Rob Tarves (’09), Tapping into the Leisure Experience
Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management (RPTM) can offer the opportunity to turn something that we love into a career—golf; being in the outdoors; travel; sports. Rob Tarves, a 2009 graduate from Penn State RPTM, has turned his love of brewing beer into a very successful career.
Rob, and his business partner Rob Patz (‘09, Penn State Finance), opened Our Town Brewery in Lancaster, PA in 2020.
“I grew up in Lewisburg, so State College was right down the road,” said Rob. “Our neighbors across the street were both Penn State grads. We would visit State College with them, and they would take us around and show us places from their time at Penn State. I only applied to one school.”
With a plan to eventually become a high school math teacher, Rob enrolled in an Education major. As his education progressed, he found that something didn’t feel right. “I was watching all of my friends start to move into their core major courses, and they were saying how much they loved it. I felt disconnected. I talked to my parents and they told me I should be ‘into’ my major. I started to look around.”
“Like a lot of education majors, I had done the outdoor school course at Shaver’s Creek, working with the camp program,” he said. After trying one or two more RPTM courses, he switched his major. He completed Block Semester at Shaver’s Creek (now Students Engaging in Experiential Discovery [SEED]) and graduated with the degree in RPTM and an option in outdoor recreation. The tentative plan was to work with school-aged children in an outdoor setting.
All the while, he had been brewing beer.
“I started brewing at home when I was 19. My brother has a Ph.D. in chemistry. One year for Christmas, he gave me a home brew kit,” said Rob. “I got into it pretty heavily in college.”
An interesting fact about home brewing is that while one must be 21 to legally drink beer in Pennsylvania, the laws allow for homebrewing starting at age 18.
Rob describes the months after college as a cross roads. Should he search for jobs in outdoor education, or even adventure recreation, or should he turn in the direction of his hobby of making beer?
“I landed a bartending gig at Otto’s Pub and Brewery in State College,” said Rob. “I learned a lot there.” He moved on to Elk Creek Café and Aleworks in Milheim, PA where he eventually moved up to Assistant Brewer. Beginning around 2017, the seeds of a business plan were planted for Rob and Rob to open their own brewery and go out on their own.
“My wife is from Lancaster. She graduated from Juniata. I met her at Outdoor School,” he said. When they moved to Lancaster for his wife to complete a graduate teaching program at Millersville, Rob knew he had found his place.
“I fell in love with Lancaster. Growing up in Lewisburg, and then living in State College, I was looking for a similar downtown vibe where people are proud of where they are from, and businesses network and support each other,” he said. While Lancaster didn’t initially seem like the best spot because of existing competition, the numbers ended up looking good. They began the search for a space and then started the renovations.
And then the COVID pandemic hit.
“We had all of the tanks in the building and construction was 60-70% done when everything stopped in March of 2020. Contracts were in place. The project had to continue. We opened in September of 2020.”
The stress of opening a food and beverage venue in a pandemic played on both customers and staff. Concerns about eating and drinking in public settings and questions about how the virus could be passed weighed on Rob’s team in those early days.
“People come in because they want to relax and get away. They are looking for that leisure experience. It was hard that first year. It’s hard to think about the leisure experience when you are stressed.”
Our Town Brewery made it through that first year and are running at full speed. The Lancaster community has supported them, and the team feel that they found the vibe they were looking for in a downtown. Our Town Brewery offers a variety of beers, food, live entertainment, special events, and event space. Later this summer, they will be opening a second tap room in Philadelphia.
“I make the beers and the other Rob does the other stuff with the business. We recently hired a brewer assistant who is starting soon. Business has been good. We are growing.”
Rob Tarves knows from experience that turning a hobby into a career can be what Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management is all about.