He was waiting for friends to show up at Heritage Port, and he was dressed in skin-tight, bright-white spandex pretty much from head to toe.
Chad Hill is a cyclist, and he has pedaled his way for more than 5,000 miles during a summer season alone, but the last ride he wished to take on this day was north toward Warwood because of the head winds. Today, though, he’s “thank-God” blissful that his friends argued with him to the point that he surrendered, and was the first to show.
Because that’s when he met Angie Zambito.
She had organized a walkers/runners group that met weekly at Heritage Port, and she, too, was waiting for others. He saw her, but he didn’t dare address her. Angie, though, was curious about his bike. She had traveled to France and was a Tour de France spectator, and Hill obliged by answering her inquiries. During the entire encounter, however, Hill was smitten because she was a traveler into fitness and exercise, was stunningly attractive, and was most certainly taken.
Hill didn’t believe he had a chance.
Today, Chad and Angie Hill reside in North Wheeling with their son, Gabriel John, a young man who arrived into the world eight months ago at a time when life was changing rapidly. Not only does each of them have a day job, but the couple also partnered with friends to begin a brewing business in Centre Market. Angie is the director of development at West Liberty University, and Chad is a physician’s assistant at Wheeling Hospital, and they also are part of the ownership group of the Wheeling Brewing Company.
Hill, a 2003 graduate of Wheeling Park High School who obtained both his undergraduate and PA degrees at Alderson-Broaddus University, is the CEO; Dave Cornet serves as the CFO; the chief design officer is James Schulte; and Angie oversees much of the management and marketing. Key employees include chef Alan Hoffman, and brewmaster Josh Clarke. They are a team that works well together to establish high standards and imperative goals. It’s also about doing something to improve their hometown and to assist in an overdue makeover to a city stuck in eras long gone, and they have accomplished that by opening an establishment that is one hundred percent homemade, from the brews to the food, to the staffing to the historic location.
Their vision is clear, and they admit it’s getting there while learning from a vast array of trials and tribulations they did not expect during years of planning. In fact, that is a portion of the advice Hill would offer to any entrepreneur who asks.
Novotney: Your life changed very much in a very short period of time with your marriage, the arrival of your son, and the opening the Wheeling Brewing Company. What were all those events like for you and your bride?
Hill: It’s been extremely stressful for us because everything pretty much happened so quickly, and a lot of it took place all at the same time. But nothing takes away from Gabriel. That was the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me.
Angie and I have been able to make each other better because we complement each other so well. Since that first day I met her at Heritage Port, I’ve lived a wonderful life. And we also had the opportunities to leave the Wheeling area because we were receiving job offers from throughout the country, but that’s not what we’re about. Of course, our families were part of our decision to stay in Wheeling, but so was our newfound love for a new Wheeling.
That love also went into our search for a house. At first, we were looking for a house in Woodsdale, and every single one we looked at was $186,000. Every single one of them. But not one of them felt like it fit us, so Angie and I toyed around with the idea of looking for a house in the downtown area. And I have to say that Missy Ashmore is awesome because she put up with me, because I looked at probably 50 or 60 houses before we started looking at houses together. Finally we stumbled upon the house that we have now, and it wasn’t even on the market at that time.
Novotney: You have since encouraged a lot of your friends to do the same thing, haven’t you?
Hill: Absolutely I have, and one of my partners in Wheeling Brewing Company just bought a house in our neighborhood. He’s right down the street from of us, and I have a couple of others interested, and now they are looking, too.
And we also bought the property in Centre Market for the brewpub, and yes, that’s an investment for us, but it was also about making the place where we live more livable. It’s all about making Wheeling a better place and that’s where I think opening the brewpub took us.
Granted, we didn’t expect it to unfold for us the way it did, but here we are today.
Novotney: Your family, your full-time jobs, and now as partners in the Wheeling Brewing Company have all really altered your lifestyles, right?
Hill: I think the biggest aggravation about opening a business is how much it has affected our lives in great ways and some bad ways. I handle most of the business, the licensing, and the relationships that we have with other businesses, and my wife does most of the management of the employees, the ordering for everything we need in the kitchen, the marketing, and what we do on social media. I give her all the props in the world. She’s awesome at everything that she does.
