Couple Behind NoFo Brewery Buys Two European Football Clubs


The last time I spoke with Bryan and Shannon Miles, the entrepreneurial husband and wife team was in the process of transferring leadership of BELAY, the remote team management company that they started in 2010.

They appointed a CEO to continue to run and grow their business, but sitting back and relaxing isn’t exactly in this couple’s DNA. So during that transition in 2019, they went ahead and launched NoFo Brew Co, an idea that was brought to them by co-founder Joe Garcia. Garcia showed them projections that demonstrated that this could not just be a quite lucrative business, but also tap into IRL joy. After so many years working in the virtual space, Bryan and Shannon were thrilled to run a physical business. A place that would serve as a hub for the community who like to be served tasty beverages. But almost as soon as they opened their doors, the pandemic hit. As Bryan told Entrepreneur, “Not the best way to start a new food and drink business!”

But the couple and their team didn’t shudder to cut their losses. Instead, they adapted and persisted. “We promised staffers that we would find a way to make sure no one lost their job and that everyone got paid,” says Shannon. They kept their promise, which helped workers in the short term, and helped the business in the long term with an incredible run of employee loyalty. “We haven’t had a staffer leave in three years.”

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Fast forward to today and the couple has expanded their business in some big ways — more locations, distilling their own signature booze — and in a huge way, becoming owners of two professional European soccer teams, Walsall FC in England and Drogheda United FC in Ireland.

I spoke with Bryan and Shannon to get the full story of how they went from pouring pints for locals in Georgia to pouring pints for thousands of rabid football fans on the other side of the pond. Below are some highlights from that conversation.

Expanding intentionally and responsibly

Shannon Miles: We have expanded to three locations in Georgia and we’re doing things that most American craft breweries aren’t doing — we distill our own spirits. A lot of breweries say they are, but they’re really just putting their label on an existing product. We’re making it — vodka, gin, agave, rum, moonshine, bourbon, orange liqueur. Our distillers are like mad scientists and we’ve given them a big sandbox to play around in. One of our guys comes from generations of distillers who were, at one time, moonshiners, and he jokes with his family that he’s gone legit.

Bryan Miles: If you look at American craft breweries today, there’s somewhere between 7,500 and 8,500 in our country. Most of them have one location. We’re moving at a breakneck speed compared to our competition. And part of the ability to grow is attracting and retaining talent. Only about 3 percent of breweries offer employees benefits. We offer benefits and we have established a really beautiful culture — people want to come work here.

Credit: Andy Brophy, OneNine Images

The really, really big move

BM: In the summer of 2021, we sold 82 percent of BELAY to a private equity firm in New York City, and we walked away with a nine-figure exit. It created a liquidity event that allowed us to be the bank for NoFo’s expansion. And we’ve also had the opportunity to do other things, including becoming co-investors in two soccer clubs in Europe: Walsall FC in England and Drogheda United FC in Ireland. It’s been incredible. Walsall FC was started in 1888. We were the first Americans ever to invest. We bought the stadium there as well, so there’s this giant sense of stewardship and responsibility to ensure that the integrity of the stadium remains, but it’s still up to par with today’s standards.

SM: There’s something very beautiful and timeless about these clubs. They were going through hard times and needed an outside injection of capital and we could help. It very much aligns with how we approach our investments. That coupled with the fact that Bryan played soccer in college and has a deep love for the sport made this an amazing opportunity. What goes better together than beer and soccer?

BM: And it’s such a natural fit for NoFo to sponsor these clubs. Most American craft breweries don’t have a way to even get beer over there because they’ve got to have a place to sell it. Well, we have a stadium where we can sell our beer. It’s the perfect Venn diagram.

Credit: Bryan Miles

The Wrexham Effect

BM: We bought Walsall FC in May of 2022. And Wrexham, which as you know is co-owned by Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, got promoted into our league and we promptly beat them! Wrexham has done so well and they are actually out of our league now. There are a lot of other American investors in these clubs, but having Ryan and Rob be so public about their ownership has been great. It’s brought a lot of exposure to the lower leagues. The premier league teams have their obvious massive global fanbasses and Wrexham proved that people can fall in love with lower league teams as well.

SM: Being a part of this brings such a massive sense of pride. Walsall feels like my hometown in Ohio. It’s very working class. It’s people who are just busting their butts at their jobs and they want to go to a great football match and have a good time with their friends. There’s a familiarity to it even though they’re thousands of miles away.

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The long-term gameplan

BM: We’ll continue to expand and invest where we can add value to others. That’s the mantra that we operate by. And don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some failures along the way. I’m not King Midas over here! New opportunities come with risk, and we’ve trained our muscles to take calculated risks — there’s no way we would have ever taken our beer to Europe if many years ago, we didn’t cash out our 401k to start BELAY.

SM: I run new opportunities that come to us through a filter: “Does it help us get toward our vision?” And that vision is that we are in love with each other and we want to be around our children as they grow. New ventures can away time and energy, so we only want to do things that contribute to having a life of meaning for those around us.

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