Past, Present & the Community of the Future with Marz's Ed Marszewski
INTERVIEWED DECEMBER 6, 2017
AT MARZ COMMUNITY BREWING – BRIDGEPORT, CHICAGO
For many Chicagoans familiar with the city's indie arts and culture scene, indie publication scene, bar and dining scene, craft beer scene–or just the neighborhood of Bridgeport in general–it's likely they've heard of Ed Marszewski. Simply put, the Co-Founder of Marz Community Brewing has his hand in a lot of projects, and to name them all would take it's own feature (Co-Prosperity Sphere gallery, TypeForce, Lumpen Radio, Mash Tun Journal, Maria's Packaged Goods, to name a few). Ed has been a steward of the South Side, and particularly Bridgeport, for decades. Having grown up nearby, he's seen the area change dramatically over the years, from gang violence to hipsters, to Marszewski's self-proclaimed 'Community of the Future.'
On a recent visit to Marz's beautiful taproom nestled down near Bubbly Creek, we caught up with Ed (as well as Co-Founder Eric Olson and Head Brewer Tim Lange), to learn the recent, and rapidly growing, story of Marz. As well as discuss the relationship to the neighborhood and how hospitality breeds progress in the best of ways.
We have to start by saying, this taproom is absolutely beautiful. What did this building used to be?
Among other things, a place where mattresses were stored for a while... Oh and it was an illegal marijuana growing room.
How long has this space been in the works?
Two years. It must have been about...October 2015, when we actually got into the building. And it took eight or nine months to get it permitted.
Was the weed operation still in here?
Well there were a bunch of growing tables, platforms, and a lot of electrical. We started building the manufacturing zone, pouring concrete and all that stuff, throughout 2016. We were finally able to get licensed for brewing in June of 2017. So yea, it's a little over two years...I can't believe it. Isn't that totally "Chicago?"
We hear that story a lot–nothing ever takes as long as you think it should.
And the rest of the building? There are a couple floors upstairs correct?
Yea, we don't use them. They're our storage. In the future we might use them to store more barrels. It's a dream to fill every floor with barrels. We also thought about putting some plumbing up there for events.
Exactly how long has Marz been brewing?
Marz started selling beer in August of 2014.
So it was only a little over a year after that when you started on this location. That's a quick–and major–step up.
Oh yea, when we were in our place on Halsted, we realized we couldn't have a taproom there because it was against the building code. We thought, "Wow, we're fucked."
So why here, in this particular building?
This was purely by chance. I drove up right past here, and was looking at a sign on the window. I was calling the number on it, and a car pulled up. The guy in the car was an art friend, who's also a commercial real estate guy–he asked me what I was doing here. He said, "You can't call that number because 'they' don't exist. I now represent this building. I'm here to put a new number up." He had the keys to the place so we walked in. I said, "We want to make an offer."
That was pretty wild.
How fortuitous, wow. And it was already zoned correctly?
Yea, it was zoned as a PMD or Planned Manufacturing District. So it just went from there. We had the usual 'buying a building' bullshit. But the first months waiting for that permit to go through...a nightmare.
And Bubbly Creek is literally across the street. We know of your affinity for that piece of Chicago history.
Well, it's very important to Marz and Bridgeport of course, even though the creek was a shithole—just a pool of lard on this small branch of the river...that bubbled. But no, this is purely by chance. I used to do a huge art festival in the building next door, so I've known this neighborhood forever. It's really ironic that we ended up over here.
There's isn't much of any retail in the immediate area. Are you going for the "If we build it, they will come" approach?
We're in the middle of nowhere. Are people going to come down to Bridgeport or McKinley [Park]? I have no idea. We have no data. We don't have any information. People will find us, I just have no idea how to forecast it.
What's your brewing system look like now?
It's 15 barrels. We were only doing 30 barrels a month at our space before, on Halsted.
But now we have room to put in some 30s [30-barrel fermentors], and possibly even some 60s. I don't know what our expansion plans are, we're just going to play it by ear. We also repurposed our old five-barrel system and we're making sodas and kombucha to compliment what we do with our beer.
Folks are starting to see your cans around in lots of places now, but you were doing just 500 milliliter bottles for a while before.
Yea, we've been doing these 500 'mils' forever. We bought that line two years ago.
Did you like that format?
I still love that format. But anyway, we're really excited because we've been wanting to brew on this equipment forever. But we couldn't because it was just sitting in plastic for a year.
Michael and I are old friends. We worked on Lumpen [magazine] together back in the early 2000s. He started working on some materials for some festivals we were doing and he also did the identity for Maria's [Packaged Goods & Community Bar]. Then we found out we were doing the brewery, he said he wanted to be a part of it. We started talking about what the identity of the place would be, and the packaging. All of our friends who are designers work on the labels with us. I didn't realize Mike was a 'big deal.' But now I know he's a super baller. We're so used to having great visual design, we just forget most other stuff sucks. But I realized how much value it provides. I think people really dig this shit.
