Chapel Hill couple buys Asheville’s French Broad Brewing Co.

The logo of the French Broad Brewing Co., which was purchased on June 1 by a couple from Chapel Hill.
The logo of the French Broad Brewing Co., which was purchased on June 1 by a couple from Chapel Hill. Courtesy of French Broad Brewing Co.

Another Asheville craft beer brewery is undergoing ownership change after a Chapel Hill-based couple agreed to purchase French Broad Brewing Co., the company said in a news release on Friday.

Sarah and Paul Casey of Chapel Hill were named the new owners of the brewery after finalizing the purchase on Thursday, June 1.

The couple stated the goal of the acquisition is to expand the 16-year-old operation and return the brand to growth after years of failing to keep up with the booming beer scene in the city.

Founded in 2001, French Broad Brewing is one of the oldest breweries in Asheville and is known for beers such as Gateway Kölsch, 13 Rebels ESB and the Wee Heavy-er Scotch Style Ale. But as the city has seen its number of breweries expand over the past decade, French Broad has struggled to keep its brand relevant.

“That was one of the attractions (of French Broad) was that they had a legacy and have a brand that is known,” Paul Casey said. “They have a great history, but they were having challenges keeping up.”

Casey, who was an executive at Quintiles for 22 years before departing in 2015, said that he had spent the past year looking for an entrepreneurial project to take on. He added that though he has no beer-making background, he has been inspired by how the craft beer industry has grown in recent years.

“I had probably been (to Asheville) two or three times in my life, but not in the past 10 years,” Casey said. “I was absolutely floored by the Asheville scene and the local beer industry.”

His wife, Sarah, is also an entrepreneur. She owns two small businesses in Chapel Hill: a telecommunications consulting company called T1 Solutions and the children’s retail store Puddle Baby.

The Caseys plan to renovate and expand the brewery’s existing taproom near Biltmore Village in Asheville – as well as produce more seasonal and one-off beers to match the demands and trends of current tastes.

An outdated taproom and a lack of a focus on seasonal beers has hurt the brewery in a crowded market, Casey said.

“Taprooms have become destination points,” he said. “We need to add capacity and have a reason for people to come there.”

Details of the deal were not disclosed, but the management team at the brewery will be retained.

French Broad had been in the process of looking for a new owner for more than a year. Previously, the brewery had been in conversation with the Asheville-based Thirsty Monk pub chain about an acquisition, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times, but that deal was never completed.

“The brewery will be the same, except it’ll be in a better position to take advantage of opportunities we’ve had to pass up in the past,” former owner Andrew Dahm said in an email. “Paul's dedicated to French Broad as a local, family-owned brewery — he just wants it to be bigger.”

Dahm will continue at the brewery going forward.

The Caseys will continue living in Chapel Hill, but Paul said he will be spending a lot of time in Asheville the next six months.

For the foreseeable future, the brewery is going to focus solely on the Asheville market to grow demand there, he said. But once its standing in Asheville is solidified, then the firm might look beyond Buncombe County.

“Once we create stability then we can bring French Broad back down state,” he said. “Currently, you can find our beer in very few places in the Triangle and not at all around the coast.”

French Broad isn’t the only Asheville brewery to be sold this year. Notably, Wicked Weed Brewing Co. announced in May that it had been sold to the High End, the craft beer arm of Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes