If you want to enjoy a really good craft beer in Mount Olive, where do you go? R & R Brewing, of course. But, what if you’re looking for a place to hold your kid’s birthday party, or take a cookie decorating class? Or let’s say you want to watch a ballgame with friends, but (gasp!) you don’t drink? Then, where do you go? Believe it or not, the answer’s still the same: R & R Brewing, located at 541 NW Center St.
“We are trying to convey to the community that this is not a dive bar per se, it’s not a sports bar per se, it’s not some place that stays open till two in the morning,” says R & R’s owner and Mount Olive native Ryan Roberts. “It’s just a concept that we’re trying to get people to grasp that if you don’t drink any alcohol, it’s perfectly OK to be here; if you have kids, it’s perfectly OK to come in as long as you supervise them, which is the same anywhere.”
Not only are kids welcome, but so are pets. “We’re dog friendly,” Roberts says, before amending that to “pet-friendly.” “I say ‘pet,’ because people have brought goats by here, people have brought cats,” he says.
Roberts explains that he broadened his vision for the microbrewery before ever even opening its doors, when he was just in the process of renovating the building that would serve as its home. “People would stop by, and they would say, ‘Oh, man, this would be great for retirement parties, birthday parties… and they’d start throwing out all the things that they would like to use the place for…and that’s how we’ve molded ourselves into this open community spot,” he says.
Since opening in 2018, the brewery has become known for its game nights featuring trivia and music bingo (sort of a modern version of “Name That Tune”). It’s a popular spot to watch ballgames, and on the first Sunday of each month, it partners with another local business, The Purple Turtle, to offer on-site painting classes for home décor items. R & R has hosted workshops for everything from candle making to cookie decorating to calligraphy. Special events on tap (pun intended) might range from a pet adoption event to axe-throwing (though not likely at the same time — puppies and axes could make for a bad mix). Numerous locals have used the space for private parties, including a recent children’s Mickey Mouse-themed birthday party. Roberts says the best way to find out what’s scheduled for R & R on any given weekend is to go to the business’s Facebook page early in the week.
“We’re no longer in the business of just selling a product,” Roberts says. “We’re trying to sell an experience, a service to a certain extent.”
One of R & R’s biggest upcoming events is a “Cook-Off Before the Kick-Off” chili cook-off, to be held Saturday, Feb. 11, the day before the Super Bowl, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. The brewery has had chili cook-offs in the past, but they were fairly informal contests. This year, says Roberts, “we kicked it up a little bit…and we actually got sanctioned by the ICS [International Chili Society], and we had people sign up [to participate] from Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Florida.” The public is invited to attend the event, during which they’ll be able to taste various chilis (at a cost of one dollar per sample) and cast a vote for their favorite. Money raised from the people’s choice award will be split 50/50 between the winner and R & R, who will make a donation to the local Chamber of Commerce.
The chili cook-off isn’t the only way in which R & R is attracting out-of-towners to the area. It does so throughout the year with its participation in the Harvest Hosts program, a program that helps RVers locate unique places to stay, like breweries, wineries, museums and farms. R & R has space on its property to accommodate three campers or RVs at one time, and it’s bringing people to Mount Olive who otherwise would never even have heard of the town. “I’m catching people who have routinely been taking vacations from up north to Wilmington or Georgia or South Carolina, and this has become like a pitstop,” says Roberts. “Not only do they come in and spend money, but they tell other people about it or make friends here and then they come visit them. And then they ask, ‘Can you ship to our house?’…and that helps us grow the brand just as easy as anything else.”
While the brewery doesn’t have an in-house restaurant, food trucks are on-site every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, unless prevented by unforeseen circumstances. Roberts welcomes people to patronize the food trucks regardless of whether they also patronize the brewery. “They can stop by, grab food, get back in the car and leave, almost like a drive-up or drive-thru,” he says. “People can park in our parking lot, walk through the taproom, grab some food and walk back out.” But he also provides a family-friendly atmosphere for those who wish to stay and eat. There’s plenty of seating—both indoor and out—and, in addition to their craft beer, R & R also sells sodas and its own non-alcoholic draft root beer. “The root beer fans so far say that it’s spot-on,” Roberts says (and this reporter concurs). “We try to make it an experience where you don’t have to leave anybody at home…and that’s basically, I believe, what has kept us alive here, is that we are trying to maximize the appeal to ensure that nobody feels left out.”
Even though Roberts emphasizes the degree to which R & R is more than just a place to stop in for a beer (although it certainly serves that purpose, as well), he also notes, “I want to make sure that…the beer, the product…doesn’t get overlooked.” He points to three medals R & R has won for its craft beers, two in state competition and one in national competition.
“The main reason we enter competitions is so we can get professional feedback,” he says. “That’s our goal: to continually try to improve and make the best product possible.”
One of the interesting challenges that comes with owning a microbrewery is trying to accommodate two very different types of customers. Some people have no interest in change and are perfectly happy ordering the very same beer time after time, Roberts says, “but there are some people that the only thing they want consistent is a new beer, so they’ll come in and they’ll say, ‘What do you have that’s new?’” Roberts’ goal is to accommodate both types.
R & R currently has 13 varieties of beer that they can and sell; customers can expect those to be around for the long haul. Other varieties, served only on tap, will come and go.
One of the most popular beers on the menu is the C-240, named for the badge number of North Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper Nolan Sanders, who died March 27, 2020, while on duty. “He was one of our patrons, and about two days before he passed, he was here,” recalls Roberts. “His favorite type of beer was a sour and we didn’t make a sour at the time.” To honor Sanders, Roberts and crew developed a lemon blueberry sour ale (they’ve since tweaked the original recipe a little), donating 100 percent of the first batch of proceeds to the Trooper Nolan Sanders Foundation, which provides aid to families of other fallen troopers. R & R continues to make a yearly contribution to the foundation.
Roberts says he always knew that there would be a philanthropic component to R & R Brewing, whether it’s contributing to a worthy foundation, or supporting local Little League teams or church harvest sales. “If you have a business in a community and that community is sustaining that business, then you also need to make sure you keep supporting that community,” he says. And one way he is supporting the community is by creating a space that is welcoming to everyone.