‘Teaching is my passion, but Billsburg is one of the best jobs.’ Williamsburg, James City teachers serve grades by morning, beers by night

‘Teaching is my passion, but Billsburg is one of the best jobs.’ Williamsburg, James City teachers serve grades by morning, beers by night

JAMES CITY COUNTY — By the time Jamestown High School teacher Maeghan Christie begins her evening shift at her second job, she has already clocked at least eight hours that day. Between running clubs and coaching lacrosse, Christie said, some days, she works more than 14 hours.

But, as a single mother and a teacher, she said the hard work is crucial in order to live in the Williamsburg area. And she said most days hardly feel like work.

“While sometimes I have 14-hour days, it doesn’t feel that long when you have so much support and positivity from your company,” Christie said. “Teaching is my passion, but Billsburg is one of the best jobs.”

By morning, Christie instructs grammar exercises, discusses themes and motifs in novels and grades papers. But, when the evening bell rings, she heads out to Billsburg Brewery, where she trades her grade book and pen for a bar towel and a beer glass, pouring brews for customers. And, she isn’t alone.

Billsburg Brewery rests adjacent to the Jamestown Settlement along the James River. For three years, it has served up lagers, Indian pale ales, sours and as of late, hard seltzers.

But, from its fruition, one of the most unusual aspect of its operations has always been its staff. According to Billsburg’s General Manager Eric Williams, the brewery has made it a priority to hire educators.

“We have five teachers on staff. They range from elementary to high school, and some of them are even coaches,” Williams said. “The maturity that they bring to a job, whether it’s in education or here, it’s really phenomenal because they have that work ethic instilled. With so many having a hard time hiring, it’s something we haven’t really had to worry about.”

For Wellness Integration Specialist Tammy Underwood, this year will mark her third working at the brewery — an experience she said has been like no other in her life. With flexible hours, she said she can easily juggle the many hats she wears.

With two kids in college, she said a lot of her time is spent at various sporting events. When she isn’t out with her family or teaching nutrition at the schools, she’s at the brewery making new friends along the way and teaching customers about beers.

“There’s sort of a transfer of skills, you know because a lot of times you’re teaching people about the brewery and the beers, but at the end of the day, you’re still sharing your knowledge with them just like as a teacher you share your knowledge with students,” Underwood said.

When Berkeley Middle School English teacher Nat Elliott heard a brewery was opening in walking distance from his home, he said he knew he wanted to be involved. After a casual interview with former owner Dave Baum, Elliott joined the team — a decision he said he will never forget.

“I live right around the corner, and when I had heard that there was going to be a brewery opening up just right around the corner from my house I knew that I wanted to be a part of it,” Elliott said. “I thought it was going to be something cool and it’s turned out to be something really amazing.”

A few days later, Stonehouse Elementary School Computer Resource teacher Scott Brown followed suit. After brewing his own beers at home, Brown said he wanted to learn more about the business.

So, he applied. Now, after three years, he said he is working with some of the best people, including a former student in his first year of teaching, and the brewery has become an integral part of his life.

From there, the wheels began to turn as word of mouth and interest brought more educators to the team, Williams said.

“So, it started out just because some of them knew the owners and investors and came on board, but, it’s kind of evolved, where we get teachers who are either friends with them or have been here as guests and realize it’s a good job to pick up extra money,” Williams added.

After hearing about Brown’s experience at the brewery, Underwood decided it was time she joined the brewery staff.

Christie is the latest educator to join the team. But, she said, its quickly become a family.

“Once you find out there’s a fellow teacher in the room, there’s an unspoken understanding and you immediately click,” Christie said. “Education has so much turnover, especially now, so, working at a place with loyal employees who bend over backward to support one another, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”

Despite the long hours, the close-knit crew of educators all said on most days, the job doesn’t feel like work. At times, it is a relief from their day jobs and they try to have fun with each shift.

From hosting trivia nights to getting to know the customers to naming specialty education-themed beers — their proudest titles, “Silent Lunch,” “Zoom Bomber,” “Distance Learning” and “Pandemic Fatigue.”

While the crew said they’ve found camaraderie with each other, they also love the customers who come through the brewery’s doors — often, they are former students and families of their current students.

“You get to meet all kinds of interesting people and you really feel like you are a part of their lives,” Underwood said. “How many people can say, they have the ability to hang out with their friends who are also their coworkers?”

Article by Em Holter for the Virginia Gazette