There is something about cracking open a cold brew: The refreshing sound, the cool taste of hops or citrus or malt, the relaxed surge that rushes through your body. It’s one of life’s simple pleasures, and it’s only made sweeter by supporting local breweries. Fran Caradonna understands the benefits of strong connections between brewers and the communities they serve. For more than 25 years, she has worked with some of St. Louis’ most prominent beer makers. Earlier this year, she was appointed chief financial officer and chief administrative officer of Schlafly Beer, but now, she’s making history as the family-owned company’s first female CEO.
What sparked your interest in the brewing business?
It wasn’t a career path I planned. I’ve always been a lover of good beer, but my background is in marketing, having worked in public broadcasting and advertising. My former husband went to work in the beer industry and launched a small distributor, The Signature Beer Company, in 1990. We actually helped Schlafly start selling its bottled beer in grocery stores in the mid-’90s. I started as a partner, but I was still working in advertising. When we had kids, I transitioned to full-time at Signature Beer. That’s how it started.
In 2000, you co-founded O’Fallon Brewery with your former husband. What was that experience like?
It came about right after we sold Signature Beer in 2000. Initially, we did everything ourselves, so it was a small operation, but the brand grew as the demand did. It was a very exciting time to be in the beer business. We introduced the first IPA brewed in St. Louis before the style was popular. It’s so much fun to brew your own beer and share it with other people to enjoy. Distribution also has its perks, but there is something special about making your own product.
Why do you think St. Louis is a good home for breweries?
The city has such a deep brewing history, so it’s the perfect place for people who love beer. Smaller, local breweries offer a unique experience, and customers respond to the opportunity to drink beer in the place where it was made. It’s been 28 years since the Schlafly Tap Room opened, and people love to come here, taste the beer and meet the people who brewed it.
You’ve worked with Schlafly in the past. How does that familiarity impact your new position?
Tom Schlafly and I have known each other for as long as we’ve both been in the beer business. I knew him and Dan Kopman when they were first getting started, and when I worked as their distributor, I was part of their team. I came to staff meetings and helped grow the business. We’ve worked together shoulder to shoulder, and I understand their philosophy. They have a history of serving St. Louis, and the company understands what it means to be a great employer and brewer. Knowing this, it was an easy transition to make. Leaving O’Fallon was hard because I helped found it, but both the company and I were in a position to move forward, so it worked out.
What are your goals for the company as CEO?
I’m still getting started in terms of specifics. I’m in lockstep with Tom and David Schlafly’s philosophy of being a good corporate citizen and making great beer. I plan on continuing what we’ve done well for 30 years, serving the community and providing products people can enjoy.
What does working with and supporting companies like Schlafly do for the community?
I think people should know their neighbors are making beer. There are nearly 70 breweries in the St. Louis area. You are bound to know someone who works for or with one of them, and we support our community when we support local brewers. When we all work together, it makes everyone stronger and happier.
something’s brewing …
Have your beer tastes changed?
Yes and no. I still enjoy beers that have a fresh taste (it really makes a difference), good balance and full flavor. Having said that, these days, I find I appreciate styles with moderate alcohol content more than their higher alcohol cousins.
When do you enjoy drinking beer?
Good beer is great with food, so I enjoy it with meals. But it’s also really fun to enjoy at outdoor activities and events … or by the fireplace in the dead of winter … at the beach or while fishing … at the end of a good day at work … or at the end of a bad day. It’s hard to think of a time that I can’t enjoy a good beer!
Do you have any favorite foods you like pairing with it?
Burgers and pizzas, of course, but beer is a broad category, and I can always find a good option to pair with any dish.
Photo: Bill Barrett