During Beer Week in San Diego, it’s no surprise that Churchill’s Pub & Grille in San Marcos is standing room only on a Wednesday night. But there’s one table on the back patio that stayed empty all night.
The Missing Man Table, common in military mess halls and Navy ships, pays homage to POWs and those who have gone missing in action. It was at Churchill’s on Veterans Day as part of the “Hoist,” a grass-roots event that honors men and women who have served in the U.S. military.
San Diego Brewers Guild president Kevin Hopkins and his close friend, Steve Cates, started the Hoist a decade ago and it has since taken on a life of its own, attracting close to 100 people. It’s held at Churchill’s each Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
“It’s just about recognizing that freedom isn’t free and everything that we enjoy about our country, a price has been paid for it and continues to be paid for,” said Hopkins, the chief branding officer at Mother Earth Brew Co. in Vista. “And we must honor it and remember it.”
The idea for the Hoist actually came on Veterans Day in 2005 when Hopkins and Cates were hiking near Jacumba on the Goat Canyon Trestle. After their hike they stopped at a small hotel bar when someone approached them to ask if they were veterans. They are (Hopkins served in the Air Force and the National Security Administration and Cates was a submariner in the Navy), and soon everyone in the bar started buying them beers to pay tribute to their military service.
They were bought so many beers in fact they actually had to sneak out of the place.
“They were just lining them up,” Hopkins recalled with a laugh. “There was no way we could have drank all the beers they bought us.” They were humbled by the gesture and inspired to pay it forward themselves.
The Hoist started more informally with a handful of friends at family. Now there’s a formal presentation, starting with the Pledge of Allegiance, the singing of the National Anthem, the honoring of veterans in attendance, and a guest speaker. Last year, Jack Ensch, a retired Navy captain and former Vietnam prisoner of war, was a special guest. Adam Avery, founder of Avery Brewing Company, attended last year.
Hopkins and Cates have also brought in their friend, Adam Brice, a former master gunnery sergeant in the Marines, to help organize the event.
After the formalities, people may stay for hours to share their stories. And if they don’t stay late, they come early. The Veterans Day event officially was supposed to start at 5:45 p.m., but the first guests started arriving more than three hours before.
“People come early because they want to be a part of it and enjoy the camaraderie,” Cates said. “This thing has grown on its own. We were joking that one year we won’t even show up. And we know that it would still happen without us because people just want to be a part of it. It’s great to see that excitement from everyone, whether you’re military, family of military or know someone in the military.”
Although The Hoist is not an official Beer Week event, it certainly feels like one as countless pints are raised to pay tribute. It’s growing to a point where there’s talk of expanding it to Pearl Harbor Day.
“It’s organic, it’s been a real grassroots effort,” Hopkins said. “It’s just a safe environment for veterans who have sacrificed or anyone to take a moment to share.”