There are stories of rock bands and software engineers getting modest starts working out of their garages on their first steps to success.
It worked for Van Halen and Steve Jobs. In Brownsville, there’s a hometown brewery that got its start among friends in a westside neighborhood off the Military Highway. Pluton Brewery Company was named after a street by that name in the Galaxia neighborhood. This is where some of the originators of this project grew up, knowing each other since they were boys.
They’ve grown up now, and two of those boys – Pluton co-founders Danny Arizpe and Joey Martinez – along with their partners in the venture, recently gained a major boost in being one of five winners of the 2021 StartUp Texas Pitch Summit. It’s an event hosted and organized by the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation.
In spring 2021, it was a virtual event of four judges – two local and two from out of area. They heard from the startups about their business plans and current operations. The quality of the presentations was assessed along with the viability of their enterprises. The judges then chose five winners with each receiving a $20,000 grant.
The winners in addition to Pluton were Amor y Pan, Cilantro Sauce, SECNER Holdings and Raw Xocolat. The local startups represent a wide variety of businesses from making beer to chocolate to a keto-friendly baked goods company, and a technology and automation services firm. Being a winner is validation for Pluton’s efforts thus far.
“One of the realizations is that now we have to do it,” Martinez said. “We have no excuses. We have to move forward and open the brewery.”
Getting The Pitch Started
The BCIC started the Pitch Summit in 2019 with the goal of providing seed funding for new businesses. It also gives them an opportunity to demonstrate the quality of the entrepreneurial ideas and concepts that inspired their startups. During the 2021 summit in March, each company had to present the judges with a detailed plan and roadmap for their business. They also had to state why they deserved to receive an infusion of capital.
“We witnessed extremely polished presentations and pitches from our participants,” said Nathan Burkhart, the director of marketing and small business development for the BCIC. “I think the best quality seen were the clear strategies for growth each company was able to present. Regardless of winning or not, each business that presented is on a clear path towards scalability in our region and I think that’s the biggest win of them all.”
Pluton Brewery was thrilled to be among the winners in 2021 after competing and falling short the previous year. Arizpe and Martinez started Pluton in 2015 out of the latter’s garage. It wasn’t long before others were involved to make up a band of brewery brothers on Brownsville’s west side.
Making beer from scratch is a long and complicated process. It includes kettles, hot tanks and something called a mash tun to convert the starches in crushed grains into fermentable sugars which make beer possible. It’s not something one learns overnight. Mastering the process takes years of practice. The boys of Pluton have been at it for a while.
Developing A Following
Pluton developed a cult following in the Brownsville area. They offered their brews at area events, parties and celebrations to get their products and name out, even if they could not sell what they made due to not having a state license. That’s Pluton’s next step. The $20,000 grant will help get them into a brick-and-mortar location, a basic requirement for getting a license from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
The Pluton partners are hoping to open a shop in downtown Brownsville that’s experiencing a revitalization boom. A fixed location will give them the space needed to make their brews, open a tap room with samples, and eventually sell and distribute kegs to area bars. They have a passion for what they do and winning the Pitch Summit grant has only fired up their possibilities.
“We want to show the world what we’re doing in Brownsville, Texas, and not only us but all of the entrepreneurs,” Arizpe said. “We needed our people to want our beers and they’ve shown they do. We’re ready to take that next step and become a brewery that represents our city and our community.”