Preserving the Best Legacy

A Brief History of the Pabst Brewery

Jacob Best once owned a brewery in Darmstadt Germany, in the wine and beer making Rheinhessen region. Political oppression caused Best to uproot his family and make the voyage to America in 1844. They settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and opened the Jacob Best Brewing Company in Milwaukee at the corner of 9th & Chestnut (now Juneau Avenue). They brewed a very popular lager called “Best Select”, and the family slowly grew the brewery together. Jacob’s son Phillip eventually took over, adding “Ph.” to Best & Co name. The brewery, and the family, continued to grow. 

Frederick Pabst was also a young German immigrant to America, and became a cabin-boy on a steamship at age 9. By age 21 he was the Captain of his own ship, the youngest to ever achieve the title. Pabst eventually transitioned from steamship captain to brewery operator after marrying Phillip Best’s daughter, Maria, and helped grow Ph. Best & Co. for years. The company name was changed to “Pabst” in 1889. In 1893, after winning numerous gold medals, Pabst Select beer was renamed Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.

After surviving Prohibition, the Pabst Brewing Company enjoyed decades of success and growth. Beginning in the 1970s, sales declined to the point of closing the flagship brewery in Milwaukee in 1996. 

Current Pabst Brewing Company owner Eugene Kashper, along with a globalized market and hipsters all over the world, has helped Pabst once again gain the title of the largest American-owned brewery!


Passion, Patience, Persistence, and Pabst

Jim and Karen Haertel are the current owners of the original headquarters of the Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee, now affectionately called Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery. Their story has been nothing short of a local fairy tale. Jim and Karen were high school sweethearts at Pius XI, attended the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, married and raised a family  in Wauwatosa.  Jim earned a degree in Business Administration in Accounting and Real Estate from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; and worked hard for an Executive MBA from Marquette University.  He currently sits as a member of theHistoric Preservation Commission for the  City of Wauwatosa. Karen’s extensive accounting experience has been critical for the success of the two businesses that the Haertels have owned and managed.  She loves to quip: “I support Jim’s crazy ideas!” She is now one of the owners and the CFO of Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery. At a time when most empty nesters downsize, Jim and Karen took a big risk on a wild dream.

In 2001, Jim and Karen followed their passion of preserving historic real estate, attempting to buy part of the Pabst brewery to restore and open to the public. Jim says “I wanted to save it to preserve it and share it with people”.  At that time, the asking price for the then closed brewery was $11 million.  He negotiated an offer of $50,000 down, with one year to raise the rest, for all of the brewery’s 28 buildings. Days before the one year deadline expired, Haertel secured a partnership with a local utility company, which agreed that investing in preservation of the brewery was the right thing to do. 

The historic buildings’ uses now range from apartments, to a boutique hotel, to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Public Health. The Haertel’s $50,000 bought them the 1880 Pabst corporate headquarters, an 1858 schoolhouse that was incorporated into the brewery in 1890, and a few smaller additions, including the 1934 gift shop and tasting room, both built after the end of Prohibition.

The Haertels transformed the derelict schoolhouse turned headquarters into Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery,  a tavern, cafe, venue, gift shop, and tourist destination dedicated to all things Pabst and Milwaukee beer history.

For his work on Best Place, Jim received a “Remarkable Milwaukeean Award” from Historic Milwaukee on February 23, 2017. Historic Milwaukee is a local non-profit organization dedicated to increasing awareness of and commitment to Milwaukee’s history, architecture, and the preservation of the built environment through tours and educational programs. On presenting the award they stated:

When Jim first set his sights on purchasing a building from the Pabst Brewery headquarters, he was met with considerable challenges when the complex’s seller insisted that if Jim wanted to purchase one building in PabstCity, he would have to purchase the entire campus. This was no easy feat, as the 27 buildings that made up the then abandoned Pabst property span 7 city blocks. But Jim proved no stranger to difficulty, accepting the challenge and beginning his search for investors. Jim’s work on this project was the catalyst that helped save the Pabst Brewery campus as well as all of the history that comes with it.

Later in 2017, Jim received the “Preservation Advocacy Award” from the Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission.

Now in 2022, Jim says “It is Pasion, Patience and Persistence that gives us the ‘Best’ reputation and that consistently helps us ‘Live up to our Name’ Best Place! The Best Place has the BEST staff, but what matters most is what each customer thinks of Best Place. They love our architecture and history, but really appreciate the passion & friendliness of the staff. People also appreciate that we are not a corporate-owned behemoth, but rather a small, local, family-owned, organically grown business that appreciates having fun with beer!”

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