Jim Elliott would likely agree that we are all pawns of the market. We go where the jobs are, and we sell what people want to buy. Were it not for both of these conditions, Elliott — a Lowell, Ind., native who graduated from Indiana State in the winter of 1981 — would have ended up starting his career with a marketing firm in Chicago or perhaps Indianapolis.
Instead, his destiny lay in Texas, where he would log time not only in marketing, but also retail management and high school teaching. All of that, however, was arguably a prologue for Elliott’s signature professional contribution as the entrepreneurial owner and operator of Cedar Creek Brewery nestled in the small town of Seven Points.
An easygoing, humble man who passed on larger schools, the young high school graduate instead turned his attention to Terre Haute.
“Indiana State was the right size for me,” Elliott said. “Many of my friends went to IU or Purdue, and I was one of the few out of my hometown who went to ISU. The other schools were nice, but they were just big … very big. I was looking for something a little different, and I felt like I fit in better at ISU. I also wanted a business and marketing degree, and State had a good program. So it was a great fit.”
Fondly recalling his days at Indiana State under the tutelage of professors he described as “very good,” and adding that “the skills and basics I learned there have helped me succeed as I’ve moved down my own road,” Elliott was nonetheless pushed toward an early graduation, thanks in large part to those aforementioned market forces, which often steer our path.
First, the steel mill where Elliott worked each summer stopped hiring college students. Opting to take summer classes and graduate early, he hoped the early exit from Indiana State would improve his job chances. But after nearly three months of job hunting, he turned to fraternity brothers who encouraged him to travel to Texas, where he landed three offers by the end of his first week there.
For almost two decades, Elliott worked in the business world, but he “took a huge pay cut” and turned to teaching in order to spend more time with his family. Fourteen years after that, when the political winds in the classroom shifted, Elliott once again sensed that another intersection lay ahead in his path.
Following the advice of his friends, who were so impressed with the fruits of his home brewing efforts that they suggested he should sell it, Elliott sought out a location to “settle down” and launched Cedar Creek in 2012.
“When I opened this brewery in July of 2012, we were the 32nd brewery in Texas,” Elliott said, “and now there are 142. So, we’re looking at 400 percent growth in three years, and I don’t see that stopping or slowing down.”
Running his own operation hasn’t come without its share of challenges, chief among them being the brewery’s packaging issues.
“There are very few can suppliers to begin with,” he said. “When we first started canning, our minimum order from Crown was eight pallets of empty cans per SKU. Then, about a year ago, Crown raised that minimum to 12. And now, we’ve just gotten notice that they’re raising it again … this time to 25, which is a full truckload.”
A second challenge — location — is more a matter of philosophy than circumstance.
“We’re 50 miles southeast of Dallas, located in a population area of about 6,000 people, and that does hurt our growth, as far as marketing efforts,” he said. “Here, you have to spend more money on social media and things like that. If we would take this brewery — everything we have right here — and put it in Dallas, we would see tremendous growth. But that’s not who we are.”
“Everyone has to find their niche,” Elliott added. “Not everyone is going to be a big production brewery putting out beers in every store on every corner. There’s limited shelf space and a lot of beers, so you have to find what works for you.”
Despite his modest claims, the truth is that Elliott’s brewery has demonstrated incredible growth, selling beers not only throughout Texas but also to points en- circling the state from Albuquerque to Tulsa to Atlanta.
And in the short span of three years, Cedar Creek has already moved from its original site to a new location, where Elliott has added a restaurant and plans to both add a biergarten and expand his production.
And today, what first began as a high school marketing teacher’s hobby has expanded into the successful business venture that every emerging brewer dreams of when he tosses a scoop of hops into a mash tun.