Your name incorporates your last name, Erman, and plays on the Spanish word hermanos, which translates as brothers. How did you decide to open a business together as co-owners, and what are your backgrounds?
Eric Erman: I’m a commercial brewer by trade. I’ve been following my passion for brewing beer for the last seven years. I started out in Detroit and worked in Denver, Oregon, and now here. I moved to Tucson in the planning phase for this restaurant back in 2014. Mark had been living in Tucson before me for several years.
Mark Erman: Before we opened Ermanos, I was an environmental lawyer in Detroit, where we’re both from. When I was in law school, Eric and I began home brewing together and we became obsessed with the hobby. We devoured instructional books, went through the phase where our kitchen was covered in sticky wort after we exploded some brewing experiments, and finally realized that we could make a really good beer. So, we always talked about having some sort of beer-focused venture.
So, our first idea was to have a beer-focused space, and the rest evolved from there. While we didn’t consciously know it during the design, we created a space that is a combination of our favorite hangouts from where we grew up in Detroit and Ann Arbor.
How long has Ermanos been open? Are you a bar or a restaurant?
Mark: In 2013, I started looking for spaces that would ensure we were part of the downtown community. This isn’t a sexy or romantic story, but we just knew that the authenticity, independence, and history of local business on Fourth Avenue was something we wanted to be part of.
Eric: One of the cool aspects of this space is that there’s so much history here. We’re in the historic Tophoy building, and our space has been an ice cream shop in the early 1900s, a machine shop, and a showroom for a distillery and furniture maker at different points over the last 90 years. When we moved in, we completely transformed it. We ripped away the walls and ceiling, but ultimately ended up reusing quite a lot of that material that was produced from the demolition to build our bar tops, tables, and wood walls. So, the place actually utilizes reclaimed wood throughout the entire area.
Mark: It’s difficult to categorize us as a bar or as a restaurant, but I think that was the point. We wanted to take the free-flowing experience that people love about bars and the full-service experience of a restaurant and combine the best of both. Our staff really makes that happen. Also I think people appreciate the comfort and variety of hideaways within Ermanos like the front nooks, tasting room and patio.
Ermanos features a creative menu, along with a significant wine program and beer list. Since the idea began as a beer-focused venture, how did you develop the rest of the business accordingly?
Mark: Originally, the idea was to be more bar-focused, but we felt that we wanted to deliver a more complete experience. It didn’t make sense for someone to drink the best beer they’ve ever had but leave hungry. So we made some adjustments to our little scratch kitchen to match the beer and wine bar experience. It became clear that we had to adapt some of our initial ideas so that the food and wine didn’t play second fiddle to the beer list.
Eric: We work very closely with our chefs to make approachable comfort food that goes hand-in-hand with the beer and wine experience. We put so much thought into creating our menu, making food from scratch, and serving dishes that take time to create. We cure our own bacon. And for example, I really love fermentation, and I’ve had an opportunity to build a fermenting cave to ferment kimchi. This is a process that takes two to three weeks, and I think that type of effort sets the stage for the other foods that we serve.
Mark: Everything we do creates value for our customers. We do happy hour every day, and not just during certain little time frames of the week. On Tuesdays, we infuse tacos with special beers, and our $2 tacos are some of the best in Tucson. Our customers are legitimately our friends, you know? So, everything from our Tucson Wine Club to our specials exists to make our customers’ lives better.
What inspires you about being business owners in the Tucson food and beverage community?
Eric: First, I really love brewing beer, and it’s been an awesome thing to be part of this business with my brother and really dive into the community. We’ve had some cool collaborations, like our recent one with 1912 Brewery where we transformed our kimchi into a beer called Funk Seoul Brother. It’s a very tight-knit community, but people really intentionally choose collaboration and supporting one another over any sort of antagonism.
Mark: Along those lines, being downtown is pretty special for us. Everyone’s happy to be on this street.
Eric: We’re happy to rise in this together and share success. There’s been a real emergence of chefs getting together to brainstorm outside of work, and brewers from different breweries that get together to share ideas. We’re always making improvements here, and we’re always evolving. It’s not always easy, which makes both of us really appreciate the success that we’ve had. Mark and I both got our work ethic from being raised in the Midwest, where you learn to push forward and keep hustling. We’ve taken that to heart. We come from a line of makers who love building, and we really believe that our project is never done—that’s one of the things that keep it exciting to own our own business. ✜
Ermanos Craft Beer & Wine Bar. 220 N. Fourth Ave. 520.445.6625. ErmanosBrew.com.
Marguerite Happe is a writer, English teacher, and editor. Follow her on Instagram @margueritehappe.