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Rebel Kettle, Just Opened, Plans to Grow

4 min read

Only three months after opening Rebel Kettle Brewing in east Little Rock on March 21, co-owner Jason Polk is thinking about enlarging the kitchen of the microbrewery/restaurant.

But first, the origin story:

When Jason Polk’s wife, Kim, joined her family’s business, Lake Liquor in Maumelle, in 2012, Polk was tasked with looking for business opportunities — opportunities to ensure that Lake Liquor’s “core group” of employees always had a job, opportunities to make money.

Around this time, Kim became interested in craft brewing.

So with Matt Morgan, Polk’s lifelong friend from first grade, Polk began looking around.

About three years ago, the Polks attended the Arkansas Times Craft Beer Festival in the Argenta neighborhood of North Little Rock. The event draws a lot of home brewers, and the Polks and Morgan were in the market for a brewer, seeking someone who was brewing as a hobby but interested in making a career out of it. Kim happened upon John Lee’s Rebel Kettle Brewing. “I went over there and tried what he was pouring and it blew us away,” Jason Polk said.

For the next 18 months, the Polks, Morgan and various and sundry friends and Lake Liquor employees visited craft beer events, looking for the best brewer. “And it was always John Lee,” Polk said.

The Polks and Morgan persuaded Lee to leave his job at a local automotive dealer to join forces with them in a beer-brewing partnership. The partners and their families, even the children, found that their personalities meshed. “We just jumped into it feet first and have been absolutely thrilled,” Polk said.

Well, it may not have been entirely feet first. Polk had started out his career working in liquor sales but then moved on to become a medical device sales representative, and Kim Polk worked in the family liquor store, so they had a background in liquor sales and small business.

In addition, the Polks — Kim and Jason — are partners with Chris and Samantha Tanner in Samantha’s Tap Room & Wood Grill at 322 Main St., which opened almost two years ago. The Tanners also own the successful Cheers in the Heights restaurant. “Chris is one of my dear friends,” Jason Polk said.

They also researched the brewery business extensively and hired a project manager who’d been involved in the Samantha’s venture and who found the building at 822 E. Sixth St., long ago a Jones Truck Lines facility and most recently a mechanical shop, that the Rebel Kettle partners went on to buy.

Buying that building in that neighborhood at that time — mid-2014 — took some faith, Polk said. “This was before Lost Forty was announced,” he said, referring to the successful brewery/restaurant that opened in late 2014 at 501 Byrd St. just a few blocks away.

But wife Kim once again had words of wisdom. “We couldn’t pull the trigger and my wife finally was like, ‘Heifer’s not going anywhere. The presidential library’s not going anywhere. Downtown apparently needs to grow east, so this is what we’re going to get.’”

Jason Polk said their investment, what with expensive brewing equipment and such, has exceeded $1 million. Rebel Kettle Brewing, restaurant and microbrewery, employs 56 people, most of those part time. The “core staff,” including the owners, is about 10, Polk said.

The quality of the food is important to Polk. “I have a quote that anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” And he acknowledged the helpful advice not only of Chris Tanner and Kevin Case, another partner in Samantha’s, but also from people involved in Lost Forty and from Pat Beard, formerly of Little Rock’s Southern Gourmasian. “The other breweries and how they collaborate with one another — it’s not what I was used to in the business world. Everybody was my competitor. And here, it’s just like we’re in this together.”

Rebel Kettle started brewing in February, and Polk said it’s now brewing about 750 gallons a week. Polk is as proud of his brews as of his food, and Rebel Kettle has 15 beers on tap.

As for plans for the future, Polk said, “It’s going to get bigger.”

“Again, anything worth doing is worth overdoing. The goal is in a few years to have a significantly larger facility so that we can then do canning, mass distribution. The goal is to be the best in the taproom we can be and then to be the best we can in Little Rock and then the best in Pulaski County — organic growth out without trying to get too far ahead of ourselves. The expectations that we have for ourselves are really high.”

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