Tom is a transplant to Wilson, North Carolina settling here in 2007 with his life partner and mentor Dr. Barbara Conklin.
Tom has been involved with the Wilson Community since he arrived holding a number of volunteer and consulting positions. He and Barbara are committed to making a difference in Wilson by supporting the efforts of a very creative and dedicated City and County leadership team with the vision of restoring Historic Downtown Wilson.
They purchased, and are in the process of restoring, five properties on South Street, directly across from the site of the future Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park as a means to support the success of the park.
In 2013 they were concerned when they saw the condition of the buildings surrounding the proposed park site. They felt that regardless of creating a wonderful public park, showcasing the State Folk Art of Vollis’ Whirligigs, there was nothing in the immediate area that would support the local residents and visitors during their visit.
217 Brew Works is the first of what is hoped to be three new businesses that will be housed in the structures listed on the North Carolina Historic Registry.
Tom retired from the US Army as a Chief Warrant Officer after a 20+ year active duty career. After his military service, he consulted for a number of major manufacturing corporations.
Tom is a home brewer who sincerely loves to craft beer. Along with Master Brewer John Kater, they hope to see 217 Brew Works thrive and support economic development in Historic Downtown Wilson.
217 Brew Works
Welcomes all to the Neigh-BREW-hood.
Susanne, our Webmistress and Long Distance Oddbody, is a childhood friend of Master Brewer John Kater and his family.
As children, John and Susanne picked grapes together during summers on the Byers Farm in Oakwood, Georgia which was a supplier of The Manischewitz Company. At the end of the summer, Susanne used her 50 cents a bushel wages to buy her first show-quality Shetland Sheepdog, while John took his grapes home to make wine in the bathtub. Often mistaken for one of John's sisters, John and Susanne started to college together at Georgia Tech where they both probably drank too much beer.
The mother and teacher of five homeschooled children, Susanne worked part-time as a programmer and webdesigner focusing on helping non-profit organizations. A founder of Sheltie Rescue of Georgia and a member of the American Shetland Sheepdog Association, she is the breeder of multiple champion Shetland Sheepdogs including Register of Merit Dams and National Specialty class winners.
Susanne lives in a log cabin on the 1840s era Allen family farm south of Atlanta with her husband of over twenty-five years and some of her young adult children in various states of still going to college, dealing with autism, compulsive knitting, and full-fledged boomerang. If you would like to contact her about producing a website for your small business or non-profit, she can be reached at
John Kater is one of the very few Master Brewers in North Carolina. A native son of Georgia and a Veteran of the United States Marines, he moved to Wilson from Salem, Massachusetts with over 25 years of brewing experience at every level of operation. John holds a BS in Fermentation Science from the University of California, Davis, and an MBA specializing in Operations and Entrepreneurship from Kennesaw State University.
John brings with him six award winning Ales that will core our featured offerings; he is committed to the culture and history of his newly claimed home in Wilson, North Carolina, which is much like the town in Georgia where he grew up.
John became interested in brewing and winemaking when he was quite young. At 13, his grandmother told him the story of how she and her brothers used to make root beer on their farm as kids. Inspired by her story, he rode his bicycle to the local junior college and researched “root beer” on the microfiche. He didn’t find anything about root beer, but he found some information on homebrewing and winemaking supplies.
Later that week, John’s mom found him and his little sister stomping on wild grapes in the bathtub. “We’re making a batch of wine,” John explained. His mother decided to count the experiment as “science” and rationalized that it would be a good learning experience. She agreed to let him finish making the batch, secretly hoping that it wouldn’t work. She was wrong. His first wine was good. With his mother’s somewhat reluctant approval, John continued experimenting with winemaking and brewing through high school.
Star Student of his High School, Kater began his college career at Georgia Tech planning to be an Engineer. Ultimately he ended up stepping away from college to learn discipline in the Marine Corps. After boot camp in Parris island and a year in electronics school at 29 Palms, California, he graduated first in his class and was meritoriously promoted to Corporal.
Following an honorable discharge, he returned to college spending a year at the University of California, Davis majoring in Viticulture and Enology and interning at a méthode champenoise sparkling winery in Sonoma County. He changed focus in his final year at Davis to a brewing program which allowed him to pursue his degree and simultaneously enroll in the Institute of Brewing, London’s Master Brewer program. One highlight of this year was personally introducing coffee stouts and rice hulls to the greater brewing community on the same day he was mistakenly arrested over a misunderstanding with the local constabulary. Apparently a baggie full of fresh Tettnanger hops protruding from his coat pocket was mistaken for something less legal.
John became the brewmaster of a 7-Bbl micro in Birmingham, Alabama. He was able to max out the brewery capacity in 1995 making the facility the most productive brewery in Alabama. The brewery held that distinction for the remainder of the century. Sadly, despite the success of the brands, poor planning and financial mismanagement caused the venture to fail. He emerged from this experience with the ownership of his brands and a determination to resurrect the Southern-approved brews he developed. Wanting to make sure he understood the business as well as the beer, he earned an MBA in operations and entrepreneurship from Kennesaw State University. John has worn many hats in the interim until serendipity and social media led Tom and John to find each other. Together they hope to make it easy and interesting for those who enjoy beer and those who consider themselves beer connoisseurs to find a variety of delicious local brews in our corner of North Carolina.