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Hudson couple returns via Denver to open microbrewery

Posted: March 31, 2017

by Joe Jancsurak


Family and friends questioned their sanity, but nothing was going to deter a Hudson couple from leaving their tenured teaching positions in Denver to tap into their passion and craft their own brand of “hoppiness” in Northeast Ohio.


“We’re just a couple of beer nerds,” said Ali Hovan, who together with her husband Jon, own and operate the newly opened HiHO Brewing Company at 1707 Front St. in Cuyahoga Falls. Inside what was once a car dealership is now the city’s first microbrewery. 


The 12,000-square-foot building includes a 4,000-square-foot warehouse, the 6,000-square-foot taproom (where Ali is often found when she’s not doing office tasks), a 1,000-square-foot open brewhouse (where Jon spends most of his time) and a 1,000-square-foot office space. The décor is an attractive mix of natural and industrial: Think wood tables with shiny metal chairs, brick walls, spacious barrel ceiling with exposed beams and garage-door windows. The menu is an eclectic mix of a half-dozen craft beers made on the premises, plus domestic and international wines and locally sourced foods, coffee and sodas. As for the venue’s name, that’s a playful nod to the first syllable in the Hovan name, as well as the state of Ohio. The Hovans’ nieces refer to Jon as “Uncle Ho” and often say, “Hi, Uncle Ho” or “Hi, Ho.’’ Said Ali, “It’s almost like Ohio spelled backwards.” 


Not only are the Hovans self-proclaimed beer nerds and new business owners, the 30-something couple are also members of the Hudson School District’s “13-year-club.” They met in first grade and were friends through middle school and high school. Though they went to different colleges – Jon to West Virginia University in Morgantown, where he majored in physical education, and Ali (Araps) to Ohio University, where she was an art history major – they remained friends and began dating once they had their degrees and were back home in Hudson. 


That was the summer of 2007, just before life would take them in different directions. For Jon it was Denver, where he became a K-8 physical education teacher. For Ali it was an AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) stint that took her to Sacramento, Calif., where she worked with a team to complete community service projects, and locales in Louisiana and Hawaii, helping with disaster relief efforts following severe storms.


“We wrote love letters to each other while we were apart,” said Jon. That’s right, actual letters. The prose worked. Ali moved to Denver in 2008 and became an art teacher, and in 2012, the couple married in the gazebo on the Hudson green and had their reception at the Falls River Square Pavilion in Cuyahoga Falls. 


Once married, the newlyweds returned to Denver to resume teaching and to continue soaking up the local beer culture. They were already enthusiastic home brewers, founders of a home brew club and regular visitors to the local breweries to learn more about craft beers. During his spring, summer and winter breaks as a teacher, Jon volunteered as an unpaid worker at the breweries so he could learn about their methods and systems. What started as a hobby was now a serious endeavor. 


“We knew we weren’t going to be happy as teachers for the rest of our lives. We knew there was something else out there for us. We wanted to switch it up, so we spent two years learning as much as we could about the business,” said Ali. 


For Jon that meant going to beer school full time online while continuing to teach, earning a degree from the American Brewers Guild Brewing in Brewing Science, Technology and Engineering. Jon also worked hard to complete the Beer Judge Certification Program to further his understanding of the various beer styles. Ali, meanwhile, used her weekends to complete a Small Business Startup program at Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood, Colo.


By the summer of 2015, the Hovans were ready to take the next steps toward making their dream of becoming microbrewery owners a reality. That meant selling their house, leaving their teaching jobs and friends, returning to Hudson to live with Jon’s parents, raising capital beyond the proceeds of their house and finding a suitable space for their venture.


They looked at sites in Hudson, Kent, Stow and Cuyahoga Falls. It was Cuyahoga Falls that welcomed and encouraged them with a $50,000 block development grant and community support. 


“We were told by brewers in Denver to look for a community that wants you as much as you want them; for us, that was Cuyahoga Falls,” said Jon. As for the rest of the financing, that came from the HiHO “Founders Club” members – family and friends, some whom once questioned the young couple’s sanity, but now find themselves with equity interests in HiHO’s future.


“We’re considering Sunday yoga-and-a-pint sessions and beer-and-paint events,” said Ali. “And we’re looking forward to forming a run club, where we could hop on the nearby Glens trail, go for a run and return here for a pint,” said Jon. “There are a lot of potential outdoor activities that would, of course, involve beer.” 


Now who wouldn’t drink to that? Cheers!


 Editor’s note: Jon and Ali would like to thank their parents, Hudson residents Sue and Joe Hovan, and Maria and Tim Araps, for their continued support of their labor of love and family business.

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