There’s no escaping fate. Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (played by Gene Wilder) famously screamed about “destiny!” in the 1974 comedic classic Young Frankenstein, but when it comes to family legacies, Stephanie Eppig was as fated to open a brewery as Wilder’s character was to reanimating dead tissue.
Like Wilder’s Frankenstein, Stephanie also brought something back to life—her family’s brewing legacy. She’s the great granddaughter of Henry Joseph Eppig, who was part of the dynastic Brooklyn beer family in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She wasn’t raised in the beer industry; her mother worked as a Navy nurse in San Diego before the family relocated to Annapolis, Maryland for the rest of Stephanie’s childhood. From there, Stephanie bounced around to New York City, back to San Diego, a (very) brief stint in New Zealand, and Los Angeles, before finally settling down in San Diego when Eppig Brewing became a reality.
Her road to opening Eppig in North Park in 2016 was filled with twists which, upon reflection, seem to be kismet. Stephanie laughs easily as she recounts the mix of major life choices and happenstance that led her to where she is today: co-founder of Eppig Brewing and head of marketing.
After college and a few years of churning-and-burning in a high-stress consulting job, Stephanie quit the rat race with a plan to complete Ironman New Zealand and then hop around the South Island for a bit to recenter herself.
“We get there, we’re ready to race, and what they call a ‘weather bomb’ came in. It’s basically a big cyclone, and the race got cancelled.” She shakes her head and chuckles. “I was like, now what am I going to do with my life?”
She cut her trip short and found herself back in the States, where she was “jobless and homeless”—but a first date with Todd [Warsaw, now-husband and co-founder of Eppig] changed the course of her life once again.
It still took a few years for them to coordinate their lives and futures together. Stephanie ended up working for Toyota as part of their strategic insights group for their luxury Lexus brand, and surprised herself by loving it. (“I didn’t know I was a car girl!”) She commuted between Los Angeles—for work—and San Diego—for Todd—until Toyota announced a company-wide relocation to Texas.
She brought Todd to Texas to see if a move was in the cards. “I always thought I was going to be a career-long Toyota girl,” she says, but within 30 minutes she knew a relocation wasn’t her destiny. Back in California, she described their “what now?” conversation over cocktails that would lay the foundation for Eppig Brewing.
“I asked Todd ‘what do you want to do?” Stephanie explained, because by then Todd was equally burnt out from his career. He turned to her and said “I want to open a brewery.”
Todd had no idea about Stephanie’s family history in beer—fate once more.
By the next week, Todd had brought Clayton LeBlanc, Eppig’s future brewer and third co-founder, into the fold. By the next year, Eppig Brewing had opened its doors. Despite the whirlwind of opening a brewery, Stephanie held fast to one principle: if they were going to put the Eppig name on a brewery, the beer quality had to be something she could “stand behind and be really proud of.”
“It’s indescribable,” she replies when I ask her how it feels to resurrect her family legacy. She shows me some of her prized historical collection from the original Eppig breweries in New York: old bottles, original caps, beer ledgers, et cetera. It’s allowed her to connect with family she didn’t even know she had; relatives from all over have reached out with stories, antique photographs of the Eppig ancestors, letters, and a few even showing up at the brewery doorstep hoping for a tour. (So far, Stephanie has always obliged.)
Family as much as fate has driven Eppig’s vision as a brewery, as well as Stephanie’s move from a traditional fast-paced career to the beer world.
“When my mom was diagnosed with leukemia, that was the moment for me where [I realized] work doesn’t come first. Living your life and creating those moments comes first, being able to spend the time and cherish the time with your friends and your family.”
With over a century of history behind the Eppig Brewing name to preserve, there’s no chance Stephanie’s slowing down. Eppig opened their Waterfront Biergarten in early 2018 and plans to be out of their original North Park location by September of this year. (“Just in time for Oktoberfest!” she hopes.)
Their forthcoming home base in Vista wasn’t easy to find. After two years of searching, the Eppig team finally discovered the perfect place to move. (Dare I say it was… fate?) A 30-barrel system will triple their capacity on day one, and Stephanie gets visibly excited describing the authentic German touches they’ll implement; she redesigned the original mezzanine tasting room concept in favor of a Bavarian-inspired beer hall with grand ceilings. That’ll come later, but an outdoor space and preliminary tasting room will be ready for their autumn soft opening.
In the meantime, Stephanie plans to stay true to her roots while finding innovative ways to participate in the local beer scene.
“For me, one of the coolest things is to be able to tell and bring back the story of a brand that was lost,” she says. She sips her beer and smiles. “That’s my tribute and inspiration.”
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