In Fords in Four, we ask an alumnus four questions; he shares insights and stories. In this blog post, Mengistu Koilor ‘99, co-founder of Two Locals Brewing Company, reminisces on his time at Haverford and traces his career path in the finance and craft beer industries. He also shares how community members can support Two Locals, which is the first black-owned brewing company in Philadelphia.
What are some of your favorite memories from your time at Haverford?
My favorite memories are probably not necessarily from inside the classroom but outside the classroom – in the mornings outside homeroom or in study halls hanging out with my peers and cracking jokes. Boys tend to do a lot of making fun of each other, but for us it wasn’t malicious - it was just for laughs and it was always a good time. In terms of memorable teachers, I have to mention Mr. Farrell, Tony Farrell. He was our track coach, and he was also my math teacher junior year. Some of the workouts he had us doing seemed outrageous, but looking back at it, he was really preparing us not just physically but mentally, because track is very much a mental game. You think of running a 400-meter dash as fast as you possibly can – and he would have us running ten 400’s with a 90 second break but each 400 had to be under 60 seconds. I’ll never forget the first time I did that because I threw up after practice. But he had us in tremendous shape. He also had a great sense of humor because we could crack jokes with him or with each other. He was someone who I really appreciated having around during my time there. The fact that I had him in the classroom and outside the classroom helped as well. I could definitely see similarities between his coaching style and his teaching style – he was laid back, loved to laugh, and really connected with his students. He was a mentor, a positive influence, and a sounding board for me and some of my peers during high school and the teenage years, which can be tough.
What was your career path after Haverford, and what led to founding Two Locals Brewing Company with your brother?
I was a business major in college, studying finance and upon graduating I landed a job doing investment banking with Merrill Lynch in New York. I should preface this conversation by saying the experience at Merrill, similar to the Haverford experience, gave me a certain work ethic, and certain soft skills that I needed to be able to do other things professionally. I can say to this day that I’m still benefiting from the investment banking analyst. But I did two years at Merrill, and I did another year at a small boutique bank and then I realized investment banking wasn’t the career path I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life. But it helped me land another job at the company I’ve been at for almost 14 years now. What I do today is oversee a team that collects and aggerates financial and market data and we create workflow solutions for investment banking and wealth management firms.
During my professional career, I acquired a love for beer and specifically craft beer. My brother and I would text each other from different events or spend time together and try out different types. Fast forward to 2016 and my brother said, hey, why don’t we try making our own beer? He bought a homebrew kit and made a red ale and he let me try it and I was like, whoa, you actually made beer. It was phenomenal. We started homebrewing in my backyard - it was a good way for us to bond together as siblings and do something we enjoyed. We did a lot of brewing and let family and friends taste it. They enjoyed it, their response was always good, and that gave us confidence to continue doing it.
Around 2018 we said, let’s go ahead and make our own LLC because I think we’re onto something where maybe we could eventually have our own brewery and that set us on the path to where we are now. It’s been fun – it’s a learning experience for us along the way. I’m in financial data management and my brother is in accounting so we have our corporate jobs and this is really our passion project.
About three weeks before the lockdown occurred in March – we set up a kickstarter called IndieGogo to raise funds for our brewery. What we wanted to do was have the kickstarter and also host sampling events so people could taste our beer and hopefully donate. But the effects of COVID felt so immediate - people were losing their jobs and some weren’t surviving the disease - so we shut down the donation site and returned the money ‘cause it just didn’t feel like the right time. But we had breweries reaching out to us and wanting to do collaborations with us, which didn’t help us raise capital but helped us from the marketing perspective to get our name out there. And because we spent time in the breweries, actually in there brewing the beer and seeing the production systems, it was a kind of an apprenticeship for us.
While I enjoy going to other breweries, we want our own brewery ‘cause we have our own style and our own vibe and that’s what we want to add to the craft beer industry. We want to be part of this renaissance that’s going on in Philly right now. The city is going through major redevelopment throughout its neighborhoods and I do believe that African-Americans are being left behind. We want to set our footprint in one of these neighborhoods and show our people and this city that we’re here and we want to be a part of this and that we have something to offer.
Can you talk about your recent projects and what it means to you to be recognized as the first black-owned brewing company in Philadelphia?
One thing about the industry is that it’s very collaborative – it’s an open-door policy. So we visited other breweries, talked to owners, and we established relationships that allowed us to go and brew with these guys. We’ve done four collaborations so far– one with Love City Brewing, one with Brewery ARS in South Philly, one with Wissahickon Brewing, and one with Chimney Rustic Ales in New Jersey.
One thing I would like to highlight is the collaboration with Love City which was called the Black is Beautiful beer, which was an imperial stout. 2020 was just an insane year across the board between the pandemic and the social justice issues that were at the forefront of everyone’s minds. There’s a brewer in San Antonio Texas that works for Weathered Souls Brewing Company and he thought of the idea of creating a darker beer, calling it the Black is Beautiful, and using that beer to promote social justice reform, raise awareness and raise funds that would go towards different organizations like Black Lives Matter and Philly Bail Fund. So we did a collaboration with Love City Brewing – it was about 19 barrels of beer, and sold out in two days. That’s what’s really cool about the craft beer industry -- they make beer, obviously they’re for-profit businesses, but they’re always looking and happy to collaborate and do things that push the envelope forward, and are very progressive and using their breweries to donate and help different organizations.
We recently started contract brewing with Mainstay Independent Brewing Company which is right off of Delaware Avenue. We just released our first can, a brown ale, which we called the Nubian Brown Ale. The artwork is of an African American woman –a silhouette of her head and shoulders and she’s wearing an African print scarf on her head and the shirt. So it’s paying homage to the black women in our lives – our wives, our girlfriends, our mothers.
One thing that we realized when we jumped off on this journey was that we didn’t find any other black-owned and operated breweries in Philadelphia, so we’re very proud of this accomplishment. You can’t be what you don’t see, so I think representation is really important. While I enjoy going to other breweries, we want our own brewery ‘cause we have our own style and our own vibe and that’s what we want to add to the craft beer industry. We want to be part of this renaissance that’s going on in Philly right now. The city is going through major redevelopment throughout its neighborhoods and I do believe that African-Americans are being left behind. We want to set our footprint in one of these neighborhoods and show our people and this city that we’re here and we want to be a part of this and that we have something to offer.
What advice do you have for other young alums or current students?
I would say take advantage of every resource and opportunity you have. Whatever interests you have, do it. Even things that may not interest you, that you may be uncertain about, go ahead and try it. And that’s my advice for any kid in general. That’s one thing my wife and I try to do with our three kids, is try to get them involved in everything possible. It keeps us very busy and tired, but we try to give them access to everything. And I feel like Haverford gives kids access to everything from athletics to the arts and music. You may not do all those things forever, but something will stick and you’ll say okay, this is what I want to do. Take advantage of all your options. Try anything until you figure out what you enjoy and what you like to do.
I’d also ask members of the community to follow Two Locals on Instagram and support a small business, a start-up that’s right in your backyard here in Philadelphia. Philadelphia’s changing and we need to support small businesses as much as possible. And especially support the African-American community that’s not necessarily being included in the transformation that Philadelphia’s going through. It’ll help us all out if we’re all in this together and we can all work together, move forward together, in this city.