With a wind turbine marking its Kill Devil Hills location, and the unique look of a historic lifesaving station, the Outer Banks Brewing Station has become an iconic local landmark.
Although the architecture and wind turbine (which really does provide around 10% of the power for the building) are unique, it’s the beer, the food and the atmosphere that seems to set the Brewing Station apart.
The restaurant and brewpub is the joint brainchild of partners Aubrey Davis and Eric Reece, who first began dreaming of an Outer Banks brewpub in the early 1990s while working for the Peace Corps in Thailand.
From concept to reality, though, can be quite the journey, and the story Eric tells fills in the pieces of the story.
When the partners returned from Thailand, they went their separate ways—Aubrey ended up working for the National Park Service at the Whitehouse and Eric was living in Oakland, California working for Bayer Pharmaceuticals making coagulants for hemophiliacs. “It’s a mind-numbing 24 hour a day a job,” he say. “They paid well, but it was just soul crushing work.”
He started to plan his exit. “I was just going to walk the earth like Kane on Kung Fu.”
A week before he was going to leave Bayer, friend mentioned that Bison Brewing, a local brewery, had just lost their assistant brewer.
“So I went to talk to their brewer, Scott Meyer (who became) our first brewer. After a two hour interview, he said ‘Alright. Well, take care.’ “
Unsure what that meant Eric asked, “’So does that mean I got the job?”
“Oh, yeah. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I took a 70% pay cut to work there and I loved it,” Eric said.
There were a couple of twists and turns to the plot including working at a winery for a while, but Aubrey and Eric soon revisited the idea. Eric and his wife Tina were living in what he describes as a “marginal neighborhood” in Oakland, and Aubrey was tired of working for the Park Service.
“He (Aubrey) called up and said ‘lets start a brewpub.’ Check out this place I found on the Outer Banks,” Eric says.
He came out to the Outer Banks and liked what he saw. “I was like – this spot is beautiful.”
However, the process of opening a new business, especially one that was an undiscovered concept on the Outer Banks at the time, was more than a leap of faith.
“It was more like a leap of stupidity,” is his description. “You need a certain amount of ignorance or you would never have done what you have done.”
The original process included a design and build concept that took nine month and ended with a figure the partners could never afford.
“We sat down with the contractor and they came back with a number four times our budget,” Eric recalls.
They were able to find another local contractor. But even that came with its own set of troubles. As it turned out, the project manager had been passing bad checks in New York, and just when construction began he was extradited.
“Everything starts. Then everything stops for two weeks,” he said.
The solution was for the partners to be the project managers—perhaps not ideal for the contractor, but it seemed to work well for Eric and Aubrey.
“We had the wrong person watching over the money,” Eric point out, although with owners on hand, some of the different touches in the brewpub were created. “A lot of the odd ball stuff was developed because we were here all the time.”
The process began in 1999 when the partners bought the land. Two years later, in March of 2001, the Outer Banks Brewing Station opened.
From the beginning there were a number of things that stamped them as different.
Mostly for a brewpub, the building was huge.
“We were thinking just a brewery,” Eric says. “But we couldn’t figure out how we were going to make it work.”
They decided that since they had to have a restaurant with the brewery, the restaurant would serve pub food not usually seen in a bar. “Do food above bar level,” he says.
And then there’s the deserts.
“Tina my wife is a culinary trained pastry chef. That’s our ace in the hole,” he says. “For a place of our size, and what we do we shouldn’t have a pastry chef. And it’s really an underutilized thing. People who come into a brew pub don’t expect a dessert.”
(Writer’s note: The food is excellent. The desserts otherworldly.)
Visually what sets the Brewing Station apart is the working wind turbine, and getting the town of Kill Devil Hills to approve it was its own tale of perseverance.
‘We lost basically five years,” Eric says. “Everything caught up (to us) in those five year. The gas situation got much worse, and people started embracing alternative energy. In that regard it was good.”
However, some of the concerns, in retrospect, seem somewhat exaggerated. There have been no reports of massive bird kills because of the turbine; no aircraft landing at Kitty Hawk Airport at the Wright Brothers Memorial have crashed into it; nor has it fallen to the ground in a high wind.
What did take the partners by surprise was the publicity it generated.
“We truly set out with kind of a cost savings in mind, rather than the publicity it would inspire. I can honestly say that the publicity that it pulled in – we were totally incredulous,” he says.
At the base of the turbine there is a very pleasant fenced in seating area. This was part of the original plan, according to Eric, to create a place where people can gather.
“The definition of a pub is a communal place,” he says. “Everything started in the pub. That’s where you came to talk. “
That sense of the pub as a community gathering place is very much a part of what makes the Brewing Station a bit different.
“To that end we started doing all the benefits, such as the cancer benefits and the benefits for people who lost their homes in a fire,” Eric explains. “Once we got the back yard fenced in it went off the charts. Soccer moms, once they figured out they could come here and have their glass of wine or beer and the kids can run around.
“It’s organic symmetry,” he goes on to say. “We have kids. Once you have kids, where does the Mommy and Me meet when they need a place go. My kids play soccer. I have the soccer fundraiser here.”
He points to having the First Flight High School Jazz Band give a concert every year.
“Those kids all have the experience of playing in a big venue with the best sound system on the Outer Banks,” he says, adding, “It’s not a business thing. It just seems necessary.”