Drew Beeler: Always Dreaming Up New Ideas

By Karen Forester
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Drew Beeler graduated from McKenzie High School in 2020 and got off to a flying start. He enrolled at Murray State University with every intention of pursuing a nursing education, but life had other plans for him. Between classes and studying, Drew ran the day-to-day operations of Murray Nutrition, his family’s juice store specializing in energy teas and meal replacements. He loved the customer-centric atmosphere and the challenge of running a successful business. But, after a while, his thoughts returned to completing his studies. While still living in Murray, Kentucky, he enrolled at Jackson State Community College, in Jackson, Tennessee. His plan was to tackle pre-nursing courses and he completed two semesters online.

His family purchased McKenzie Nutrition at 15325 Highland Drive in December 2021 and again Drew became involved in running the store, its menu offerings, beverages, staff and marketing. Always committed to serving others in the healthcare industry, Drew completed the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course at Dyersburg State Community College last year and is only missing his National Registry certification to become a Professional EMT. He plans to accomplish this within the next two years, but not yet.

There was a big orange trailer in its future and it was about to go live.

Drew came up with the idea last summer 2021 for Hometown Hangout and he and his family decided to start a temporary installation to determine its popularity. They didn’t have much time to put all the pieces together and decided to use the trailer as a temporary solution in case it didn’t work. “If it worked well we wanted to expand and if it didn’t work well we would turn it into something else and try again,” Drew recalled.

The first Hometown Hangout opened on Memorial Day Weekend 2021 and served concession food, candies and shaved ice from a bright orange trailer parked at 14985 Highland Avenue in McKenzie. Renting space from his grandfather, Gary Simmons, he parked the trailer, added colorful signage, outdoor seating and plenty of open space for people to gather. When asked how he knew the concept worked, Drew laughed and said, “The street lines indicated it.” By the time Labor Day rolled around, Drew knew he and his family had created a unique experience at McKenzie and they wanted to grow.

Over the winter, the Beeler family debated several different ideas, but they knew people really wanted food and it had to be part of the plan. At first they thought they were only serving easy concession style food, but as Drew said, “Once you’ve got a commercial kitchen set up, you can either go big or go home – so we’re gone big.”

The current Hometown Hangout opened in September 2022 on the same site as the large orange trailer, but now encompassed several repurposed service bays from its grandfather’s car dealership. Painted a rich gray with clean lines and bright aqua and orange accents, Hometown’s permanent Hangout has definitely been a family affair. His mother, Ashley, and father, Tim, are important parts of his business model and are heavily involved in day-to-day operations and long-term planning. In addition to their full-time jobs as insurance agents in Paris, Tennessee, Ashley and Tim Beeler support their son’s endeavors by doing everything from bookkeeping, payroll, regulatory licensing, ‘condition and good old-fashioned handwork inspections. Ashley even takes the time to mingle with evening crowds to figure out which Hometown Hangout items are most popular among their customers. Her brother, Miles, and sister, Carli, can be found any night in one role or another.

Drew employs more than 30 part-timers at Hometown Hangout and ten at McKenzie Nutrition. Its staff consists of students from McKenzie, Huntingdon and Henry County High Schools and Bethel University. Among them is Ava Kate Bomar, a junior from Henry County High School, who handles all of the social media posts promoting Hometown Hangout and McKenzie Nutrition. Maintaining an active and frequent presence on Facebook, Instagram and the website is essential and employees are required to take photos of happy customers enjoying their time in both locations. There’s also Isabelle Wright, a student and designer at Bethel, who creates all of the menus, graphics, and other eye-catching promotional materials for both companies. Drew relies on its staff to come up with new flavors and ever-changing flavor combinations for all teas and shakes sold at McKenzie Nutrition and shaved ice sold at Hometown Hangout. It currently has over 400 flavors for teas and shakes as well as around 35 delicious shaved ices. He always adds in those seasonal flavors (think pumpkin spice, peppermint) to keep his menu items fresh.

In addition to food and drink, Hometown Hangout offers fun, family-friendly games like Corn Hole, giant versions of Jenga, Connect4, Cup Pong, Tic Tac Toe, Spike Ball, and Ax Throwing. Drew visited ax throwing establishments in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and found that they were usually located inside a building. His aunt told him that she had seen one outside and that gave him the idea to place the ax throwing booths out in the open. The decision proved to be a crowd pleaser with people of all ages.

“I’ve always been very attached to the community and looked for ways to get involved,” Drew said. In high school, I was part of the effort to bring back parade and throwback dancing after a 20-year absence. I’m always looking for ways to get involved. Drew is a member of the McKenzie Chamber of Commerce and volunteers whenever possible. He’s proud of what Hometown Hangout is becoming for area residents – a place to reconnect with old friends and neighbors as well as a chance to make new friends in a fun, family-friendly, low-key environment. stressful. Winter hours for Hometown Hangout begin November 1 and while all outdoor activities will be closed, guests can still order food and dine with plenty of seating and a self-serve drink station. Ice cream, Dippin’ Dots and other specialty desserts will also be available. Hometown Hangout will be open Thursdays from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. This winter, a curbside pick-up service will also be offered. Drew and his family have already started planning for the 2023 season and he encourages everyone to watch for announcements and updates on the website and social media as they become available.

In addition to Hometown Hangout and McKenzie Nutrition, Drew also owns two mobile event trailers serving all of West Tennessee. The first is called ‘Rollin’ Snow’ and is a mobile shaved ice motorhome specializing in weddings, parties, school and corporate events. Drew had seen it before at Splash Pad and other events around town and learned that the owner was interested in selling. He purchased the converted vintage RV with his franchise rights, which gave him a protected area in which to operate. He makes all his own ice cream by freezing, as he put it, “tons of buckets of water.” He uses a specialized ice shaver, creating snow-like ice that melts in your mouth, very different from the old-fashioned pellet snow cones of yesteryear. The shaved ice is then dunked with up to three flavors and topped with a delicious milk-based cream as a crowning touch. The finished product definitely succeeded. Over the 4th of July weekend, Drew sold over 3,000 shaved ices while stationed at Freedom Festival in McKenzie and Country Junction Campground in Springville, Tennessee.

The second trailer for the event is called “Picture Me Rolling” and is a mobile camper that specializes in weddings, parties, dances, receptions and more. It consists of a photo tower with an iPad mounted on a customizable background. There is a 10-second time limit for people to pose and patrons receive three photos on a strip as a souvenir of the event. Although the majority of Drew’s bookings are paid in advance to have “Picture Me Rolling” at their event, Drew is testing the market on a per customer basis.

When asked what he considered the biggest challenge of owning and operating four separate businesses, Drew immediately replied, “Not having enough time to do it all!” For example, last weekend Drew installed “Rollin’ Snow” and “Picture Me Rolling” in Wildcat Alley before and during the Bethel University Homecoming game. Then he had to drop off the shaved ice motorhome and push the photo motorhome to Huntingdon for a wedding booking. Then, return to McKenzie to take the other one and invite the two mobile campers to Hometown Hangout in the evening. Drew’s mobile event business spans the entire West Tennessee region, from Puryear to Alamo, and he’s already booking events through 2023.

Inventing new ideas and new ways to serve area residents, Drew’s entrepreneurial spirit is evident. “Yeah, everyone always knew, all my teachers said, ‘you’ll be a good nurse, but you’ll also do something in business’. My parents always knew that. It’s in the family, I guess, it’s in my blood…once I feel comfortable, I come up with something new.

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