Two of our favorite things collided in this interview – making new friends and beer! Greg is such a fun-loving guy and he and his business partner, Peter, took us on a tour of Sanford’s first microbrewery, Wop’s Hops (located at 419 S Sanford Avenue).
What do you do?
On October 25, 2014, my business partner, Peter, and I opened the very first microbrewery in Sanford. I started home brewing beer in 2008 after a scuba diving vacation to the island nation of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia with my wife Nancy. The hotel where we were staying had a very small brewery operated by a retired Austrian brew master.
I struck up a conversation with the brew master and after a brief tour of his facilities I decided that I wanted to brew my own beer. We returned home and I immediately purchased a home brew kit. From there I shared my home brew with my friends and gave it away at charity events, parties and special events.
I retired from law enforcement in January 2014 after 20 years as a Senior Probation and Parole Office with the Florida Department of Corrections. My wife has been extremely supportive of my new career choice and has encouraged me to pursue my dream of owning a production brewery.
My wife, Nancy Blauers, is a very talented artist and has worked at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Merchandising Company as their senior artist for the past 15 years. She designs merchandise for the Margaritaville stores throughout the world. Nancy is a sought after portrait artist, sculptor and wildlife artist and is a featured artist at galleries in St. Augustine, Flagler Beach and Key West. Nancy lends her talent to several wildlife rescue organizations such as Save The Manatee Club, Save Our Leatherbacks Operation and Jean Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures. Nancy’s Manatee design was chosen by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for the new Florida Save the Manatee license plate.
Nancy and I enjoy traveling throughout the world scuba diving, experiencing new cultures and seeing the beauty of our planet.
What interests you? What are you passionate about?
That’s an easy question. I am passionate about our oceans, beer and travel. And when I can combine all three I am at my happiest.
I have been a certified scuba diver since 1986 and became a PADI Dive Master in 2007. I learned the art of travel when I was in the US Navy from 1983 to 1989. The Navy saved my life, taught me confidence, responsibility and educated me. I am eternally grateful to the men that I served with and consider them my mentors and life-long brothers.
The art of brewing beer gives me a creative outlet and allows me the opportunity to meet others that enjoy the art of craft beer.
What brought you to Sanford?
In 1993 I bought a house on Oak Ave and lived there until 1998. I sold the home after a divorce. In my five year stay in Sanford I discovered the beauty of this small town. I loved the history and its citizens. I could see the future potential in Sanford and knew this was a real city with a sense of community. Sanford has a heartbeat. She has a soul. Something I find lacking in other nearby communities.
Nancy and I met in 1999 and married in 2001. We bought a home in Geneva where we enjoy our horses, dogs, cats and parrots. Even though we are not Sanford residents, we always came to Sanford to eat, drink and play. Nancy and I became friends with several Sanford residents, shop and business owners. We have always felt at home here. It seemed only logical to open a business in a city where we felt most comfortable.
What has your experience been like in opening up Sanford’s first brewery?
Our experience opening Sanford’s first brewery has been a very good one. The city was very helpful and professional. The building department went above and beyond to help us achieve our goals. I have only good things to say about City Hall and City of Sanford employees. I look forward to the future and Sanford becoming a destination to visit for fine food, entertainment and exceptionally brewed craft beer.
The building WopsHops is located in is pretty historic. Are there any interesting facts or stories that you’ve heard about it?
Not a week goes by without someone stopping by the brewery to tell us about the Stokes Fish Market building and how that person used to buy their seafood here or worked for the Stokes family. It’s pretty cool! Our patrons always ask us if we are going to keep the painted murals on the sides of the building. The building is owned by John and Jim Giuliani and they have assured us that they intend on leaving the mural intact. However, since moving into the building, we have noticed deterioration in the mural on our side. We hope the Sanford Historic Trust will come forward with much needed money to have a professional artist restore and protect the important mural.
Do you have any brewing advice for aspiring brewers?
Get a degree in microbiology, chemistry, engineering and business. Preferably all of them. If not, I suggest going to several universities that now offer Brewery Science degrees.
What kind of beer do you find Sanfordites prefer? Or is it pretty varied?
I can’t put my finger on it. Most craft beer lovers come to the brewery and want what is new or something that they cannot get somewhere else. Sanfordites have received a beer education over the past 3+ years. Ken Martin (Sanford Wine Co.) had a great selection of craft beers. Paul Williams, owner of the West End Trading Co. and Celery City Craft has a fantastic selection of craft beers as well. I have to say that Paul Buster, owner of Buster’s Bistro, has done a tremendous job in educating all of us on the finest beers that Europe has to offer.
There are two additional micro breweries that plan to open late 2015. Sanford will become a craft beer lovers destination and will bring in thousands of people that might have overlooked Sanford in the past.
Who has influenced you most during your time in Sanford?
I can’t say that one person has influenced me but rather several people that made me want to open a business in Sanford. First, my friend Ken Martin was the first person that encouraged me to go further with my brewing. Second, Chef Rich Lendino, who gave me my first big break by asking me to brew a house beer for his restaurant Marco Dinos. In no particular order, Paul Williams, Theo Hollerbach, Paul Buster and Mark McCarty. Each are successful Sanford business owners that have given me sound business advice.
What changes do you wish to see in Sanford?
I love the streetscape improvements in downtown and hope they continue. Our most important asset is Lake Monroe and I hope the City has big plans for lakeside improvements, hotels and business development.
What is your favorite Sanford event?
There are several events that I enjoy. Pints and Paws is a great beer and charity event. I love all the dogs and I get to bring my boys Dexter and Eli with me!
The St. Johns River Festival of the Arts is an awesome event. Each year it has grown in popularity and is only getting better.
My absolute favorite event is the Love Your Shorts Film Festival. It is a team effort of some of Sanford’s most respected residents. Wop’s Hops Brewing Co. was a proud sponsor of the festival this year and we will gladly sponsor the festival in the years to come.
What is your favorite restaurant in Sanford for breakfast? Lunch? Dinner?
Breakfast: Taste of Thyme Café has a great breakfast and is very inexpensive.
Lunch: Tony’s Deli is always good and is the perfect lunch. I ate at the Willow Tree yesterday. You can’t go wrong with the big sandwiches there.
Dinner: Hands down, Marco Dino’s Italian Restaurant. I miss them and Sanford’s culinary choices have gotten smaller with the closing. I recently spoke to Rich Lendino and he hopes to return soon. I’m very excited!
I find myself eating at Shantell’s a lot. They are conveniently located next door to the Brewery and she makes the biggest hamburger in town.
What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen in Sanford?
Before opening the brewery we were contacted by RIP Ghost Hunters. They requested permission to come into the building to see if it was haunted. After a five hour investigation it was determined that we have 5 spirits living in and around the building and property. We haven’t seen any ghosts materialize, however the light in the hallway leading to the bathroom keeps burning out without any logical reason.
What is Sanford’s greatest asset?
Sanford’s greatest asset is the business owners. I’m always impressed with how they are always thinking of ways to improve and expand their businesses. They are always ready to re-invest in Sanford. That’s pretty cool!!