Brewmasters a mainstay in Wilson
By Josh Walfish
Friday, September 23, 2016
Spend two minutes talking to Morkos Youssef, and you feel the passion radiate from his words.
Mixing in a few profanities while discussing the spirit of the Brewmasters, Youssef is a man who is widely misunderstood in the community at large.
People look at Brewmasters’ social media advertising and see the use of profanity as brash and unnecessary -— a force of corruption in an otherwise cerebral part of eastern North Carolina.
Youssef doesn’t mind what outsiders think of him or his business. He’s more concerned about making a change in his hometown community.
“We feel like we kind of bucked the system around here, we really don’t (care) about what everyone else thinks,” Youssef said. “We are trying to change the culture in Wilson. I really feel passionate about that. ... We want to change people who are scared of growth and are scared of change — the old way of thinking.
“We are a place where you can always be yourself.”
What people don’t see about Youssef is the way he approaches his business and its role within the community.
He prides himself on the fact Brewmasters is not corporately owned nor a franchise of a larger corporation. Entrepreneurship runs in his blood after all, learning lessons from his father, George, who owned convenience stores.
Youssef said he has a lot of respect for the way his father lived his life, but said it was unfortunate he did not get to spend a lot of time with his father while he was growing up. From that, Morkos took away a different lesson about how to be an entrepreneur and kindle that same spirit in his son, who already has asked about setting up a lemonade stand outside the store to support a local animal charity.
“(My father) was always nose to the grindstone all the time, 24/7,” Youssef said. “My view more so is that it’s going to help me give me the freedom to enjoy more time with my family while also giving me financial freedom. I really don’t want to be locked down with someone telling me what to do. That’s the whole spirit of Brewmasters.”
Part of the financial freedom Youssef desired was an ability to use his business as a platform to re-gift the support the community has given to him.
In June, Youssef accepted the Silver Partner Award from the Wilson Education Partnership for Brewmasters’ work in helping fulfill more than 300 wishlists for teachers across Wilson County during the academic year. The business has also donated more than $20,000 to the Imagination Station and helped run fundraisers for various other local charities.
“My mission statement through Brewmasters is to do the most good that I can with what I’ve got while I’m here,” Youssef said. “There’s a part of small-town America that really intrigues me and I love being a part of. It just seems like these are honest, hard-working people who care about our business, and we care about them too.”
Brewmasters itself had its fair share of challenges in the early going.
There was a lot of initial pushback to the idea of having a single location where you can both enjoy alcohol on site and also take some home with you. It’s not a novel concept — it had already become prevalent in the Triangle area — so Youssef was confused when the city told him he couldn’t open the shop at his original location.
But he overcame those hurdles and eventually opened Brewmasters in October 2013 with eight barstools and three tables — two tables might be more accurate considering one was being occupied by Youssef with the cash register. The business raked in about $1000 in revenue that day, and Youssef knew the community would probably embrace him.
“At that moment, I felt like we had something special, we just needed to figure out how to manage it,” Youssef said.
After a rocky few months in early 2014, business began booming consistently by the spring and the old store was running out of space for customers. Brewmasters moved to its current location on Forest Hills Road last October, increasing to about a dozen tables and a dozen or so stools. More importantly its beer selection quadrupled from right around 250 various brands to more than 1000 at the current store.
Brewmasters is planning on opening a second location in Goldsboro sometime in October, giving the sizable number of patrons who drive up from Goldsboro a new option closer to home.
The second location is one of the many changes over the past year that have proven to Youssef that his campaign for change is working in conservative America.
If nothing else, the people buying $11 pints at a recent special event for Belgian beers support the ideal that one business can change the culture of a town. Youssef said that scene he witnessed that night in early August was unfathomable when he opened the store three years ago, but it did make it feel comfortable knowing he had made an impact.
“People are more open to change now than when we first got here,” Youssef said. “I don’t know how much we had to do with that, but I would like to think we had something to do with that.”