Find out why people from all parts of Medina and beyond are raising a glass at Blue Heron Brewery

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Pictured front to back counterclockwise: Dawn Rini, owner, Khadar Soussou, general manager, Chef Ben Erjavec, owner and Beer Cicerone Mike Piazza, owner. (Photography: Benjamin Margalit)

By Ken McEntee

Almost a decade before ever stepping foot in the lavish Medina event center he now owns with his wife, Dawn, Bill Rini saw an omen.

“We were at our new home in Hinckley when I spotted a blue heron on the property,” Bill recalls. “When we later had the opportunity to buy the Blue Heron Event Center, I flashed back to seeing that bird and I knew that this just felt right.”

Three years after Bill and Dawn agreed to manage the Blue Heron’s banquet facilities and bring in their highly respected A Taste of Excellence catering business to fill the plates, the couple—along with two partners—last month celebrated the first mug of beer to flow from the giant tanks at the new Blue Heron Brewery.

It was almost like an early start to the holiday season, insists Ben Erjavec, executive chef and part owner. The trendy, family-friendly pub had been open since March, but was awaiting a license to serve its own brew.

On Saturday, November 9, none other than Santa and Mrs. Claus were on hand for Blue Heron’s Christmas Ale tapping party.

Blue Heron Brewery just tapped its own signature Christmas Ale, which pairs perfectly with any of the inventive menu options.

“Customers were asking and asking for the better part of seven months when we were going to break out our own beer,” Ben says with a look of relief. “They are now loving it.”

For Bill, the celebration was the culmination of serendipitous events that began with a one-paragraph contract and an unexpectedly engraved key to the building.

Bill and Dawn were enjoying the success of their Strongsville-based A Taste of Excellence when Bill was invited to a meeting with the Blue Heron’s owners.

Bacon Beef Burger on a brioche bun.

“It was a cold November day and there was no heat in the place,” Bill recalls. “We sat down by the fireplace. I had never met these guys before, but they said they wanted me to take over the event center. Then they slid a key to me across the table. I picked it up and my name was engraved on it.”

Then, Bill says, the owners presented a simple contract.

“It was just one paragraph,” he says. “And in bold letters, it said, ‘Let’s do this.’”

Bill signed the contract on the spot. It just felt right, he says.

A year and a half later, the banquet business at Blue Heron was flying high.

“We had 20 weddings booked,” Bill says. “Then we heard that the place was for sale. I’m thinking, ‘What are we going to do about these weddings?’ There is nothing more dangerous than an angry bride.”

The Blue Heron Brewery is now a perfect fit with the Blue Heron Event Center, which hosts personal affairs and business gatherings for up to 350 guests. And, you can schedule your small gathering right in the brew room among the gigantic tanks.

Meanwhile, a friend from church told him about a promising property that was available.

“I didn’t know it was going to be the Blue Heron,” Bill says. “I couldn’t believe the irony.”

Bill decided to make an offer. Soon, Bill and Dawn were the new owners of the Blue Heron Event Center. There would be no angry brides.

Montville Mountain with fresh-cut fries mounded with pulled pork, avocado, pico de gallo and cilantro crema.

“The whole family got involved,” Bill says. “Dawn loves to decorate, so she took charge of that. Our daughters, Lilah and Maria, went down to Amish Country with us to pick out the rocks for the gorgeous outdoor amphitheater we had designed and had built by Eric Brubeck, from Brubeck Design Studio.”

Around that time, Ben, a longtime friend who had worked for Bill at A Taste of Excellence, wanted to come home after taking a high-profile job in Baltimore a decade earlier.

“We wanted to open a place together and we made a bid on another restaurant,” Bill says. “Our bid wasn’t accepted, which worked out better in the long run.”

Jumbo Lump Crab Cake served in a classic Maryland style.

That’s because Bill was introduced to Mike Piazza, a neighbor who brewed beer at home.

“He was a serious brewer,” Bill says. “He had a testing lab and everything right in his house. He invited me to sample a new batch, then all of a sudden we’re talking about opening a brewery. Then next morning, Mike came over with a business plan.”

And what better place to put the plan into action than at The Blue Heron?

Mike and Ben became partners with Bill and Dawn in The Blue Heron Brewery, a restaurant and brewery featuring 16 taps—six currently flowing with Mike’s own recipes—and a menu full of Ben’s upscale pub food.

“Ben puts fun and interesting spins on traditional bar items,” explains Khadar Soussou, the general manager. “The crab cakes that he perfected in Baltimore are amazing.”

Khadar was working one Friday evening at his parents’ Royal Park Fine Wine shop in North Royalton when Bill stopped in.

Black Bottom Peanut Butter Pie

“I immediately noticed his friendly, bubbly personality,” Bill says. “He invited me to sit and have a beer with him. I was looking for somebody to manage the restaurant, and it turned out that Khadar had a master’s degree in accounting and was looking for a job. It was a perfect fit.”

The Blue Heron Brewery is now a perfect fit with the Blue Heron Event Center, which hosts personal affairs and business gatherings for up to 350 guests. And, you can schedule your small gathering right in the brew room among Mike’s gigantic tanks.

The Blue Heron Brewery and Event Center is located at 3227 Blue Heron Trace, in Medina. To reach the Brewery, call 330-870-BREW. To inquire about having your next special event at the Event Center, call 330-870-BLUE. Visit for more information.