CAMBRIDGE TOWNSHIP — Craft beer aficionados may recognize the rustic atmosphere of a familiar refurbished barn loft if they tune into the second episode of Discovery Channel’s “Undercover Billionaire,” airing tonight at 10.
Then again, if they look away for a sip of Hellbender Porter or Rustbelt amber ale, they may not.
“They told us we would be in episode two,” said Brian Sprague, co-owner of Sprague Farm and Brew Works. “Whether that’s for two seconds or a lot longer, we don’t know.”
“Undercover Billionaire,” an eight-episode reality-style series, follows Glenn Stearns, founder of Stearns Lending, as he attempts to launch a business in an unfamiliar city over the course of just three months without using his extensive resources.
“Glenn Stearns has just 90 days to build a million-dollar business from scratch,” the show’s website explains. “With only $100 in his pocket, the self-made billionaire is determined to recreate his rags-to-riches success and prove the American Dream is still alive.”
As revealed last week in episode one, the unfamiliar city that Stearns finds himself in turns out to be Erie. Once there, with just $100 and an old pick-up truck, Stearns tries to duplicate the rags-to-riches story behind his founding of Stearns Lending, a company that eventually became one of the largest mortgage lenders in the nation, when he was 25.
Before settling on a restaurant — Stearns eventually opens Underdog BBQ in Erie during the series — Stearns explored the possibility of launching a brewery, according to Sprague. With camera crews in tow, Stearns made several trips to the Venango area to visit the man the show’s producers said had made a name for himself throughout craft brewing in northwestern Pennsylvania.
“They said, ‘You’re like the godfather of the brewing industry around here,’” Sprague recalled. “I thought, ‘OK, I don’t think I am, but...’
“Then they started saying, ‘grandfather,’ and I was like, hey...”
Minnie Sprague, Brian’s co-owner and wife, said the couple was somewhat skeptical of Stearns. His status as billionaire was withheld from participants as the show was planned and filmed. Instead, Brian Sprague said, the producers told them that Sprague was a successful businessman who wanted to turn over a new life after a battle with cancer.
“You could tell something was going on beyond what they said,” Brian Sprague said.
“We knew something was up,” Minnie Sprague said.
Despite the skepticism, the Spragues warmed to Stearns in their brief interactions over several visits to the brewery.
“He was a nice guy,” Minnie Sprague said. “It was fun.”
“He seemed like a regular guy,” Brian Sprague said, “other than the fact that he’s worth a billion dollars.”
As Brian and others explained to Stearns, the notion of launching a brewery in 90 days, given the extensive licensing and permitting required, proved infeasible. Instead, Stearns and the show turned to the barbecue business. As a result, the Spragues aren’t sure how much of their brewery will show up in the final cut.
Similarly, they’re not so sure about the reality of the so-called “reality” show.
“My take is, it’s entertainment, so they have to entertain,” Brian Sprague said. “You have to take it with a grain of salt.”
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.