The Jeffersonville restaurant and multi-tap known as Growler USA since inception in 2018 has transitioned to a new non-franchise local identity, Harbor & Hops Restaurant Tap House. Curbside carryout has been in effect since coronavirus restrictions came down, which has included takeaway draft beer thanks to the temporary relaxation of state laws. Now the fresh new identity will be launched to coincide with Indiana’s Back on Track timetable.

Harbor & Hops may be a new name, but the owners haven’t changed. They’re Greg Brown, his wife Laura and his brother Michael. The location at 3010 Gottbrath Parkway is the same, and so is the owners’ vision of “catering to the craft beer/beverage crowd and foodies.” Dozens of draft craft beer handles remain, pouring a constantly rotating selection.  

Greg Brown graciously agreed to take a break from remodeling and answer a few questions from Food & Dining Magazine. By Monday, May 11, Harbor & Hops should be good to go as Indiana restaurants are allowed to reopen for on-premise business subject to seating and spacing restrictions.

F&D: To lead things off, what steps are you taking to transition to a new identity?

GB: “We’re moving forward and executing a vision for our business that we still believe is the right fit for where we are located: catering to the craft beer/beverage crowd and foodies. We’re family and pet friendly, and have done a good job of being accepted as the neighborhood pub. The food program is being upgraded, but we’re keeping the favorites and best sellers from the old menu. Now we’re offering plated entrees with vegetables, choice of protein and a starch. We also added pasta dishes and burritos. Michael upgraded and tweaked all of our recipes from what we were using, and the food is awesome. What we learned in the last 18 months as Growler USA was that our local crowd wants more variety than just the pub food. It’s great but focusing on that alone was limiting our appeal to both returning and new customers. Along with the food, our new version of self has included upgrading and remodeling the restaurant to reflect more of a fast casual dining environment.”

F&D: What happened with the Growler USA affiliation?

GB: “Business visions and expectations did not align. We found ourselves dissatisfied with the corporate offerings, and Growler USA the franchisor never really took off as they had advertised.  Ultimately their concept and corporation failed, and they’re heading out of business while in bankruptcy. Laura and I we knew last summer we would have to find a way to separate ourselves from them.  The irony of this whole thing was we decided to buy a franchise simply because of the cost of taking a new business to market to have advertising and purchasing power; there really was not much about the actual running of the business that we had issues with. but unfortunately those two areas resulted in very specific shortfalls in actual delivery. It left us in a real bind and needing to make some tough choices.”

F&D: What was your background coming into the restaurant business?

GB: “Collectively we have a lot of prior hospitality management experience. My career was in the commercial maritime world, and for the last 15 or so years of it I worked primarily in boutique cruise ships or hospitality vessels. Laura has been a human resources executive of multiple years. She handles all of those matters relating to employment, compliance and engagement. Our other family partner in this is my brother Michael.  Michael is a trained executive chef from the Culinary Institute of America. For the last 40 years he has been opening, operating and developing restaurants and hotels. He also worked in the cruise industry.”

F&D: How did you arrive at the name Harbor & Hops?

GB: “We are launching our family brand, Harbor and Hops. The name came from us brainstorming about what we wanted the place to feel like, and what it has been for us so far.  I was playing with the notion that it had become safe harbor for us and our employees.  During this pandemic, which is causing so many catastrophic personal and financial losses, we were lucky enough to receive one of the PPP loans.  We have been able to keep all 30 of our employees on payroll offering them a lifeline.  We plan on doing much more than just ‘surviving the storm.’

“Our plan is to return better than we left and prosper.”