We'd hear that the concept of Marz spawned during hangouts at Maria's...
Right after we opened Maria's, we were blown away by the leveler that craft beer was with various communities, ethnicities, and demographics. You could be a working class kid, or a hipster, or an old man, or a trucking guy...everyone loves craft beer. They come at it from different angles and are able to have conversations over it and meet tons of people. Maria's facilitated us meeting so many different communities that we didn't prior to opening. It was mostly working class, ex-felons, gang bangers...
It's certainly changed over the years.
Yea, my mom [Maria Marszewski] owned that place forever. I worked there and would just babysit old retirees. I had to deal with really ignorant fucks sometimes.
A lot of Old Style?
Yea, and I think Miller Lite was a really big deal. I remember when Pilsner Urquell was on draft it was a revolutionary moment for the neighborhood.
Did Maria's always have the packaged goods out front back then?
Yea, it was always packaged goods and a tavern. Through hanging out there, you meet people who are homebrewers. Everyone started homebrewing and said, "Wouldn't it be great to have a brewery??" At that time, there were only a few breweries in Chicago–like Half Acre and of course Goose Island. We were excited by what Half Acre did up on Lincoln Avenue. We thought it would be great to do something like that someday. Then of course Pipeworks, 18th Street, and Spiteful starting using a PsychoBrew system. That wasn't a very expensive system so we thought, "Maybe we should go for it?"
And that's when you moved into the small brew space on Halsted?
We moved in there and started homebrewing throughout 2013. We were experimenting and testing out recipes. Then Tim [Lange, current Head Brewer] came along and said, "What the fuck, I want to brew with you guys." I said, "I don't think you want to go there right now..."
You also run Mash Tun Journal. How does that factor in to this?
We started Mash Tun there too. When we were at Maria's, we were investigating beer. Starting the magazine, actually, helped us learn how to be part of this community. We were interviewing people—like Gabriel from Half Acre. We interviewed Tony Magee [Lagunitas] and we'd asked him, "If we're doing a brewery, what's your advice to us?" It really formed what we thought we wanted to do.
And now you're here, sitting in your very own taproom. Did you ever picture it coming to fruition like this?
No, not at all. It was a shared thing. I had a day job, another brewer had a day job, Eric [Olson, Marz Co-founder] was basically running the business. Honestly, it's turned out better than I imagined it could. Even when we started up our new system, I'd figured they'd fuck up two or three batches of beer...and they didn't. "What are we going to do with all this beer? You're making too much!" In one brew, we're producing what we did in one week at the old space.
We've gotta ask about the price points. Your beer has always had a fairly high price per unit. Do you see that changing with the new facility up and running?
Oh yea, it's one of the highest in the country. It's already happened–we've reduced our price for our draft. We've created these 4-pack 12oz cans where the price per ounce is half what it is in the bottle, even though these beers cost four times as much to make. These New England styles are fucking ridiculously expensive. It's absurd how much it costs to make this beer.
Really, we thought we'd totally do that early on. That was an obvious thing. If you make more beer, it will be cheaper...but no, it's not. As we open the taproom doors here, almost everything will be reduced. We have to.
You maybe hinted at this already, but where does the "Community Brewing" portion of the brewery's name come from?
Well when we originally started, we wanted to set up a giant facility, with all these different systems and have it be a co-brewing space—an academy for brewing. So glad that never happened.
The name is actually from 'Maria's Packaged Goods & Community Bar.' So we just thought we'd continue to use that. That's what it all comes down to—facilitating different communities to socialize, engage, and organize. We call Bridgeport the "Community of the Future..."
What are your earliest memories of Maria's?
The day it opened in '80-something. I was like, "What the fuck did you do, mom??"
Was her background in hospitality?
My father had owned a tavern when I was a kid. When he passed away, my mother took it over. That was in Little Village, at 31st and Pulaski. She got rid of that, then she opened up a Korean place called House of Kim. Korean and Japanese food on the Southwest Side of Chicago...how the fuck she would up there is another mystery. Who on the Southwest Side wants to eat sushi!? It was beautiful though. There was a pond with a bridge, a tea room. I worked there, too. Then she got this place. And this neighborhood sucked...
We always hear that, but it's changed so dramatically over the last decade even, as we've seen. What are your memories of Maria's back then?
It was dangerous and dirty. Old men would come in to buy their lottery tickets. After school, kids would get their 2-liters of pop and candy bars. At night, the gang bangers would buy their 4os and 6-packs of Corona. The old men would be there after work. I'd have to put on Jeopardy and the baseball games. It sucked.
