“I love this space,” says Lauren Ishaq. “If I could live outdoors, I would.”
Lauren and I are seated at the bar of Harty Brewing Company in Silver Spring Township. After a long stretch of cold, drenching rains, today the doors are wide open to—finally—a glorious, sun-filled day. Across the street, the village green stretches beneath a blue sky we haven’t seen in weeks, and life is feeling just about perfect today.
Even 3-year-old Jordan is looking perky.
Jordan, Lauren’s daughter, is home from preschool due to a nasty fever the day before. Jordan is also sitting at the bar, watching cartoons on a tablet, her sippy cup the only beverage being served right now. The taproom doesn’t open for business until later in the evening, and this is also perfect for Lauren, the co-owner and “the face behind the bar” at Harty Brewing Company.
“My children and my family come first,” says Lauren, who recently turned 30. “Running a brewpub means I have control of my situation. I make my own hours. It’s been great!”
Harty Brewing Company opened this past winter after a year of preparations that all began with a crazy impulse to follow a dream.
“When I was younger, I wanted to open some kind of shop, maybe a coffee shop,” says Lauren. “I thought that would be fun.” But getting to the place of one day owning her own business was, in Lauren’s words, “not the storybook.”
Lauren’s mother left the family when Lauren was 5 years old. Lauren says her dad was a hard-worker who gave her and her brother what they needed, but early on, Laruen also learned to depend on herself. She got her first job when she was 15. At 19, she was living on her own. When, at a relatively young age, Lauren had her own children, she says her entire life became focused on being the best mother she could be.
“I grew up with only my dad and brother,” says Lauren. “So when I became a mother, I said, ‘I’m going to do this and do this well.’”
Since age 18, Lauren had been working as a bartender or server. Now, a mom to two young children, what may seem to some to be an unconventional job, still made sense to Lauren. “It worked out with being home during day with kids, and then working at night. And I made good money!”
A few years ago, Lauren met Michael Harty, a chemical engineering student who was living in the area while completing an internship. When the couple created a home together, Lauren made the decision to stay at home with the two older girls and a new baby. She began pre-law classes at a local college, and continued with the program for two years before realizing she couldn’t imagine life in an office.
This was not part of the dream. Not Lauren’s, anyway.
“It started with a glass of wine,” laughs Lauren. “I was on a wine tour with friends and I had this idea to start a winery. I called Michael while I was still on the tour and said, ‘Let’s buy a winery! We can live off the land. The kids will love it.’ Michael listened to my crazy idea, and just said ‘Finish your wine.’”
Somewhere along the way, Harty had started home brewing his own beer. “All of his college friends home brew beer,” says Lauren. “It sparked Michael’s interest and pretty soon he was in the back yard, doing his own brewing.” Lauren says Harty brewed more beer than any one (sane) person could reasonably drink, so he started giving it away. “People would love it!” says Lauren. “People gave us their honest opinions and said they were really blown away that it was home brew.”
Lauren was having lunch at a restaurant in the Walden neighborhood when kismet met fruition—and a lot of hops—and renewed her crazy dream of being a shop owner. “There was an empty shop front across the street,” says Lauren. “The blue ‘for lease’ sign was calling out to me.”
That day, Lauren contacted the leasing agent and asked for more information on the shop. When Lauren told the agent her plans for a brew pub, the agent was excited, but Lauren felt as if she had jumped off a ledge and into a wonderful but scary unknown. “You know when you talk, talk, talk too much? That was me during the meeting” says Lauren. “I walked away with a crazy, overwhelming feeling of This is it. If we don’t pursue it, someone else will, and we’ll feel regretful.”
Lauren made more inquiries and did more research before telling Harty her plans.
“I have crazy ideas,” says Lauren. “I didn’t want him to think about it yet before I had more information. Then, I finally told him, and he wasn’t completely on board.”
Not at first, anyway. But Lauren says Harty was just being realistic. “Michael has a demanding job. We had three children and our youngest was just over a year old. We had all the kid activities that take up so much time. He just wanted to know where are we were going to fit this in, and where would we get the money? But I told him ‘There is always a way!’”
When Lauren laid out the financial plans and legal research she had done in preparation for her dream reveal, Harty became excited. The couple met with leasing agent, and from that point on, Harty Brewing Company was more than just a crazy dream. “Everything lined up,” marvels Lauren. “We had no problems or situations we couldn’t figure out. It all went so smoothly. I feel so blessed, thankful and humble.”
The brew pub is now open four days a week, including Friday and Saturday. Sundays are always closed, a family day. During the school year, the schedule allows Lauren to get the kids off the bus and have dinner ready. With long days of summer ahead, Lauren has plenty of time to spend afternoons at the park or pool with the children. When kiddos aren’t feeling well, Lauren has the flexibility to stay home or, like today, bring a kid to the store while she preps for the evening.
When I ask Lauren whether she’s a stay-at-home-mom or a working mom or both, Lauren has a perfect answer.
“I’m a stay-at-home mom who owns a brewery,” she smiles. “I hope to always be behind the bar, be ‘the face’ of Harty Brewing Company. And my kids see us producing something and working hard. We try to keep them involved in business and helping out. We want them to see what hard work is. It’s good for our family.”
Outside, the day has turned from bright to brilliant, and a warm breeze blows in, carrying with it the lush scent of newly mown grass. A neighbor pokes his head in the open door and asks whether cider will be available for the evening. It is.
Jordan is still happily engrossed in her cartoon, and Lauren and I share a moment of quiet appreciation—appreciation for both the gorgeous day and for happy circumstances that allow both parent and child to spend an unplanned afternoon together.
“So many people try their whole lives to open a business,” Lauren says. “It’s the American Dream. To do it at a young age…it’s crazy.”
It is crazy. But as crazy dreams go, this one is about perfect.