Jake Hafner was the first person I met 11 years ago after re-locating to a Midwestern city where - new co-workers excepted - I didn't know a soul.
Jake owned a wine bar in Lafayette Square, then an emerging neighborhood with not far from downtown St. Louis where rehabbed Victorian homes adjoined a small business district. My place: a rented a loft apartment two blocks away.
At at least six months passed before I learned the name of the establishment was "33," a nod to the year Prohibition ended.
To me and countless others, it was simply "Jake's."
Jake developed his business acumen at Astor Wines and Spirits, a downtown Manhattan wine shop and Windows on the World, the iconic restaurant that operated atop the north tower of the World Trade Center until the morning of September 11, 2001.
A newly-hatched entrepreneur, Jake was transitioning from employee to employer in his hometown of St. Louis when the twin towers fell.
"I don't have a massive ego, but I do feel there is a right way to do things. I'm wired in a way that I had an idea and I knew how it could be executed," he says of the decision to raid his savings, test the spending limit on credit cards and borrowing from family to launch "33." "And, I've worked for great people taught me a lot."
A neighborhood renaissance led by urban pioneers and risk-averse developers reclaiming decayed home and abandoned properties was just getting underway when Jake rolled the dice by setting up shop across the street from a Lafayette Square junkyard.
By the time I arrived in 2006, "Jake's" and the neighborhood were thriving.
There was much that set "Jake's" apart from the average St. Louis watering hole, not the least being that it was smoke-free years before the rest of the St. Louis region banned cigarettes and cigars from commercial establishments serving food and drink.
It was also one of the few St. Louis bars without a television broadcasting Cardinals games in summer and Blues hockey over the winter.
"Cheers" had nothing on "Jake's, where returning patrons could count on the owner not only knowing their names, but also remembering their place of work, interests and other assorted life details.
Taking a cue from the owner, the crew on the others side of the bar - Dylan, Mike, Joe - were the equally conversant in politics, sports, books, neighborhood scuttlebutt, whatever.
Jake, in addition to being a good host, also proved to be adept at hiring.
The key, he says, recognizing what he values in both an employee and himself:
"If I have any skills at hiring, it is identifying great people who can move us through any situation."
Once identified, Jake's employees benefit immediately from what can only be described as the "Golden Rule of Management."
"I make sure they treated the way I liked to be treated when I worked for someone else," Jake says. And it starts, he adds, by understanding and adjusting to the fluctuating demands of work and family.
That's not something they teach you in business school," says the college business major.
It became evident to "33" regulars over time that the 70-plus hour work weeks, the absence of a social life beyond the bar and the unremitting pressure of operating a small business were taking a toll. Jake quietly began dropping hints that the bar might soon be in new hands.
One night in 2009, Jake introduced the regulars to a new owner. He left soon after on an extended trip to Europe.
But not before setting a plan in motion for his ultimate return to entrepreneurship.
The seed was sown the evening Dylan Mosley, a "33" bartender, invited Jake and fellow barkeep Mike Bianco and a group of fellow beer and wine-lovers to his St Louis home to sample a batch of basement-brewed beer. And from there, well, Jake tells it best in a blog post...
"Dylan, Mike and I were working one night when it struck me, a revelation of sorts. We should open a brewery."
Two years after "33" changed hands, the wine bar gang reassembled - along with new additions - in a converted newspaper publishing plant.
The introduction of The Civil Life Brewing Company coincided with the decline of Anheuser Busch as a local economic force following a takeover by international giant In-Bev and (not coincidentally, some would say) the concurrent growth of craft breweries across the region.
Over 35 small batch breweries are now operating in St. Louis and surrounding counties - up from barely a handful ten years ago. (The number of craft breweries nationally jumped to 5,234 in 2016 from 1,596 in 2009, according to data compiled by the Brewers Association).
"What is happening with craft beer right now has never happened before in the beer business," says Jake.
He has stayed abreast if not slightly ahead of the curve by maintaining a low debt structure and expanding the business incrementally. Civil Life started small, producing small batches for customers repairing to its South St. Louis pub.
Gradually, Civil Life taps began appearing first in the St. Louis area, then in bars in Southern Illinois, out-state Missouri and as far distant as Virginia and the District of Columbia. Civil Life has since started selling cans of its more popular ales (although the cost of distribution has so far limited purchases to the pub visitors and customers).
Jake doesn't worry much about the competition, reasoning that "Everything will work out if all of us in different neighborhoods do a good job of getting that neighborhood into craft beer."
A visit to the South St. Louis location on any given evening offers proof that Civil Life is holding up its end of the deal and, in fact, is expanding a space that already far exceeds the 800-square feet Jake occupied in Lafayette Square.
The venue may be exponentially larger.
But the major ingredients that have made Jake Hafner a small business success story remain refreshingly intact.
There's still no television.
The polymath staff is still conversant (witness the Civil Life Book Club).
And after all these years they still somehow manage to remember everybody's name.