Runners Q&A: Seth Kevorkian on running, beer, and a peak plan for 2023

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Runners Q&A: Seth Kevorkian on running, beer, and a peak plan for 2023
Seth Kevorkian, owner of SouthEnd Brewing in Greensboro (photo courtesy of Seth Kevorkian).

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If you've participated in road races in Greensboro or you've shown up at SouthEnd Brewing Run Club on Thursday nights, you've seen Seth Kevorkian. He's the hard-working subject of today's Runners Q&A.

Age: 37
Residence: Greensboro
Day job: Owner, Taega Technologies, High Point; makers of thread seal tape for pipes
His other job: Owner, SouthEnd Brewing Company, Greensboro
Family: Wife, Kristen; two children; two dogs, Cerberus, and Lyca, both mixes and both run; a sister, Shenna, and brother-in-law run marathons

RS: Tell me a little bit about your running game.

Kevorkian: "I've never been a consistent runner. I've been an off-and-on runner since high school. My sister has been a consistent runner. I used to go with her; I could never keep up. I did a fair amount of cross country in high school. Not competitively, I did a club sort of thing. When I did run, I always preferred, and still do, running on trails to running on the road. So I can get out into the woods and run over rocks and roots and bounce around. It's way more fun. I've always been an avid hiker, mountain biker – being active outdoors but not exactly running. But I have found that running consistently makes all those other activities easier because breathing is nice.

“I'll go through periods of time where maybe I'm training for a high-altitude hike, so I'll try to push running any for a while. And then it sort of dies off. Until we opened this place, and we wanted to do a run club because breweries and run clubs go together really well. We were talking to Jack (Moore), who had run the Preyer Run Club; Preyer was closing down and that Run Club was looking for a home. We talked to him and were trying to convince them to bring that group here. He said, 'OK, but you'd have to run with us.' And I said, 'OK, I'll run with you.'  He said, 'At least once a month, you gotta run with us.' 'OK, I can do that.' It gradually turned into 'I'm gonna make sure I have time every Thursday.'

“Most weeks, still, the only time I run is on Thursday with Run Club. I try to squeeze an extra run or two in during the week. But if nothing else, I always get that Thursday run.

“Signing up for a 5K or a 10K and running that: I've done almost none of those. I just like to run socially with this group or if I have time in the afternoon, I'll go for a run with my wife or my dogs. Not super serious.”

RS: You're really busy. You've got family, you've got two business. When you do get to run, what does it do for you?

Kevorkian: "Running is, besides being a bit tiring, I'm away from everything. I don't take my phone with me. I'm outside with the dogs and the trees. It's a mental break, for sure. Which isn't to say I'm not thinking about a million and a half things while I'm running, but it's better than the two and a half million I might be thinking about if I wasn't running. . It's a mental recharge, even if it's physically demanding."

RS: Why has it been important for SouthEnd to support the running community? And how has it been good for business?

Kevorkian: "It's been important to support the running community because it gets us into a lot of places, into a lot of people and makes us a lot of contacts with organizations that we can cross-promote.

"Junction 311 and Trivium, we work with a bunch, as well as Omega Sports. They can push our things through their channels, and we push their events and their things through ours. It's a great kind of collaborative marketing effort on that front.

"The running community in general is a surprisingly large community of people that almost one-for-one overlap the demographic of people that like craft beer, interestingly. It's just brought a lot of really interesting people and a lot of regulars that have started coming Thursdays for Run Club and then keep coming back throughout the week.

"In addition to the Thursday business that we get, it drives a lot of business throughout the week because now we have all these people that maybe wouldn't have come here otherwise, they come here, they like it, they keep coming. They come more often, they bring people, it's great."

RS: Why do beer and running overlap the way they do?

Kevorkian: "I'm not sure. One is like the healthy ... and not that beer is bad for you. A single beer has 120ish calories unless you're drinking something super-heavy. It's not too bad if you don't drink too much of it.

"But I guess the people that run fairly consistently can afford to squeeze an extra beer in there, and it's not too bad. If you do a 5K or a 10K, your ticket on your bib comes with a beer. 'I just ran a 5K; I guess I can have a beer.' So we do sponsor most of the local ones, show up and provide beer for all of those.

"But as far as just like a demographic, why do people will like running also like beer? I guess I could say: Everyone likes beer, including the people that like running."

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RS: When you opened in 2019 in this space, what did you envision then and how has that played out, particularly given the pandemic and now inflation?

Kevorkian: "What we envisioned when we opened, it wasn't shutting down three months later because of a pandemic. We opened in November. We were open December, January, February. ... So a combination of nobody really knows you're here yet and it's wintertime, those were those were kind of slow. But we sort of expected that. We were looking forward to the spring, when the weather's getting nicer, people are starting to come out more, you're getting a little bit of traction in terms of people knowing you're here, and then mid-March (snaps his fingers), pandemic shutdown, and it's not what we envisioned. But that's what happened.

