Beer Town: Meet Atlanta Brewing’s new president and general manager

Historically known as Georgia’s oldest craft brewery, Atlanta Brewing has had an interesting, and sometimes puzzling history, including being “publicly known” as Red Brick Brewing between 2010 and 2018.

The company was founded by Greg Kelly in 1993, and was originally located in an old brick building on Williams Street, adjacent to the Downtown Connector. Kelly stepped away in 2006, and after a settlement with the Georgia DOT (which demolished the building to widen the interstate), the brewery moved to its current location on Defoor Hills Road on Atlanta’s Westside.

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Atlanta Brewing recently opened another chapter in its history, when owner Dave Peterson named Alton C. Shields the company’s new president and general manager.

Shortly after the announcement, I sat down with Shields at a table in the ABC taproom, where we tasted a few beers and talked about how he intends to lead the company in a new strategic direction, including “expanding Atlanta Brewing into an urban lifestyle brand.”

Shields is originally from Chicago, and graduated from Purdue with a degree in industrial management and engineering, before graduate school at Louisiana State University, where he studied marketing.

“I started my career in food manufacturing and engineering, so I’ve been directly responsible for packaging and bottling or canning. I spent six years working for Pillsbury. And back in the day, Pillsbury owned Häagen-Dazs, so I got promoted and moved out to New Jersey, and was a production manager for their ice cream division. That was my first turnaround project.”

That led to 35 years of working with corporate, franchise and start-up food and beverage companies around the country, including Kraft, Taco Bell, and Mrs. Winner’s Chicken & Biscuits. Shields also became part of the investor group at Red Brick.

“That’s when I became aware of the brand,” he said. “I was their advance man, and putting together their business plan and investor package, and helping to negotiate the deal — which leads me to my relationship with Dave Peterson.

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“Dave is now the 100% owner. But Dave and I got to know each other during the transition, and it was great because he educated me about the craft beer industry in general, and Atlanta Brewing in particular.”

Asked about the image and success of Atlanta Brewing, compared to other Atlanta breweries, Shields’ answer was surprisingly candid.

“Honestly, it’s what made it a good target for us back in 2014, when we first started the negotiation,” he said. “And that’s one of the things that really piqued my curiosity. My self-proclaimed moniker is ‘The Vintage Brand Revivalist.’

“So I’ve been a change agent and a turnaround specialist. It kind of started with Häagen-Dazs and continued with Kraft, and later Mrs. Winner’s, where we had to re-create everything. I think it’s pretty much the same here.”

That means some capital investment in the brewery, Shields said, including some new equipment to make the brewhouse more nimble and efficient.

Going forward, he envisions ABC recapturing its image as a pioneering Atlanta, Georgia and Southern craft brewery by getting back to its core brands, with an emphasis on sales and wider distribution. Or as Shields put it, “Representing the ATL as the Soul of the City.”

“We have to be more reflective of the city,” he said. “The city is very diverse. It’s what’s made Atlanta special. And we need to be firmly established as part of that lifestyle brand. We want to be a disrupter in regards to how we now market, and grow the company, and grow the business. That’s the thing that brought Dave and I together.”

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