Greetings Lagunators Everywhere…!
This coming Friday (April 3rd) is our annual Nick Mirkopoulos Day brewery holiday. Some of you know some stuff and others might know more but I’d bet most don’t really know too much. With that in mind, let me tell you the story of Nick Mirkopoulos and Lagunitas in Chicago.
I’ll start by telling you as much as I know about Nick, the man, himself. It’s almost nothing, at least, nothing directly. However I’ve heard more stories of such scale that no reasonable person would believe them taken as a whole, but such is the way that stories are told about Kings.
Nick was a rural Greek-born man who studied electrical engineering. Rural in this case means a part of northeastern Greece bordering on Macedonia where people still trade milk for wool and live the most civilized lives imaginable. Nick once told me that the economic crisis in Greece didn’t even touch people from the area from which he was from because they’d already been living the same way for the last thousand years. That is rural. At some early point in his life he moved from the backwoods of Greece to Toronto, Canada. There we began to take on an unsuspecting world.
Here’s how Lagunitas met Nick Mirkopoulos…
I went to Chicago in the spring of 2012 to look for a building in which to build a brewery. I looked at 20 over two days. None of the them were perfect and I started to think that things were not going to work out easily or quickly. At 2 o’clock in the afternoon of the second day the realtor I was riding with pulled to the side of the road. We were not finding what I needed. He paused and then said, looking directly at me as if possessed by a ghost and in a flat mono-tonal voice said; “There is one more building. It’s not officially on the market. The owner is very picky”. He looked at me without an expression. I thought there was something funky going on, and he said, “Do you want me to call him?” I looked at him waiting for the punchline and he just waited for me to answer. It was a weird and charged moment and I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I said yes, sure. The realtor grunted low and mumbled something and pulled out his cell phone to call him.
The realtor set up a meeting and we drove directly to the building. We pulled up behind it. A guy came to meet us and let us into the rear door. The building was massive, an aircraft hanger, and when we walked into the back of it the blackness of its interior stopped us in our tracks. The guy moved into the black and found a panel that turned on the lights. The space was vast and I could see in an instant that it was our building, that it had been sitting there empty just waiting for us to ask for its hand.
The building was one of a cluster of enormous buildings that were once the oldest operating business in the city of Chicago and were now being transformed into the largest movie soundstage complex outside of Los Angeles. Nick Mirkopoulos was the owner of the soundstage complex and he’d first built a similar business in Toronto 20 years earlier. He did this after making his fortune founding one of the most important construction companies in Canada.
We talked in his office for all of about 20 minutes. I told him about Lagunitas and our plan for a brewery in Chicago and he told me that he’d built two Molson Breweries in Canada and even demolished one. What are the chances of that? He liked me and liked our crazy idea of building a big brewery and at some point during the short meeting Nick decided that he would rent me the enormous building. Nick had lived for some 50 years in Canada and the western world and still his Greek accent was so thick and his energy in a conversation so overwhelming that when he spoke you had to listen as closely as possible to grasp what it was he was saying. You could always hear the swear words that peppered every smiling sentence whether he was talking to me or to the Governor. As I go tot know him I, like everyone else who knew him, started to understand everything he said and it was always all good stuff to be hearing.
As that first crazy, laughing, smoking, and incomprehensible conversation in his cigarette smoke-filled Chicago office wound down he stood up and said, “Let’s go and look at the building together”. As we walked out of the room he stopped me, put his hand on my arm and said, “You will build your brewery. I will help you.” That was it. It was done. No credit checks, no googling, no written proposals, and even for a while no lease. He didn’t want to be bothered with a lease. He told me we could have his building and that was that. A handshake was a deal, it might as well have been written in blood.
As that summer went along and we began working on the brewery there I began to hear stories about Nick’s past adventures. It seems that as a giant Canadian contracting company Nick had become an important contractor for the US military and maybe even intelligence services too. Nick told me that he knew ‘Moamar’ and ‘Saddam’ and that he’d liked them and they were reliable, more so even than some other politicians! It seems that after the US invaded Grenada in the Caribbean in 1983 his company got a call the next morning to get down there and clean up after the invasion. There is a story I heard of his close relationship with another fella named ‘Colin’ who was big in the US military. He traveled in realms where the air was pretty thin. People never merely liked Nick, they either loved him or they feared him. As for Lagunitas, we loved him.
Once Nick decided to make his building available to us to build a brewery he introduced me to his friends in the City of Chicago including a brilliant designer and engineer, a brilliant construction manager, the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor, his own stash of steel workers and concrete men, electricians and plumbers, the best lawyers in the city, the best process consultants, the Governor, the International Vice President of the Teamsters 727, and on and on.
Almost overnight we had the A-Team of A-Teams all pulling with us to get the brewery built. I went into the whole idea of the Chicago brewery with optimism and high expectations but in reality it could not have been done without Nick Mirkopoulos. When you remember that the building was not even on the market there is no reason at all for me to ever have met him. Had I not met him, and had he not been the crazy wizard that he was the brewery would never have been completed as quickly as it was, if it had gotten built at all…but that is how things have always worked for Lagunitas, it seems to go way beyond luck. We have a whole lot to live up to.
Nick left Chicago early that summer to spend it in his beloved Greek backcountry. We went to work building the brewery nearly 24/7 and along the way needed Nick’s help over the phone and the help of every one of his contacts throughout the City. They all stepped in to help us as if they were working directly with Nick himself. They all loved him and since he loved us, his friends loved us too. We worked hard to live up to the opportunities these good friends of Nick’s provided to us.
Nick Mirkopoulos was supposed to return in the fall, but didn’t, and still more time went by and he still didn’t return. Finally we learned that he was not well and he passed away late that fall never having seen the brewery completed. However the string of impossible accomplishments and impossible coincidences that began when we met him continued straight through the winter and into the next year as we finished the work on the brewery and everybody there was certain that it was Nick’s invisible hand making the impossible ordinary.
In the end, he opened a door to a million barrel brewery being opened in record time.
Far away and long ago in a place not far from here I met a king.
I knew him when I saw him and he knew me though I’d barely said a thing.
Well he’s on to other realms now with his story and his sense of everything.
Everybody, every feeling, every everyone whatever heard his rough voice ring.
Why is there nothing more to say?
Far away and long ago in time or space don’t really mean a thing.
Everybody’s all around us now and all we are is only everything.
Yesterday’s tomorrow is the moment we are standing right now, now sing,
A song of tomorrow’s yesterday ‘fore daylight falls and night returns again.
Why is there nothing more to say?
We build the things we do, maybe a bridge, to whatever this life might bring.
He built the things he built in dreams of love and hopeful dreams of adventure they might bring.
I don’t know more, I’ve said too much, I only knew the outer most of rings.
They say the sun’s forever setting now somewhere without end,
Without a tear, as morning dawns and daylight begins,
Beyond as it always has, and always will, for all eternity…
Why is there nothing more to say?
Why is there nothing?
There’s nothing more to say….
–>Read More April 3rd, 2015- Nick Mirkopolous Day Awesomeness by following this link about Lagunitas Brewing Company–>.Shared with you via RSS.