and set up with their own decor. In the middle of the event, we have tables and food trucks with tons of German food. We also feature live music, a dog costume parade, and a kids’ parade. It’s like a big party, it’s really fun.
Will there be anything different about your new location at Summit Pointe?
Aaron – Because of this location and its proximity to the Dollar Tree and Summit Pointe working communities, we’ll be focusing a lot on lunch and will host an early-evening happy hour. We’ll add things that will speed up service and make our brewery more lunch-friendly. We’ll also expand our menu and add more finger foods and things that are quicker and easier to eat for those who are on-the-go.
How can people learn more about Wasserhund?
Christine – We have a great website at www.wasserhundbrewing.com that showcases a lot of what we do. You can also view our menus and order online through the website. We also have Instagram and Facebook pages. I highly recommend following us to keep up with our events and offerings. We post every day and have a great social media presence!
We look forward to Wasserhund growing with us! As the community at Summit Pointe comes alive, we’re thrilled to welcome unique, community-focused businesses like Wasserhund that will become the heart of our neighborhood.