Great Revivalist Brewery interior view with old church pews, light fixtures, and stained glass windows.

From Pews to Pints

Veteran turns an abandoned church into a brewery

A smiling Richard Schwab in a tie dyed Great Revivalist Brewery sweatshirt.

As a dilapidated yet beloved church in Clinton, Iowa, was being slated for demolition, Richard Schwab was across the Mississippi River searching for a new home for his brewery. He’d purchased Lionstone Brewing in Geneseo, Ill. in 2019, where it quickly outgrew its location in a strip mall. As an art and culture enthusiast, Richard renamed the business Great Revivalist Brewery and planned to move it into an old firehouse, schoolhouse or church.

He was pointed toward Clinton’s Gothic Revivalist church and instantly fell in love with the structure. After purchasing it, Richard led an intense renovation project before officially opening the first brewery in Clinton’s downtown district.

“I love art and culture things, so I wanted the space to be rich and original and have some kind of historical and architectural significance,” Richard said. “[The church] looked like something from an apocalyptic movie. I fell in love with it, and the renovation was like peeling an onion, the more you dug down, the better it looked.”

Restoring Its Glory

Though Richard can’t quite pinpoint where his passion and admiration for handcrafted things began, he brought that appreciation of art, history and connection into his business plan. After serving in the U.S. Army for nine years, the Seattle, Wash. native tested out jobs in telecommunications and management in Illinois before he stumbled upon the brewery industry and became a small business owner.

“I have always liked things that are craft. Every time you brew beer, you take the time to make it, like a master chef would a meal,” Richard said. “When you have that mindset, it transfers to other things in your life knowing the skill of eye, hand and mind that it takes.”

So, when Richard gazed at the Clinton church’s wooden pews, stained glass windows, oil lamps and other historical features, he made a plan to preserve or reuse as much of it as possible. The bulk of the renovation process included restoring the original 1898 stained glass windows, cleaning and revamping the Italian tile fresco, transforming the wooden pews into tables and repurposing materials from other historic buildings nearby. New additions included placing a 17th century gaper from the Netherlands over the doors and a 1940 Italianate replica fountain in the outdoor courtyard.

The project also required putting in all new gas, water and sewer lines, putting it six times over budget. But never-ending support from the local First Citizens Bank and grants from the Iowa Economic Development Authority helped make it all possible.

“We had excellent assistance from the local bank. They believe in Clinton and investing in it, and while other banks would have denied me, they stuck to it and let me do what I needed to do,” Richard said. “We wanted to do it right and preserve the religious symbols because we’re just the next ones occupying this space.”

Creating a Sanctuary

With the church fully restored, today’s guests can now sample carefully crafted beers and sodas alongside woodfired pizzas and other fresh menu items, all made by a passionate team that includes Richard’s two daughters. While visitors enjoy the flavors, they might also be surprised to discover famous art pieces lining the walls. Authentic, yet simply framed, works from Ben Shahn, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí offer a glimpse into Richard’s private collection.

As Richard works toward transforming a smaller church on the same block into a live music/event space, he plans on displaying the rest for visitors and locals to enjoy.

“That’s unexpected in small-town Iowa. It’s one of those things you might only experience once in your life, and we shouldn’t miss out on that just because we’re in the Midwest,” Richard said.

With the brewery’s success and plans for expansion, Richard gives all the credit to his team and the community, whose dedication have allowed him to discover other passions – like raising Wagyu cattle on his farm outside Davenport.

“I’ve lived in many states across the U.S., and the nice thing about Iowa is that everybody is welcoming. It feels safe when you’re here, the people and experiences are real – this is my settle down state,” Richard said. “The cost of living is excellent, and you have the room to spread your arms. I can’t imagine living in a big city again.”

Published May 14, 2024

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