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Schlafly CEO Fran Caradonna Discusses 30 Years In St. Louis' Craft Beer Scene

January 23, 2020 Fran Caradonna
Emily Woodbury | St. Louis Public Radio

In 1990, Fran Caradonna and her then-husband upended St. Louis’ beer scene by starting a distributorship. They wanted to give local drinkers a choice beyond Anheuser-Busch — and, when Schlafly Beer was founded a year later, the Caradonnas’ company naturally became its distributor.

They helped introduce St. Louis to many new craft beer brands, helping to shake up what once felt like a near-monopoly for A-B. And, after the Caradonnas sold their company to Major Brands, they started a craft brewery of their own: O’Fallon Brewery, which they also later sold.   

Last year, Caradonna found herself tapped to be Schlafly’s new CEO, helping position the now 29-year-old brewery in a much-changed beverage landscape. She joined us Thursday for St. Louis on the Air to discuss how St. Louis’ craft beer scene has changed in the last three decades, Schlafly’s expansion plans and what she’s drinking now. 

Caradonna said part of the complication of running Schlafly is that it’s actually two different businesses: a manufacturing business, which ships its product to 15 states across the country, and a pair of brewpubs, with physical locations in Maplewood and the city’s Downtown West neighborhood (a recent acquisition will bring a St. Charles location in the coming months). 

At the pubs, she explained, “we sell directly and communicate directly with consumers. And what a gift that is, because it helps us to be close to our customers, and listen, and understand what they love about beer, and St. Louis and Schlafly.” 

Feedback at the brewpubs, she said, has helped shape the company’s direction. 

“People feel passionate about our products, just like we do,” she said. “And it’s such a gift, and such a joy, to be in business and offer a product they like as much as we do.”

Caradonna also took questions from callers.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The engineer is Aaron Doerr and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.