Published: Jun 16, 2007 12:30 AM
Modified: Jun 16, 2007 05:09 AM
Sean Lilly Wilson has a solid resume in management and sales, but he has been sort of an entrepreneur-in-waiting up to now. He's ready to make beer. "I like doing things that bring people happiness," he said.
Wilson, who lives in Chatham County but has two graduate degrees from Duke, wants to make his beer in Durham.
"It's the sort of natural place to have a brewery," he said.
So these days he's looking at sites and talking to potential partners in the hope of getting a Bull City brewpub up and pouring -- maybe by this time next year.
"You can't create an instant brewery," he said.
Wilson, you might say, is an evangelist for beer. Not the standard, mass-market, corporate-flavored lager put out by the Budweisers and Millers of the world; rather, the fresh, crafted drink made on the spot that honors the brewer's art and accompanies a meal or pleases the palate with the complexity and distinction of fine wine.
"It's an opportunity to serve Durham," he said.
Wilson is a native Pennsylvanian who left home for Wheaton College (Billy Graham's alma mater) near Chicago, there met his wife, a native Mississippian, and came to Durham with her when she entered Duke's Divinity School. (She left after one year, he said.)
According to his online resume (www.lillywilson.com/sean/Sean_Lilly_Wilson.doc),
Wilson has 10 years' experience "managing cross-functional teams, a high level of innovation and creativity, and a passion for executive new products and initiatives."
Such as craft beer.
"It's my true passion," he said. "It's best to pursue what you're passionate about."
Wilson already has one success in the beer game -- Pop the Cap, an organization he led to expand North Carolina's imbibing horizons. In 2005, it got the General Assembly to raise the alcohol limit for beer from 6 percent to 15 percent by volume.
Now, Durham has had a brewpub before -- the Weeping Radish, which opened in 1987 and operated for several years in what is now called the "Studebaker Building" at Duke and Morgan streets. Durham's Weeping Radish didn't last (the original Weeping Radish is still in business in Manteo.), but Wilson gives it and owner Uli Bennewitz "tons of credit" for popularizing local microbreweries and getting them legalized in North Carolina. He was a little ahead of his time in Durham, Wilson said.
Now, things are different. Durham is "a beer-oriented city," he said, home to the World Beer Festival and a "professional, educated market in a college town]."
Reyn Bowman, head of Durham's Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Wilson's idea makes good sense.
"There's a certain grittiness to a brewpub," Bowman said. "And it has kind of working-class roots, and it would resonate in a place as real and authentic as downtown Durham is."
Wilson said he has dropped one idea -- establishing his brewpub in the empty, 1927 Trinity Community (nee Durham Alliance) Church at Gregson and Lamond streets -- after presenting it to the Trinity Park Neighborhood Association last week.
That site had zoning and traffic-flow issues, plus neighbors already uneasy over proposed hotel and condominium developments two blocks away. Wilson said he wanted to honor the neighborhood's feelings.
"My goal is really to give the community what it wants," he said.