Maria's has never been robbed though. Well recently we did, but that's different...there's never been a hold up. There was one kid who pulled a knife on an old man at the bar and he asked Maria for money. She said, "Get the hell out of here!" We found out this kid pulled a knife on my mom so my brother and I hunted him down for two days until the police told us to stop. But the way my mom described the guy, he sounded like someone else we knew. So we were actually hunting down a guy who had nothing to do with it. So we stopped being vigilantes after that.
And gang violence was a big problem in the neighborhood?
The problem with gangs is that other gangs want to shoot them. And if you're around them, that's when other people get hurt. But they typically don't shit where they eat. That's why they never did mess with Maria. And when they did, we would tell other gang bangers and they'd go talk to them. They'd either return a 12-pack of beer or pay for what they stole. It's a very interesting code of ethics. But it's totally different now. I don't even know if that culture exists in gangs anymore.
You really don't have to go far outside of Bridgeport to find you're back in rougher neighborhoods. How was Maria's part of that change?
When we changed it to Maria's [from the formally named Kaplan's Liquors], gang bangers couldn't get their Mad Dog. It looks too yuppie for them, so they felt socially awkward going in there. They could still buy their 40s, but in the past when you walked in, you'd be able to see everyone at the bar. Everyone at the bar could see who came into the place. That's why we moved that cooler to separate the bar from the liquor store, so very intimidating people would not eye-fuck everyone else in the bar. Everyone in the bar didn't have to look up and see if there was a gang banger guy who was going to shoot you. So the entire dynamic was purposely changed to break it up.
A gang prevention floor plan.
It really was. Then we started selling a lot of craft beer and spirits. We stopped selling lottery tickets. But a lot of people have been shot in front of that bar. A lot of violence happened on Morgan [Street] historically for decades. And now that's gone. That has something to do with the Chinese and Latin American communities moving in. Of course, younger people with families are moving in. People are finding out it's not that shitty, because these gangs have been displaced. The xenophobia and racism I experienced while working here has dissipated.
We've heard you referred to as the Mayor of Bridgeport.
Back in the 90s, I was the Mayor of Wicker Park. In the early 2000s, I was the Mayor of Fucktown. Whatever neighborhood I'm in, 'they' call me the mayor. What a boring title. But the reality is I've been involved with lots of projects and lots of groups. I'm pretty good at facilitating and keeping shit going. I'm passionate about media, culture, and the arts. I'm super passionate about how we can make positive social economic change in our city. I've always been a booster for the city of Chicago. I want people to go off and talk about how awesome our city is.
Hey, us too!
But while you're here, I don't want to get shot at. I'm not interested in someone else getting shot at. It's really simple basic stuff coming into play. You work with everyone you can to minimize random violence. This neighborhood facilities you to do weird shit. It's not an expensive barrier to entry. It's not expensive to maintain stuff. You can rent a bigger space, and live there. For the price of a two bedroom in Logan Square you can probably get a 2000-sf storefront with an apartment and garage in Bridgeport.
Where do you see this whole Marz thing going?
We're not crazy fucks. We don't think we're going to become Half Acre. We're not going to sell 10-, 20-, 30,000 barrels. We're not a factory. We want a great quality of life. We want to make excellent beers. We want to get healthcare for everyone. We want to have a good time and enjoy life. This is our house, come and join us.
What's something that people might not know about you that would surprise them?
Do you think people know about our love for karaoke? Marz spreads the joy of YouTube green screen karaoke. There is a three day Independent World Karaoke Championship that's coming to Chicago... I'll be KJ'ing that.
If you're not drinking Marz, what's in your glass?
Well for a long time, I was the low-fill master. I would steal every low fill here at the brewery. That's been my m.o. for many years. I do love the Spiteful IPA. I love any of the Pipeworks canned stuff. When I'm gaming, I have some Trumer Pils when it's available. I've been drinking the shit out of a bunch of different Half Acres. I still like to drink Daisy Cutter–and Tuna is a nice gaming beer.
Gaming–what are you playing?
Typically Battlefield 1. For board games, Secret Hitler is definitely a great game, and of course Exploding Kittens is a fun. 'Settlers' is a classic. Those are some of my favorites. My wife will no longer play Risk with me, though.
Sounds like you need a game night in here.
You'll know that Marz Community Brewing is "successful," when there's a set of tables set up in an octagon position and a whole bunch of really nice computers to allow for the most ultimate LAN gaming experience you can imagine. Eventually when this places closes, we're going to turn into a LAN gaming center.
When you see that here, you'll go "Those fuckers paid off their loans!"