VALPARAISO | Tom Uban can name his favorite Figure Eight Brewing beer – it just may not be the same answer as yesterday.
“We have a wide variety with 11 or more on tap and they are all unique and different. When people ask me what my favorite is, that depends. It changes every day and even at different times during the day,” said Uban, who owns the microbrewery and restaurant with wife, Lynne, and Anne Roberts. “Everyone has a different idea of what beer is, so we have lots of variety to satisfy different tastes and palettes.”
The Figure Eight team is marking its recent move downtown from the former location at 1555 W. Lincolnway.
“Our goal is to put the product first and have fun doing it. The beer is the focus and the restaurant evolved,” Tom Uban said. “There’s a philosophy there: If the beer is good, people will come. If you make good beer, they will drink it.”
Tom Uban said everything fell into place for the move: Lynne Uban spotted that the former tenants had moved out and the owners were able to tour the building before it was on the market. They found the space was a fit and the timing was right.
“We were tight on space (on Lincolnway). Our goal has always been to grow bigger and that was our test location to make sure it was feasible,” Tom Uban said. “I funded all that myself at that location. From Day One, we were profitable.”
Touches of Uban’s background and personality can be found at Figure Eight, from the climbing-inspired theme to his days in the pinball industry where he connected with the friend who created the monkeys. The hear-some-evil, see-some-evil, say-some-evil rock-paper-scissors playing primates greet visitors and adorn wall hangings and labels.
“I have combined my passion with climbing with a desire to make beer. I’ve been home brewing since 1983 – on and off,” he said. “We have beers named after climbing terminology and it’s a basis to build on consistently. Figure Eight is a knot used in climbing to protect yourself.”
With two engineering degrees, his first foray into the entrepreneurial world was as a consultant. He said he was ready to move into a new phase after years as a computer engineer.
“I started visiting microbreweries in the area with an eye towards what is entailed at that level,” Uban said. “In May 2009, I got started and just jumped in and went with it.”
Today, the business has grown from three to 38 employees, is distributing beer across the state and helps raise funds for a different nonprofit each month.
“PhilanthroPint was the idea of head brewer Mike (Lahti). It’s a way to give back to the community. Every month, we donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Where Lizards Dare IPA,” he said. “As we continue to grow and build our system here, we want to expand and export out of the state.
“We help round out the square here with the new park and good restaurants, Valley and Parea. We want this business to help downtown continue to revitalize. Our downtown is doing a great job.”