There’s a lot that takes place behind the scenes that I don’t think the general public realizes, but if we can be some sort of example for others, that’s fine because when you walk into the Wheeling Brewing Company, you are taken someplace different that you don’t see elsewhere in Wheeling. It’s part of what Wheeling can be.
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But I can tell you that opening a new business takes time away from what you used to do. For me and Angie, the business now is usually the hot topic of many of our discussions unless we are caring for and playing with Gabriel.
Novotney: So that means some of the bad aspects of opening a business are still very positive things in your lives?
Hill: They are – very much so, but there are a lot of things to it that we didn’t expect. Before we opened, we thought a lot about what impact it would have on our lives, but there have been some things that have surprised us. Now, we are constantly looking at ways to do what we do in improved ways so the business just keeps getting better.
What’s really cool is to watch the ideas unfold, whether they are our ideas or one of our partner’s ideas. And all of our partners deserve props. They are all awesome and none of this would be happening if it weren’t for them.
Novotney: How was the interior design of the Wheeling Brewing Company developed?
Hill: Overall, it’s a look that Angie found online, and now I am very “Martha Stewart” about it. I just want it to be entirely different. I want it to be a cool atmosphere where people can come and feel comfortable enough to hang out for a while to have something to eat and drink. We spend a lot of time thinking about ways we can make that better, too, because we want to make the experience the best it can be.
And the people in Wheeling have been great, and it’s really cool when we see people there that you don’t usually see out and about. I think it’s great that we are attracting a crowd of all ages. That was our goal in the beginning.
Novotney: The one thing I have noticed about the crowd that has gathered at the brewpub when I have visited is that I’ve seen friends of mine with their kids who are now old enough to have a beverage or two.
Hill: When we were doing our business plan, we decided our focus would be on people ages 10 to 90 years old, and that is why we produce in-house pop and ice cream and root beer floats. That way, moms and dads can come in and have a beer while their children enjoy those things on our menu.
Novotney: What advice would you offer an entrepreneur as that individual begins the process of opening his or her own business?
Hill: It’s not all fun and games, and people who are wanting to open their own business have to be really passionate. It can’t be a hobby. They have to have a love for where they want to open, and for business because it’s not easy. But if it’s just about something you love doing, you could turn it into something that you hate.
And the customer always has to be No. 1. Always. We cannot have a customer have a bad experience, and that’s why we pay our employees a lot more than what they could make somewhere else doing the same things. We want to have the best employees, the best homemade food in the area, and we want our customers to come back again and again. I realize we’ve set the bar pretty high, but we believe that’s how we will be successful.
It’s about setting a standard, and it’s taken years of planning to make it happen.
Now, our experience was a little different because Gabriel was born the same week I was signing the loan for the Centre Market property. That made our lives pretty crazy. We had a lot going on at the same time, but we did our best to juggle everything. If Angie and I could make it through that, I think we can make it through anything. She is the most amazing person and the most amazing mother I could ever imagine. I’m a lucky man.
Novotney: You opened the Wheeling Brewing Company in “soft-opening” style. Is that something you would suggest to another?
Hill: I would, and that’s because it’s really a process. Now, several months later, things have become easier because we did that. There’s still stress because it’s non-stop, but we are all wiser because we did it the way we did it.
I would also tell that person to expect debates, strains on relationships with friends and family, and they also need to realize that all the planning in the world is not going to take care of everything. It’s not a horrible thing, trust me, and in the long run it’s going to be worth it all. We hear a lot of compliments that we appreciate very much, and just seeing people there having fun is a huge reward for all of us.
Novotney: What does the success of the Wheeling Brewing Company tell you about today’s Wheeling?
Hill: It tells us that a lot of things about Wheeling are starting to change, and I would love to see more restaurants and more people move into downtown Wheeling. Right now, you can afford a place in downtown Wheeling, and there are people who have realized that and have made investments.
But I guarantee you that 10 years from now no one will be able to afford those same properties like they can today. At least that’s what I hope, but we are seeing it take place now.