The historic Crescent Theater, which originally showcased vaudeville acts during its original heyday more than 100 years ago, is experiencing a revival with the establishment of the Stubborn Brothers Brewery at 220 S. Main St., Shawano.
But it was a slow start and then a hard stop to realizing a dream. Co-Owners and brothers Aaron and Erik Gilling intended to debut the renovation of the theater that cost more than $1 million into their latest business endeavor, a brewery, on March 18, 2020, but COVID-19 had other plans, and the doors that barely opened were quickly shuttered.
Plans to introduce the Stubborn Brothers Brewery were placed on hold due to stay-at-home orders until the duo opened the brewery in June 2020. What they unveiled was a transformative renovation of a former theater that had sat dormant for several years, stripping away layers to reveal its original beauty as a brewery, restaurant and ballroom.
But that’s not the only feat, given Aaron Gilling initially didn’t want to open a brewery. Admittedly, he wasn’t even too keen on beer when they started discussing the idea in 2010 or 2011.
“When I thought of beer, I thought about Pabst and such,” Aaron said. “I didn’t fully know great beer yet, but Erik thought we should open a brewery and little by little, I fell in love with the idea of it, and I’m happy I did.”
It became a labor of love for both Gillings, literally and figuratively. They invested three and one-half years restoring the former theater and letting its original beauty shine in the building’s tin ceilings, stained glass and original stage. They hauled in the original bar from an old Irish Pub being torn down in Milwaukee. Every effort to do right by the theater’s former beauty is evident by everyone who enters its doors.
“When you come here, you get an experience,” Aaron said. “That’s the biggest thing we focus on. It’s one of those things where you walk in and are in awe of the preservation of this historic theater. It’s an amazing experience visually and aesthetically, and on top of that, we make incredibly great beer, some of the highestrated craft beer in the area and into Wausau and Green Bay.”
In fact, Stubborn Brothers Brewery has, in its first year being open, landed a place of recognition in Travel Wisconsin’s 2020 Brewdown ranking of top breweries — no small feat for a contender who entered the category the same year. As they like to say, they came together to make the community stronger, to support Wisconsin farmers and to follow their passion (which just so happened to be beer), but they’re obviously all in.
There are now 24 beers on tap and Stubborn Brothers Brewery is known for its sours (they produce at least four to six per year), its Shawano Club Pilsner (based on the original, 1890s/1900 recipe of the Farmers Brewing Company) and other pilsners among other beers.
Interestingly, Aaron is now the brewmaster in addition to running point on the restaurant where the Gillings emphasize a farm-to-table approach to food.
“There’s no other farm-to-table restaurant that does it like we do,” he said. “We get a lot of people who come in for the food and find out about the beer, and the reverse is true. We’re lucky to attract people for both.”
What all customers enjoy is a very customeroriented experience. Aaron is a physical therapist and Erik is a dentist. Both are well-versed in working in worlds driven by providing a high level of patient-centered care. That translates well in their work at the Brewery. “We want customers to be happy with the result, to be satisfied and we take that attitude with people,” Aaron said. “We’re used to being hands on -— literally — and extend that to our work here.”
Customer-centric service, great beer, farmto-table food whenever possible (including beef)