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Crafting the Kindness Vibe for Frederick

RAK Brewing’s Joe Gatewood and Steve McIntyre Envision Something New

Joe Gatewood and Steve McIntyre, co-owners of RAK Brewing Co. in Downtown Frederick, explain that the purchasing process for the old Smoketown Brewing space was competitive. 

“We knew that it had come down to two offers—ours, and the company’s that bought Flying Dog,” Gatewood says [Matt Brewing Company, based in New York]. Gatewood and McIntyre can't say for sure why they ultimately secured the deal, but they think it has something to do with the very philosophy that now gives RAK [Random Acts of Kindness] Brewing Co. its name. 

Smoketown had been a partner on a couple of charity initiatives during COVID that were spearheaded by TGP Gives, the non-profit organization founded by Gatewood. These initiatives were designed to help support local businesses safely during an uncertain time. 

“We think [Smoketown Brewing owner Dave Blackmon] may have wanted to see the space go to a local group with roots in the community, rather than a larger out-of-state company,” Gatewood says.

In any case, their first interactions with the space, in Frederick’s “brewery hotspot” next to Attaboy Beer, have segued smoothly into reopening it as a fresh hangout championing kindness. McIntyre, who is an agent at TGP Homes—where Gatewood owns the attached brokerage, mortgage and title company—says that the name celebrates his older colleague’s legacy in the community. The nonprofit TGP Gives, formed alongside the real estate company, was designed to help its partners and team members give back.

"This is a foundational value for everyone at TGP Homes," McIntyre says, "and it only felt right to pay homage to that in the brewery’s name."

The brewery doubles as additional event space for the real estate company. But true to form, Gatewood and McIntyre wanted to operate the space as something the whole community could benefit from and enjoy. 

Right away, the partners knew they wanted to transform the interior. They saw an opportunity to differentiate RAK Brewing from some of the other brewery interiors they had already seen around town. “The Smoketown interior was very dark,” McIntyre says. He reports that the renovations were so thorough that, in so many words, “everything is new.” 

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with darker, more industrial-themed breweries; but Gatewood said that he and McIntyre had a different vision. They wanted a space where it would feel comfortable to dress up or dress down. They envisioned the type of environment where one could meet friends on a Sunday afternoon, or bring a date before an evening show at The Weinberg Center for the Arts or concert at another local venue.

Gatewood worked closely on RAK’s design vision with his wife Troyce—who, as the Team Lead for TGP’s real estate arm, has some experience decorating and staging homes. Troyce, in turn, consulted with local interior designer Michelle Mathewson, who herself has some impressive design experience.

Mathewson worked for over 17 years for various U.S. government agencies, completing projects for the National Intelligence Center and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, among others. Since retiring from government contracts, Mathewson has opened her own boutique firm, Spazio Design Interiors. She was thrilled at the chance to create a real signature space in the heart of Frederick. 

What particularly excited her about the project was the owner’s desire to do something new and different. Mathewson cites the deeply historical character of Downtown Frederick, which is unique, quirky and special on the one hand; but, she also feels it provides an opportunity to be creative and innovative with new ideas. With the RAK Brewing project, Mathewson was looking to “diversify the aesthetics” with the new downtown space. She wanted to score the sweet spot between a place that would look “too pretentious” and somewhere that was just a bit upscale. 

Her first strategy was to bring a variety of colors and textures into the space, including wood, stone and leather—with plenty of very comfortable seating. Gatewood mentioned that he especially wanted to include barstools and chairs that customers could lean into, with a back. Mathewson relocated the bar to the back of the room, to open up the entire space and give a full panoramic view as customers would walk in. Another feature to encourage this same view was to keep the middle banquette tables at dining-room, rather than bar, height. “I wanted to encourage people to look around the room, walk over to someone they know, and interact,” Mathewson says.

She also put plenty of care and attention into what she calls the brewery’s “jewelry”—the lights. Gold metallic, sparkly and geometric, they have a midcentury modern feel, with some of them ordered specially from Tel Aviv. Mathewson said she really enjoyed “teaching” as she went about why she was making each selection. The unique lighting, she says, would take the already welcoming space and make it truly exceptional. She also found out that co-owner McIntyre was a photographer, with many amazing photos in his catalog of Frederick landmarks. “We had them blown up for the walls with labels letting everyone know that the owner had taken them,” she says. She likes to incorporate a personal element in every project she completes. 

The final touch? A beautiful mirror near the entrance with a printed slogan to tie it all together: “If you can be anything in the world, be kind.” Mathewson also cites as critical excellent work and partnership from Lumber JAKKSS Millworks, who custom-designed and fabricated the tables, and general contractor Bravo Design and Build, LLC. 

The intentional design elements were step one toward creating the three main RAK Brewing principles that Gatewood says he wanted to achieve: “a great vibe, great beer and excellent service.”

Both McIntyre and Gatewood are very proud of the fact that they were able to attract and hire a top-notch brewer. Branden Roth, a Frederick native, has served on the brewing staff at both Flying Dog and Sapwood Cellars, two of the highest-rated breweries in Maryland. Together with the owners, Roth has created a menu of rotating brews that are surprising but traditional enough to really hit home. 

Gatewood additionally looks forward to the space’s potential for live music. He explains that RAK has partnered with Showtime Sound to install a beautifully balanced sound system for the space, which will allow the music to shine without overwhelming customers’ conversations. He says that this was important, as oftentimes going out to a typical live music event means that the volume will be too loud to really socialize. RAK has hosted a few local acts so far and they plan to continue throughout 2024, Gatewood says. 

The brewery also has plans to add a food element in the coming months. Patrons will be able to order from the menu of an adjacent restaurant and have food delivered right to their seats. 

McIntyre says that the brewery has done well since its December 15th grand opening, and he was pleasantly surprised by the lines around the block on opening night. RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) is not just a brand, but a lifestyle that he and Gatewood have lived for many years, and it has turned out to be a perfect match for Frederick. The community as a whole places a premium on giving back, and when businesses open—the people show up. 

RAKBrewing.com

"[Kindness] is a foundational value...and it only felt right to pay homage to that in the brewery’s name." ~ Steve McIntyre

“I wanted [the design] to encourage people to look around the room, walk over to someone they know, and interact.” ~ Michelle Mathewson

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