The Media School

Kurtis Cummings finds new meaning with Switchyard Brewing Company

April 2nd, 2019 by
Photograph by Connor Hines

After working in Emergency Medical Services for much of his young life, Kurtis Cummings thought it was time for change. That change came with the opening of Switchyard Brewing Company in downtown Bloomington last summer.

Leaning back on an aged leather couch near the back corner of the taproom, Kurtis Cummings, coffee in hand, looks on proudly as the morning light hits the windows encasing Switchyard Brewing Company. It’s the beginning of another day of guest lectures, community outreach, and an opportunity to spread the word about one of the newest additions to the Bloomington community.

“I’m actually about to go on campus here in a minute and talk to an entrepreneurship class,” he says, smiling. “They’re probably not going to like what I have to say.”

Cummings never received formal business education, nor had a father or uncle before him who helped carve a path. In spite of this, he sits on this Monday morning as the owner of a taproom which has brewed 1,100 barrels of beer in nine months, exceeding the original goal by 350.

When he decided in his late teens that it might be best to move away from his small town of Yorktown, his transfer application to IU was rejected. It was the rejection that would set Cummings on a new course in life, eventually leading him to Switchyard.

From an early age, Cummings possessed an entrepreneurial spirit, one which continues to drive him to this day, he says. In third grade, while everyone else was playing tag, Cummings was looking for hidden gems on the playground. He would go home, shine these stones, and sell them to his friends.

“I was making all this money, and my mom was trying to figure out where it was all coming from,” he says, laughing. “I think the teacher finally caught on.”

Photograph by Connor Hines

For Cummings, home brewing was initially just a hobby. Despite no formal business background, he and co-founder Jeff Hall opened Switchyard after over six years of planning.

Part of why Cummings started selling stones and sharpened pencils in his free time was because he wanted to keep himself busy. Growing up as an only child in a country town where the nearest neighbor lived a half mile away, he has always sought out more from life to stay interested.

“I think what separates entrepreneurs from the regular Joe is having that persistence to not give up,” he says.

Cummings spent the first portion of his life working as a paramedic in Indianapolis, where he met Jeff Hall, his future business partner. For the two of them, home brewing became a hobby during this time — an escape of sorts to relieve some stress which came with the job they shared. Both Cummings and Hall loved their work, but it was still just that demanding.

“I fell in love with fire and [Emergency Medical Systems],” he says. “I would work at the fire department 24 hours on and 48 off.”

Soon after, the pair realized the possibility of turning a wild idea into something real. Looking for more, both Cummings and Hall saw opportunity for change, and the concept for Switchyard was born.

Cummings understood from the beginning that there would be no choice but to make the endeavor a success. Because of this effort, he is known among his peers as relentless and determined among his peers, according to Hall.

“He’s not one to give up easily,” Hall says. “I think that’s the reason why we’re where we are now.”

“He’s not one to give up easily. I think that’s the reason why we’re where we are now.” – Jeff Hall, co-founder, Switchyard Brewing Company

Maintaining a kind and approachable demeanor has always been paramount to Cummings as an individual, and now his business model as well. He refuses to refer to those who work for him as “employees” but rather calls them “coworkers.” He does this in the hope that he isn’t prioritized more than anyone else in the company.

“I think what separates Kurtis is just the culture,” Hall says. “He’s family friendly and approachable, and I think Switchyard’s values reflect that pretty well.”

As a visionary at heart, Cummings has no plans to slow the pace. Both Cummings and Hall expect that their business will eventually grow out its current space just north of Bloomington’s downtown square. By 2025, the company envisions having a second major production facility somewhere along the I-69 corridor between Bloomington and Indianapolis.

“It’s funny, everything kind of has a story,” Cummings says. “For me, wanting to start my own business was being free.”