Brewing Beers & Bonds

Chelsey DeMarino-Ziolkowski ’17 found love, family, and community all thanks to a cold one.

To say that craft beer has played a significant role in Chelsey DeMarino-Ziolkowski’s adult life might be an understatement. As a young, 20-something working in the Jersey City, New Jersey restaurant industry, her knowledge of and appreciation for microbrews sparked a connection between her and her now husband, Michal Ziolkowski.

Little did she know that their initial conversations were laying the foundation for a journey that would eventually lead them to establish not one, but two breweries just a decade later.

The Brew Bug

Chelsey discovered her passion for craft beer in her early 20s. She “loved everything about it”—so much so that she acquired certification in the craft beer industry and began organizing trips to local breweries for friends and acquaintances in the business.

It was around that time that she and Mike—one of the regular customers at the bar she worked at and a fellow craft beer lover who’d recently started home brewing—often found themselves discussing the splendor of a perfectly brewed pint.

“He was the one customer I thoroughly enjoyed talking with about tasting notes, limited beers, and the love we both had for craft beer,” says Chelsey, who admits that she initially turned down Mike’s request for a date. A few months later, she reconsidered. “We went out to dinner, drank some good beers together, and haven’t left each other’s side since.”

A photo of alumna Chelsey DeMarino Ziolkowski and her husband, Michal Ziolkowski enjoying a beer in their brewery, Bradley Brew Project.

A few years later, the couple welcomed twin daughters, turning their lives upside down. They moved to the Jersey Shore to be closer to family, but Chelsey’s aspirations to climb the ladder in the restaurant industry came to a halt, propelling her in a new direction.

“Your career kind of stops when you have kids, especially in the restaurant industry, but as soon as [the twins] were born, I wanted to get back into something; I’ve always had this desire to create and build things and do more,” she says. “When you have a baby, you realize how hard it is and how much support there is lacking, so when they were three months old, I went back to school to be a doula.”

Chelsey started working as a postpartum doula for twin moms and, soon after, entered Monmouth to pursue her bachelor’s degree in health sciences to bolster her growing expertise.

As a 28-year-old mother of two who worked part time, Chelsey recognized she wasn’t the traditional undergraduate student, but she “loved everything” about her time at Monmouth. She made friends, interned in the athletics department, and feels that being older enabled her to form closer connections with her professors.

It was during this busy time in their lives that Chelsey and Mike’s love of beer started to flourish into something bigger. They had occasionally home brewed in their Jersey City apartment, but now they started testing out new beer recipes almost weekly at their home in Wall Township, New Jersey.

“We’re randomly pillow talking one night and we’re like, ‘What if we open a brewery? Who says we can’t do this, we make really good beer at home,’” she laughs. Looking back, she realizes they were being a bit naive—typical “home brewer’s thinking,” Chelsey says. But given her experience in the restaurant industry and Mike’s experience in the corporate world, they decided to give it a go.

Bradley Brew is Born

Less than two years after that conversation and just 10 days after the birth of their third daughter, in June 2018 Chelsey and Mike opened Bradley Brew Project (BBP), a community-focused microbrewery nestled cozily on Main Street, less than a mile from the coastline in Bradley Beach, New Jersey.

Complete with a large roll-up glass door façade that opens to the bustle of Main Street, the space includes an outdoor seating area, an open and free-flowing tasting room, and a menu that features a new release every week. Chelsey says everything about the brewery, which utilizes an assortment of ingredients and brewing processes to provide clients with endless new experiences, is designed to exude an air of warmth and hospitality. BPP’s vision is simple, she says: “to brew inspired and approachable ales and lagers and to serve them in a welcoming environment.”

“Walking through our door, we want you to have the best experience all around, not only by having a really good beer, but [also because] our staff is really friendly and accommodating and they focus on educating our customers about all of our offerings,” says Chelsey. “Our brewery isn’t like many breweries because you’re not going into a warehouse space; it’s a little bit more elevated than that. You’re walking in right off of Main Street and getting a glass of really good beer in a tasting room where you can literally reach out and touch the tanks as part of the experience.”

There’s also a culture of family friendliness stemming from the fact that the brewery is nothing short of a family affair. Not only do Chelsey and Mike share the day-to-day responsibilities of running the establishment, their daughters have a hand in the family business. In fact, BBP’s flagship brew, Unicorn Girls, which the couple started brewing in their home while developing their brewery concept, is an homage to the couple’s twin daughters, who as young children often referred to themselves as “the uni- corn girls.”

The girls—whose other quips such as “I Dream of Darkness” and “Maybe We Could Do Magic” have made their way onto the cans of various BBP brews over the years—can often be found helping mom and dad around the brewery.

“My three girls are really amazing human beings and granted, I’m their mom, but I think the reason for that is they see how hard my husband and I work,” she says. “They see how we have to make sacrifices and don’t always get to do fun things when they come to work with us, but they’re so proud of it.”

Crafting Community Connections

If the first two pillars of the BBP culture are family and the importance of the customer experience, the third is community. Since BBP’s inception, Chelsey’s goal has been to not only have a business where people from the community can gather and connect, but also to identify ways that BBP can give back and support the community.

It’s an idea that was sparked by a class she took at Monmouth.

“I took Maria Hrycenko’s course called Community and Health, and it really opened my eyes to how much communities need support in more ways than one,” Chelsey says. “Her teachings ignited my passion for community engagement, and I realized incorporating this aspect into our business model was incredibly important to me.”

To date, BBP has helped to raise more than $34,000 for both local and national organizations including Communities in Crisis, Bluemont Sanctuary, and the Boomer Esiason Foundation.

Thankful for the spark ignited by Hrycenko’s class as well as her other experiences at Monmouth, Chelsey’s connection to the University and its significance in her life inspired her recent collaboration with Monmouth’s athletics department to create BBP’s 1933 Great Hall IPA (see sidebar, above).

Farmstead Ferments

This past January, Chelsey and Mike celebrated the opening of their second establishment, Tall Oaks Farm + Brewery, a nanofarm and microbrewery located on a five-acre farmstead property with views of horses and tranquil woodlands in Farmingdale, New Jersey. The idea for the new business had sprouted even before BBP had opened its doors, Chelsey says.

Completely separate from BBP down to the labels on the cans, Tall Oaks is all about more—more beer, more space, and more amenities for guests, including fire pits, outdoor games, and a pavilion with covered seating as well as heated outdoor seating areas. Developed from the ground up, the larger space will allow for more community events, and the outdoor areas will help fulfill a dream Chelsey has had since the inception of BBP.

“I’ve always wanted people to be able to experience more than just being inside a brewery—I wanted them to be able to go outside, watch the sunset, and have those really unique conversations with friends and family while the rest of the world kind of fades away because you’re so present in that moment,” she says. “That’s the experience we always wanted to create.”

While phase one of Tall Oaks was about getting the doors open, phase two includes plans to use some of their property to grow hops as well as flowers that will be utilized in future brews, Chelsey says. But for now, she’s most excited about slowing down and, perhaps, taking a temporary break from her continuous pursuit of more.

“Building has been such an incredible experience, but it’s definitely taken a lot out of me, so I’m really excited to put the focus back on running my businesses and working alongside my staff to uplift them. Now, will I build something else or create something new? I don’t know yet,” she smiles. “But I’m not saying that I won’t.”