by Paul Burdziakowski
All throughout college during the early 1990s, Sarasota, FL residents Jeff and Cathy Douglas bartended, waited tables and worked in the kitchens of several different restaurants and bars. While the experience was only temporary, the memory rubbed off in a positive way because several years later they were both talking about starting their own brewpub and eatery. They were just waiting for the right time and opportunity to come along.
That opportunity finally came in 2014 after Jeff and Cathy bought an RV and began traveling around the country. Their goal was to have a trip through 49 states but it somehow turned into a nationwide brewery tour allowing Jeff and Cathy to gather ideas on what they wanted their brewpub to be.
“It’s always been in the back of our minds,” Cathy said. “We joked about it early on and talked about how we should do this or definitely not do that.”
Their son Scott shared a similar passion of making a career out of his love for beer. The passion started when he visited a local beer fest and tasted some of the best home-brewed beer he ever had. Scott fell in love with home-brewing and for a period of three to four years he was experimenting and making his own beer every chance he had. Scotts’ hobby eventually led to a job search in the brewing industry.
“Five years ago I tasted a home-brew and it was really good,” Scott said. “I told myself if they can do it so can I. I thought brewing was going to be hard but it’s actually very easy.”
Halfway through their tour Jeff and Cathy received a phone call from Scott who told them he was interviewing with breweries across the country. Realizing the timing might never be better, Jeff and Cathy decided to cut their trip short and join forces with Scott to begin their dream brewpub.
Seven months later they finally settled on a former pub located in Bradenton. The Douglas family liked that it was located off a major road and the building had a large outdoor deck area.
“It used to be a British pub but it had been kind of neglected for years,” Cathy said. “It was on one of the main roads in Bradenton and the deck was amazing. We all walked through and thought this could work.”
With the future brewpub now in their possession the next step was getting it ready. The former pub needed a lot of work but the Douglas family was up for the challenge, renovating the entire building themselves.
“We made everything except the table tops,” Jeff said. “We did the plumbing, the electrical work, and all the chairs and tables. We laid the copper for our bar top and put the pallet wall up ourselves.”
While they were busy working people were already stopping by and inquiring about the new brewpub.
“People have been very, very receptive and friendly,” Jeff said. “We would be out there [on the deck] all day long building stuff and people would be stopping by and chatting with us because they were so excited about it opening up.”
Jeff and Cathy were glad to see people were so interested in their new business but before opening their doors they wanted to make sure their brewpub would be unique compared to others in the area. In order to do this, they had to refer back to their road trip and stops at 126 different breweries.
Among the ideas they liked the most was offering a relaxing community brewpub that welcomed people of all ages including kids. With everything from toys, video games, board games and coloring books Cathy says kids literally beg their parents to come to the brewpub. Three Keys Brewing even has a dog friendly deck area equipped with beds, water bowls and dog treats. According to Cathy the motivation behind this idea stemmed from the fact there are not a lot of kid friendly breweries out there, forcing families to go to chain restaurants.
“We took our [younger] kids with us on our trip,” Cathy said. “There are so many places where you can’t take them. We just wanted to offer a place where kids can come and hang out and have a nice meal with their family.”
Some other family friendly activities taking place at Three Keys Brewing include live music, Pilates, trivia nights and a mug club that provides customers with special discounts. Cathy says she even has some future activities planned for children.
“We want to have kids come in and brew root beer,” Cathy said. “My younger daughters are already starting to make spent grain dog treats and soaps which we could do at some point.”
The Douglas family knew they also wanted to do things differently when it came to their main product — the beer. Instead of having a brewery that focused on state and regional distribution of beer they wanted to have a constantly rotating and evolving selection of fresh, small batch beers that were only available at the brewpub.
“Most breweries have flagship beers that they brew but we wanted to have different beers on tap every week,” Jeff said. “It’s more of a community brewery.”
Scott, the brewmaster, is the one who comes up with the different beer flavors using the help of an online brewing recipe calculator and his past brewing experience. He uses typical brewing equipment including a grain mill, one brite tank and six fermenting tanks. A computerized glycol chilling system ensures the tanks remain at the proper temperature during the entire fermenting process.
A variety of types and flavors of beer have been introduced so far thanks to Scott’s creativity and brewing techniques. At any one time there are usually around 20 different beers available on tap.
It is safe to say there is something for everyone at Three Keys Brewing including different flavors of cider and wine for those looking for a taste other than beer. The drinks are also complemented by a full-service menu which includes burgers, tacos, salads and soups Cathy and her staff help put together each day.
The Douglas family had a soft opening in late 2016 in order to get a feel for how everything would go. Their grand opening took place in March. According to Cathy the turnout was bigger than they expected which required them to make some adjustments.
“We were too successful opening up,” Cathy said. “The first two weeks we ran out of something every day and we found out we had to hire more staff.”
The early success comes as no surprise to Scott who was warned early on by other breweries that craft beer was exploding in Florida.
“When we were starting out we were told by other breweries, ‘don’t underestimate the drinking power of consumers’,” Scott said. “People like their craft beer. It’s exploding.”
Jeff believes the reason breweries are suddenly exploding in the state of Florida has to do with recent craft brewery bills that were passed by the state and the popular demand for craft beer by tourists.
“It’s popped up in Florida because the laws here have changed and there weren’t a lot of breweries to choose from,” Jeff said. “It creates beer tourism. People actually plan their vacations to visit a bunch of breweries. We hear it all the time from people that come in.”
For more information about Three Keys Brewing visit