While it`s true those engineers did make a success of the Pumphouse Brewery & Restaurant, which celebrated its 15th anniversary last week, it was far from an overnight success.
"It took four years for us to get into the black," said Craig Taylor, the Pumphouse`s president and brewmaster and one of its four founders.
Conversations between Taylor and Dennis Coombs, who were both engineers at an aerospace manufacturing company, planted the seeds of the idea.
"We said, 'We should just do something crazy,'" Taylor recalled last week, sitting in the Red Zone, the 7,500-square-foot sports bar the Pumphouse owners opened in 2004.
The conversations became a little more serious, and up stood Dave D`Epagnier, another co-worker.
"He said, 'Hey, I like beer and I brew a little. Can I be a part of this?'" Taylor said.
Coombs brought in Tom Charles, who later became a real estate agent but at the time was also an engineer. Charles found them the building at 540 Main St., but it wasn`t in good shape when they bought it in 1995, Taylor said.
"We came in and it was pretty dilapidated, actually. Things were sagging," Taylor remembered. "We spent months chipping decades of paint off the bricks."
Working at night because the four still had their day jobs, the entrepreneurs and their families spent many laborious hours cleaning up the building, but they liked what they saw in its "bones" -- the beams, the exposed brick.
They also felt the building perfectly suited what they had decided on as the theme for their brewpub: a firehouse, even though 540 Main had never actually been a firehouse. Eventually, they settled on calling it the Pumphouse, and Taylor went around collecting whatever firefighting gear he could find for the restaurant`s decor.
Meanwhile, the firehouse theme inspired the names of brews, including Red Alert Amber and Wildfire Wheat, two of the originals from its opening in 1996 that are still on the menu.
Taylor was the only one of the four with a day-to-day presence at the beginning, in charge of the brewing portion of the business. He brought in help from local home brewers he knew because he was still employed full-time as an engineer.
While Taylor supervised the beer operations, the other three partners had their own expertise to contribute: Finances were Coombs` specialty, Taylor said, while Charles was good at figuring out the logistics of the facilities and D`Epagnier was an expert with anything electronic.
Customers liked the Pumphouse`s beers immediately, but getting the food right was a different story, Taylor said.
"It was kind of that trial and error," he said, adding that at one point, the Pumphouse even tried serving breakfast.
After four years of experimentation, they finally settled on the core of what remains their menu today, and the business started taking off. In the meantime, its beers were starting to pick up some prestigious national awards.
By 2004, the Pumphouse was humming along, and the owners decided to take a big risk: They would take the north side of their building, which had most recently been a church and, before that a gym, and turn it into a sports bar called the Red Zone. This required knocking down some walls, expanding the kitchen and tripling the size of the brewing operations.
"(We spent) just shy of a million," Taylor said. "It was the best million bucks we spent."
They thought they would be hitting a different demographic than they were hitting with the Pumphouse. They were right.
"It was a good move because it seemed instantly successful," Taylor said. "There wasn`t a whole lot of ramp-up."
First the Pumphouse and then the Red Zone became favorite haunts of Emmy McCutcheon, who is now one of about 80 employees who work at the Pumphouse/Red Zone. About half of those workers are full-time.
"Even before working here, I had been a customer since 2000," McCutcheon said.
She now does marketing for the businesses and was made service manager in December.
"We have pretty high server standards," she said. "Having been a server for several area restaurants, I don`t think I`ve ever worked at one that`s had the standards that we have."
For example, servers are given pop quizzes every couple of weeks, and they have to be fluent in discussing not just everything on the menu, but also the brews, including the seasonal brews. Penalty for failure is getting assigned bad shifts -- or worse, McCutcheon said.
Ross Hagen, who the founders brought in 10 years ago as managing partner, came up with the idea for the pop quizzes, Taylor said.
The employees deserve a lot of credit for the success of the Pumphouse and Red Zone, Taylor said.
And he and his partners can now look back with some satisfaction on how much the business has grown since those rough, early days.
"I think so, I think we`re all very pleased with how it`s gone," Taylor said. "It was really tough getting started. If, during that first four-year period, you were to have asked us if we would have done it all over, we would have said absolutely not."
Founders: Dennis Coombs, Craig Taylor, Dave D`Epagnier and Tom Charles
Address: 540 Main St., Longmont
Web site: pumphousebrewery.com