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Brew City Brand Embodies "Local as Hip" Movement

Brew City adorning three young adults standing on bridge over Milwaukee river

Family, fun and forging relationships. These three elements have represented the foundation of Brew City Brand since it started as a single retail kiosk in Milwaukee’s Grand Avenue Mall in 1986.

Today, now fully into its second generation (with hints of a third entering the business), Brew City’s fingerprint can be seen throughout Milwaukee, across the state of Wisconsin and even nationally.

The idea for Brew City Brand came from Rick Keppler, owner of a Milwaukee art studio. In the mid-1980s, he and his artists provided poster designs for Milwaukee’s Great Circus Parade. That spawned the idea to create t-shirts and other merchandise using the iconic Great Circus Parade imagery.

“My dad started the company mainly because he’s cheap and he didn’t want to pay for my brother and I to go to college,” George Keppler said with a laugh. “So, he opened a little kiosk in the downtown mall and forced my brother and I to quit our paper routes to start selling t-shirts. When we first started, we were embarrassed. I remember being at the mall thinking, ‘I hope no girls from school see me here selling these silly Milwaukee t-shirts.’”

woman wearing brew city shirt

From humble beginnings, and surprised by the amount of merchandise they sold on the heels of the Great Circus Parade, the three Kepplers – Rick, George and his brother, Frank – worked day and night in the early years to create products that would attract both locals and those visiting Milwaukee.

Today, the company has grown to employ nearly 50 people. In addition to its own line of products which are sold at various locations around Milwaukee (including the Milwaukee Public Market and General Mitchell International Airport), Brew City, along with its Good Land Supply division, also makes licensed merchandise for companies like Miller-Coors and others, which can be found at major retailers.

The company has also expanded into branded merchandise sold at resort properties across the country, with clients that include Disney and Universal, George said.

person wearing brew city socks

If you live in the Milwaukee area, you’ve no doubt seen some of the company’s work. It’s fun, often topical, and strikes at the heart of its customers’ collective identity by using Midwestern jargon and slogans (“Where’s the Bubbler?” “Beer … It’s Swell” and “Ya Der Hey” just to name a few).

“We just want to make people laugh,” George said. “Having no business sense, that was really our goal when we started. Not to sell things, but to make people laugh.”

But, by making people laugh, the Kepplers also created a successful, growing company with a positive, productive working environment and a familial atmosphere. “I know that I could call anybody, and I’m not just saying this, at three in the morning, and they would come help me if I needed them,” George said.

man wearing brew city shirt

That fact rang true during the recent COVID pandemic. “Watching what these people have done from home, I really did learn – oh my gosh – our people are getting more done at home than they were at the office, and that’s with me not pushing or nagging them because I can’t, for the most part.”

When they were able to re-open the company to office workers, George was again struck by the loyalty and commitment of his team. Outside of the production team, who needed to be on-site, George and Frank gave employees the option to continue to work from home. “That first day we had the office open, every single person was back,” he said.

It’s those silver linings that make George confident and hopeful that good things will come out of the situation. And, having local business partners like Network Health to lean on is critical to his success as an employer. “It means everything on so many levels,” George said of the relationship and peace of mind that Network Health provides, knowing that his employees are respected and well cared for.

young couple decked out in brew city clothing

“What a comfort to know that we can pick up the phone and talk to somebody over there about a concern or an idea; that’s everything right there. Network Health probably upholds those hometown values better than most companies that I’ve ever worked with. They’ve been pretty amazing.”

High praise for a company built on family, relationships and hometown values.

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