July 26, 2005 Chirag Vyas and Kevin Chipman have turned a hobby into a budding business. The two University of Vermont friends now operate St. John Brewers out of their home office. So far, they have one product, Virgin Islands Pale Ale, on supermarket shelves and in bars across St. John.
"Sales are great. We are increasing our number of accounts weekly," Vyas said. The company hopes to expand soon to the St. Thomas market.
In Vermont, they whet their taste buds for micro-brewed beer, but when they moved to St. John four years ago, found they couldn't find similar beers that suited their tastes.
"I like a fuller flavor beer," Chipman said.
The two started brewing different styles of beer at home, but decided to expand. They began distributing Virgin Islands Pale Ale in June.
Vyas described it as a light pale ale with a mango nose.
"With all the heat, we wanted something light. We added the mango essence to give it an island flavor," Vyas said.
The beer is brewed in Portland, Maine, and shipped to St. John.
Vyas, 27, and Chipman, 28, are a two-man show. They do the research and development, the testing, the marketing, the order taking, the accounting, and the deliveries.
"We're out of the back of a pick-up truck," Chipman said.
And they work nights as bartenders Vyas at Chloe and Bernard and Chipman at Asolare. Of course, their busy lives don't give them much time to enjoy all that St. John has to offer.
"It's important to get a lot of face time," Chipman said of the need to personally visit their accounts and potential customers.
The learning curve has been steep. Chipman, a Syracuse, N.Y. native, is a physical therapist. Vyas, who hails from Providence, R.I., has a bachelor's degree in animal science and a master's degree in international affairs. Running a business is a totally new experience.
"It's been trial and error," Chipman said.
Vyas said that St. John business owners were free with information and advice on how to start a business. And Chipman added that even the St. John office of the Licensing and Consumer Affairs Department was helpful.
Of course, they've hit some snags along the way, but the biggest problem comes when the ferry is late and their schedule gets off kilter.
St. John Brewers were a big hit at the July 4th Celebration parade when the two and a group of friends passed out free Virgin Islands Pale Ale from a float.
"I heard we were very popular," Chipman said.
If you'd like to order Virgin Islands Pale Ale for your business, call 643-3001. And don't forget to visit St. John Brewers Web site. It's still under construction, but look for more additions in the months to come.
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