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Love the People

How Mayday Brewery has made personal connection the cornerstone of the beer-making business

In the widely beloved TV sitcom Friends, the center of the universe was the eclectic and cozy Central Perk; an unassuming coffee house nestled comfortably in the heart of New York City. It’s the place where Ross & Rachel shared their first kiss; the venue where Phoebe debuted her iconic rendition of “Smelly Cat,” and where the group that the show was named for would convalesce to process their various failures, triumphs and heartbreaks together. It’s the kind of watering hole that we’ve all wished we could wander into; somewhere that feels as warm and safe as a welcome home while still offering at least a hint of mischief to keep things interesting. I have lately discovered that in Murfreesboro, TN, locals really do have such a place: the all ages (and pet-friendly!) Mayday Brewery.

“People say we’re the community center, they say Mayday is Murfreesboro. We’ve had wakes, celebrations of life, weddings, baby showers, bridal showers,” says Vice President of Experience Ariana Vandenburgh. “There were some guys that came over from the church and they had a baby shower here. It was just a guy baby shower and they only brought diapers,” she adds with a laugh. “It was so cute.”

Mayday was opened in 2012 by owner Ozzy Nelson, a rock’n’roll enthusiast from Florida who dreamed of starting his own business since 1984, when he worked one of his very first jobs at the Captain D’s on Broad Street. “That’s when I decided that when I opened my business, it would be in the Boro. It only took 28 years to make it happen,” he said, wearing a grey fedora and genial smile on the Tuesday afternoon we first met. “
 

Located just off of Old Salem Road, the walls of Mayday Brewery are covered with murals, local art, and photos of Ozzy’s family. “It kinda just makes you more vulnerable, I think, to have family pictures out there. People get to know me better, know where I come from.” 

It turns out that family plays a huge role in the business; the brewery’s name came from Nelson’s father -- an electrician and construction worker who had a habit of saying the word anytime something went wrong – while his two daughters have taken on their own respective positions brewing the beer and running the office. 

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I ask how they coped during last year’s shut-downs and mandatory quarantines, which wreaked havoc on countless local businesses across the state and the country at large. According to the Sycamore Institute, as of late June 2021, there were 40% fewer small businesses in Tennessee than before the pandemic – even after a historic surge of new filings earlier this year.

“I think for me it’s… in challenging times, you challenge yourself. Even at times where I think that, you know, people may have thought ‘Oh well, it’s much easier to sit at home,’ we strategically planned and we did beer deliveries all day… One of our mottos is love the people, love the beer, and we were still out there loving people,” Vandenburgh answers. “I look back on it now, and was like, ‘Man, that was tough, but at the same time I think it was pretty awesome, because now people are coming in and they’re like, ‘You came to my house! You delivered beer to my house!’ We’ve even become friends with them, and some of them didn’t even know who we were before COVID.”

“You gotta love the people first, because you’re gonna screw up eventually on the beer,” Ozzy chimes in teasingly. “If you love the people and they love you back, they’ll forgive ya.”

But the beer truly is both distinctive and delightful. Bar Manager Devon Russell jumps at the opportunity to pour me a glass, a mixture of strawberry cider and their Lemonade Radler that she concocts on the spot after I tell her that I have a strong preference for sweet things.

“One of the things that we do that’s probably unique that a lot of breweries don’t do is mix beers. Devon probably started being the mixing queen, and we all just followed her,” Ariana posits. “People love it. And with 24 beers on tap, there’s something for everybody.” 

Mayday’s beer also has local inspiration, with brews like Boro Blonde, Daddy’s Money (cheekily named by one of Ozzy’s daughters), and the clever (but timely) Kölschal Distancing. Even the artwork that adorns the cans is one-of-a-kind, with each flavor sporting its own quirky masterpiece. The artist? A customer and talented graphic designer from San Diego who wandered in several years ago. 

“I feel like I can spot out someone who is new to town and knows no one from 10 miles away and they always end up here,” Russell says, noting two customers in particular off the top of her head. “And they go from not knowing anybody to being like, so well integrated into Mayday that one of them works here and the other one helps can. You come here and it’s hard not to become part of the family, essentially.”

Over the course of the afternoon, as Ozzy, Ariana and Devon treated me to a tour of the facility-- enthusiastically pointing out that the massive tanks that hold their product are named for members of Black Sabbath and legendary guitar players like Jimi Hindrix – I hear countless stories about customers and their lives; a married couple with two children who first met at Mayday’s annual Hot Chicken and Jorts Festival, or the man who inspired karaoke night because they know his daughter likes to sing. It touches me to see just how much “loving the people” really does seem to be at the center of everything at Mayday, and I tell them so.

After talking a bit more to Devon, it would seem that the love they have for their customers is very much reciprocated.

“My regulars will bring me dinner; they’ll stay and help tear down when we’re closing…I have so many regulars who will be like ‘alright, I’ll go put the chairs up’ or ‘once you’re leaving I’ll walk you out to your car to make sure you’re safe,’” she adds. “When something goes wrong, if we have literally any kind of problem, it’s ‘Okay, which client are we calling?’”


Ozzy soon proudly pulls out his phone to show me his “Friends Folder” – a Dropbox file full of more than twelve hundred photos of him with Mayday patrons, and each one is noted with all of their names.

“Ooh! We need to get a photo for the Friends Folder with Savannah,” Ariana exclaims before I leave. We huddle together in front of a window overlooking the patio and smile, and I am inundated with the feeling that I’ve just stumbled into something truly special. 

“What’s the dream for this place?” I ask, finally, as I head out.

“I would love for Mayday to be Murfreesboro’s beer, where you don’t even think about buying Budlight or Ultra – you want Boro Blonde or Daddy’s Money. That would be my dream, is… if all of Murfreesboro would consider us the first choice of beer,” he replies thoughtfully.

I know I will, now.

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