The latest corporate citizen to set up shop in San Antonio has pinned a blue ribbon on its new hometown.
Pabst Brewing Co., the 176-year-old maker of beer and spirits, owner of both the Lone Star and Pearl brands, closed its Los Angeles and Dallas offices this year to make a home in what the owners of the privately held company consider an up-and-coming city with a reasonable cost of living.
In recent months, Pabst has been renovating two complete floors sandwiching Geekdom at the Rand Building on 110 E. Houston St. Where it once operated a small field office, Pabst is establishing a full-size headquarters space and building a unique outdoor meeting space for its 115 to 120 employees.
It’s also making big plans to convince others that San Antonio is the place to be.
“What I’ve noticed the more I’ve been here and scratched the surface is you’ve really got more people in town that are doing cool stuff that no one nationally knows about,” said Matt Bruhn, general manager of Pabst and a native of Australia. “So the city itself needs a group of amplifiers to kind of present itself nationally.”
Bruhn said that when Pabst announced it was relocating to San Antonio, a few employees turned down the offer to move. Even he planned on buying a home in Austin for his family of five and commuting because he “fell victim to a narrative,” he said.
Much of what people know about Austin, Bruhn said, is its “projected cultural image,” earned through the SXSW Conference & Festivals, he said. “Fiesta could be as cool … but no one in New York knows. So there’s a true opportunity to put a megaphone behind some of the cool stuff that’s happening.”
Bruhn also believes Pabst will tap its past experience and connections in the arts world to attract artists, musicians, and events to San Antonio in order to elevate the city’s profile among millennials and the creative class worldwide.
“We talk about being the lighthouse of creativity, and we’re pretty confident we can do that [here],” he said.
But plans for the headquarters move hit a snag in the spring when the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of bars and restaurants in cities nationwide and Pabst lost 27 percent of its business. “It decimated us – we got hit really hard,” Bruhn said. “We were dealing with crisis management in March and April, so we delayed announcing to everyone that they had to relocate.”
Although business hasn’t recovered, Bruhn has adopted a pragmatic and positive outlook in the midst of the ongoing crisis.
“The world continues to move forward and we need to adapt to the situation we face rather than regret the situation we have,” he said. “We can’t just stand still and be paralyzed with fear. We have to work out what happens next and so that’s what we’re doing.”
To that end, Pabst is hiring in San Antonio and will soon post between 20 and 30 jobs in a range of skill levels and wages. Bruhn said he is seeking “people who want to do interesting stuff” and “people who want to change the world.”
The company hires for integrity, creativity, inclusion, and drive, he said. “So if you fit that description and you want to wear jeans and a T-shirt to work every day and do cool, fun stuff, and then sample beer in the afternoon,” Pabst is the place for you, he added.
The Rand Building has been home to a Pabst office since last year and Randy Smith, president of Weston Urban, which owns the building, said he can always tell if the person in the elevator is a Pabst worker.
“They just have such an energy,” Smith said. “But I think my enthusiasm about Pabst runs a little deeper. If we had a dozen more corporate citizens with their energy and enthusiasm for our community, we’d be good.”
With their expansion and the pandemic coinciding, the company is rethinking not only its office layout, with one floor above Geekdom and one below, but also access to fresh air.
The San Antonio-based food truck manufacturer Cruising Kitchens is transforming a 40-foot shipping container into an open-air conference room that will be installed in the public park catty-corner to the building.
“We need to bring people back together, but … we don’t want to force people back to that 4-by-4 cubicle,” Bruhn said. “So our idea is to create multiple locations that people can work from.”
Founded by Jacob Best with a small brewery in 1844, today Pabst owns over 50 diverse beverage brands, from domestic and craft beers to hard teas and coffee to whiskey and vodka. Pabst took over production of Pearl beer in 1985 and purchased the Lone Star brand in 1999.
As owners of the Lone Star trademark, Pabst is a consultant on the Lone Star Brewery redevelopment project with new owners GrayStreet Acquisitions, a subsidiary of GrayStreet Partners, which bought the property in May. It’s the same role Pabst played in the redevelopment of the former Pearl brewery.
“They’ve got a pretty good master plan and a relatively clear timeline,” Bruhn said. “We are trying to work with them on how the space gets utilized quickly from a pop-up sense … because the full development project is huge. … It’s 30 acres of land.”
The openness of the people of San Antonio to the ideas Bruhn has pitched since his arrival is one of his favorite things about the city. “That’s unique. In some cities, it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s too hard,’ but there’s a good spirit of development down here,” he said.
He also loves the restaurant scene. Now living in Southtown, Bruhn is happy with his choice to forsake suburbia and reside in a friendly and affordable neighborhood close enough to restaurants and his downtown office that he can walk. That’s rare for a city the size of San Antonio, he said, and an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“We really wanted to kind of get into a sense of what the cultural fabric of the city is,” he said. “You can be part of the soul of the city. I’m just like – that’s amazing.”
Disclosure: Pabst is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.