Badass Women in the Detroit Beer Industry: Brigid Beaubien
Interview by Courtney Burk of Batch Brewing
Photos by Laura Jude of Optical Amusements
Brigid Beaubien is a woman of many talents - mother, wife, professor, owner of Urbanum, and co-owner of 8 Degrees Plato. I sat down with this fabulous woman and chatted all things retail, beer, and opening a small business within city limits.
Your origin story. How did you get started in the industry?
Through a community of craft beer drinkers. We’ve had the good fortune of living in a community with some of the best neighbors. Each would travel and would return home with beers they found from around the country, and on Sunday nights, we would all sit in the driveway and share our favorite beer findings. I learned so much from those Sunday night beer tastings, and it became something we all looked forward to.
When Tim lost his job in 2009 we began to think about other career opportunities and what it was we really wanted to pursue. As the months wore on with no job offer in site and with conversations circling around the idea of recreating the Sunday night community beer tastings, we cashed in everything and took fate into our own hands.
From Ferndale to Detroit, what brought 8 Degrees Plato downtown?
Our original goal had been to open 8 Degrees Plato in the city, but the city was a very different place in 2009. Our retail in the front and bar in the back concept, so you can have a beer while shopping for beer, required special permission from the city zoning office – and they simply weren’t willing to grant it to us.
So, we opened our retail only location in Ferndale and developed a beer drinking community that supported us for years. Our Detroit location came about once I was able to approach the city as an established business owner, and they were more willing to work with me. As it was, I still was required to go door-to-door for two blocks on all sides of 8 Degrees Plato, Detroit in order for us to be permitted to open on Cass Ave.
What changes have you seen as a retail owner in the craft beer industry?
When we first opened our Ferndale location, there were only a handful of places that carried craft beer. Now, you see it everywhere – even gas stations have a craft beer selection!
What’s an interesting tidbit more craft beer drinkers wouldn’t know when it comes to owning a craft beer bar and retail shop?
For the first 18-month of being in business, the only two employees of 8 Degrees Plato were Tim, my husband, and myself. When you came in you either said hi to Tim, myself, or both of us together. It was hard work and long days, but it allowed us to pay the bills and really get to know the craft beer community from all angles.
You now own a second retail store, Urbanum, in New Center. How did that come about?
For several reasons.
I had designed 8 Degrees Plato Ferndale on a shoestring budget and absolutely loved every minute of it! So, when we decided to open our Detroit location we agreed that I would leave Ferndale and be responsible for the complete build-out and design of the new location. It was an absolute treat, being able to source all the reclaimed material from the city, and putting it all together. In fact, last year 8 Degrees Plato was named a finalist in Detroit’s first As Part of, Commerce Design: Detroit award as part of Detroit’s UNESCO City of Design Designation.
My parents had owned a store very similar to Urbanum, so I had some knowledge of what it would take to open and operate.
One day I was having guests over and wanted to quickly buy a lamp and sheets to make the guest room cozy, but I soon found that there wasn’t a store in Detroit that carried both of these basic items – hence Urbanum, a retail store for quality provisions for city homes.
What’s your favorite part about the stores you run?
Hands down, the community! In the last eight years I have been privileged to meet so many amazing people. So many of our customers go out of their way to celebrate with us and to make sure we know what’s happening in their lives – engagement and baby announcements. That they make the choice to celebrate with us is deeply humbling and Tim and I are blessed to be a very small part of these very big memories. It’s certainly not something we take for granted. To be a small, intimate part of our communities’ special moments is truly an honor and a privilege.
The Fall Beer Fest Brewer Party (an industry favorite, I can attest)— what’s the idea behind that event?
Tim and I feel so fortunate to be a part of this amazing beer community in Michigan and this event is our way to really thank the brewers and a great way to give back.
What’s it like to be a part of Detroit’s retail scene?
It’s exciting and scary. Small business owners risk a lot to do what they do. Things are changing so fast in retail and Detroit. You have to have your pulse on what’s new and keep up with trends, while at the same time, maintain the most important aspects of business – a high quality product with exceptional customer service.
How many hats do you wear? 8 Degrees Plato, Urbanum, Mother, Teacher…
Way before all of this began I was a teacher and administrator in Detroit schools. I earned my Master’s and Ph.D. at Wayne State and left DPS for a job as a professor at a local university. I’m actually still a professor and teach full-time – which is what makes our amazing staff at both 8 Degrees Plato and Urbanum, SO important!
I love teaching. Teaching is the very core of who I am and I can’t imagine my life without it. As a kid I had horrible ADHD – and now all that energy and ability to do multiple things at once, has served me in good stead. Though I do wish I could go back and tell that to my fifth grade math teacher…
Your secret to managing it all - What’s an average day / week / month look like for you? I’m sure it’s constantly changing.
Actually, it’s amazingly predictable during the school year. When I get home from Urbanum on Sunday night I grade papers and get ready for the week. I teach all day on Monday and Wednesday’s and the rest of my classes are online, so I’m able to work on them each morning. By 11:00am I’m at one of the stores, often until 6:30pm or so. Tim and I keep our evenings during the week very quiet and filled with music, books, and a little tv. I have to be in bed by 10:00pm or the whole system comes crashing down. And weekends are busy with the stores and trying to grab a family dinner.
If you find yourself with some free time, what are you up to?
Spending time with our daughter, reading, antiquing, and decorating my own home.
Favorite spot to relax, have a beer, or enjoy a meal in the city?
We really don’t get out much. But when we have some down time we like heading over to Batch Brewing Company, especially for industry brunch. If we’re going out to dinner it’s definitely going to be at Chartreuse.