"And as we came back, it was fits and starts, as restrictions were loosened or reinstated, as waves came and went, people felt more or less comfortable going out. Generally speaking, the restrictions weren't what hurt us. With a 50 percent capacity restriction, it was rare that we would even get to 50 percent. The thing that was hurting us was that it's a pandemic, and a lot of people just weren't comfortable going out to public spaces, which we totally get. We spent a lot of effort into spacing tables out. And we were one of, I want to say a few, in a somewhat minority that we were pretty strict about the mask enforcement on our premise. We got some pushback for that. But a lot of people told us that they felt comfortable coming here, and not other places, because staff all had masks, and we made people wear masks when they got up from their table, and it was just something to navigate.

"And then once restrictions were fully rolled back, in May '21, when it went to no more restrictions, no mask mandates, no nothing, it swung way up after that, probably kind of into the range of what we'd envisioned two years prior. When the weather's nice, the patio is full, the bar is busy, we're right downtown, we get a lot of foot traffic in and out, and it's been pretty good since then.

"Inflation is kind of pushing things back the other way. I understand that going out for a lot of people is a luxury, and pocketbooks are getting stretched thin in every which way and direction. So people have maybe went out a couple of times a week are going out once or getting one beer instead of two. We've tried to keep our prices down as much as we can, but we're getting a lot of pressure on price increases from our supplier as well. Every couple of weeks we get a price raise here and there; we don't always pass that on to the customer. We try to give where we can, but it's affecting everybody, not just in the food industry but everybody everywhere. It's another thing to manage again."

RS: There are a lot of breweries out there. There are a lot in town, a good number downtown. How will I know I've had a SouthEnd beer?

Kevorkian: "I'd like to say that our beer is all very good. I might be biased on that front. But a lot of people have told us that they think our beer is pretty great.

"Our brewer, William Brown, is a fantastic brewer. He's had some fair amount of experience before he joined with us. But he's been here since Day One, since well before we opened. He helped design the system. He does the recipes and the brewing, and he makes just great beer.

"We have 14 taps; it's important to us that we have a range of options. I've been to some places where everything on tap is IPAs or sours or something. And that's great, those are popular beers, but not everybody likes that. So we keep a range. We've always got at least a couple of IPAs and pale ales, but year-round try to keep something dark. It might be a heavier stout in the winter or like a porter or brown ale in the summer. We've always got a few lighter, sweeter options. We keep at least one sour year-round, usually not more than that, and we'll try to have something else fruited.

"There's enough room on tap for us to have a range of options. If you like beer, there's going to be something here that you're that you like, at least the style here that you like."

RS: What makes William good at what he does?

Kevorkian: "He is very precise about the process controls. Almost more than it's an art, brewing is a science. Plugging down to exactly what's going in and therefore what's going to come out, taking measurements at different points in the process. We have a pilot system that lets us do a small run of a completely new thing. If we want to do something unique or interesting, we'll do it on that. But that gives us a way to test out different ingredients if we're using something different or to start a different recipe or technique before we do it on the production side. He's very meticulous in process, the conditions, making sure what he wanted to make is what he gets."

RS: A lot of different styles here. What's your favorite style? And what is your favorite SouthEnd beer?

Kevorkian: "My favorite style in general is dark, heavy stouts. The darker, the thicker, the better. Following that, Singularity, the stout that's on right now, is my favorite one that comes around. It's not much of a summer beer.

"So once we get into the warmer months, I'm looking for something lighter. We've got the Kolsch, Admiral Jack, which is actually named after Jack Moore from our run club, and a cream ale that we make. From time to time I really like crisp. Both of those are great, post-run beers. They're great hot-summer-day beers.

"But unless it's 90-plus degrees out, I like a good stout or a porter."

RS: What's ahead for you and for SouthEnd in 2023?

Kevorkian: "Hopefully the continued growth. We've got a great team here. A lot of people have had some trouble, ups and downs with staffing. We have a lot of people that have been here for quite a while. We try to take good care of our team. Continuing to grow and build our team.

"Junction 311 wants to talk about next year, and I've got to reach out to Trivium. We've worked with both of them throughout the year. Coming up with our 2023 game plan for which events we're doing, which events we're going to be at. This year is the 20th anniversary of the Cannonball (Junction 311).

"Actually fun history there: We previewed our beer at Cannonball in 2019. We hadn't received a certificate of occupancy for our building, so we couldn't be open. But we had gotten our ABC permits, so that we could make and serve beer. So Cannonball in 2019, we served our beer before it was available in the taproom, as a first place it was out in the wild. That's always a fun event to go back to.

"We always do May Fest in MayFest and Oktoberfest in October. And then first Friday of every month between April and November, we do a big craft market, concert.

"On the food front or the beer front, we'll keep our core beers on and keep rotating seasonal. We'll bring back some fruited beers throughout the summer. Over this winter, we have a smoked porter and then a winter warmer style that we like to bring back. The kitchen rotates a seasonal menu; we're transitioning into a winter menu now, adding some more comfort foods, and then in the spring we rotate out and add in some lighter spring options.

"What's on the horizon for us as a company? I don't know if this is a 2023 thing, we're looking at expanding to a second location up in Boone. The timeline for that, optimistically, is opening sometime in 2023. I can't 100 percent commit to that because those sorts of projects tend to take longer than you would hope. But we've got a space up there that we're working toward. And hopefully sometime in 2023, we'll be at least ready to announce a location and a bit more of a timeline on SouthEnd West, or SouthEnd Mountains, whatever we want to call it. We'll have a run club up there maybe."