Brewing a Better Community: Beer is Just the BeginningDec 13, 2022 08:00AM ● By Andrea Stetson
Zach Smith, owner of Ceremony Brewing, cleans the machines after brewing beer. Photos by Andrea Stetson
Zach Smith is brewing much more than beer at his establishment in downtown Bonita Springs. He’s brewing plans to unite businesses and residents and bring a new vibrancy to the area. Smith opened Ceremony Brewing in November 2021 after spending more than a decade as an elementary school teacher in Collier County. Inside his one story, black and white building, silver tanks gleam in the dim light. Each week he brews various different types of beer that are fermented and then later gulped by his customers.
When Smith's not brewing or cleaning the tanks, he is busy making plans for his community. In October he helped organize the first Halloween bus on Old 41. People hopped on and off for free all night and attended holiday events at businesses downtown.
“I have been living here for 10 years and I never felt like there was a downtown area that really targeted the family working class,” he began. “It is just ripe for this family oriented demographic. That is why I moved here and that is why I wanted to open a brewery here. This was to provide things for those families to stay right here in downtown Bonita and not have to drive to Estero or Naples or Fort Myers.”
Local businesses chipped in to pay for the bus and each organized their own Halloween event.
“It brought in a lot of people from the community, but others from outside the community came to check it out too,” Smith described. “It was great exposure for all the businesses involved.”
Smith is planning a similar event this month with a Christmas theme and that’s not all. He has a long list of ideas.
“Halloween, my house is all decorated and I build a graveyard and a few kids come by and then headed off to another community to trick or treat,” Smith described. “It is a shame that they need to leave their community and go to another community. I see a lot of kids here but there is no place for them to go trick or treating. We have plenty of parking and nice sidewalks. I think it is ripe for this. We need to provide it for families.”
Smith loves the July 4th parade and would like to see more local parades.
“That is one of the things I am vocal about,” he said. “I think a Halloween parade would be really fun and Christmas of course. There is endless potential.”
Trish Leonard, president of the Downtown Alliance, is excited to see this new vibrancy.
“Having that entrepreneurial spirit and bringing more young people to the area is only going to keep them here,” Leonard said. “The new vision is getting more widespread and it is exciting to have his vision.”
When he’s not brewing new plans for community events, Smith is busy at the brewery. The Naples native moved to Bonita a decade ago, because Naples was too expensive on a teacher’s salary. He previously taught fourth and fifth grades at Veterans and Lake Park Elementary Schools. For years brewing was just a hobby. It began when his dad retired, and Smith gave him a brewing kit.
“Then my dad went back to work and never touched it and one day my roommate and I were bored and decided to use that kit,” he related. “We tried it and I was hooked and have been brewing ever since.”
For years he brewed at home, before finally opening the brewery.
“I am thrilled,” Smith said about his career switch. “I have never been happier.”
He became vice president of the non-profit Southwest Florida Brew Crafters that raises money for charity; the last two years the Bonita Springs Historical Society was the recipient.
Smith is a prolific reader and enjoys music. When he comes across a phrase or lyric he likes, he writes it down and uses it as inspiration to name his beers. That’s why his menu sports monikers such as Snickering Witch: Snickers Stout, Identity Crisis: Belgian Saison and Strange & Unusual: Blue Raspberry Sour.
Smith insists he does not have a favorite brew.
“I like the experimentation of it,” he stressed. “I like trying new recipes, and trying new products and yeast. With every new recipe I am learning something new and am honing my skills.”
Andrea Stetson has been writing for magazines and newspapers in Southwest Florida since 1995. She and her family live in North Naples.