A hurricane in Florida brought Christie Merandino to Kansas City. Craft beer inspired her to stay.

Merandino evacuated from Florida in 2017 in advance of Hurricane Irma, avoiding a Category 4 storm that ravaged the state. She spent two days trying to secure a flight anywhere out of Fort Lauderdale and finally landed in Kansas City.

“I started exploring the area and fell in love,” Merandino says. “I happened to go down to the River Market on a Saturday, and saw the market at its finest.” Then she went to a folk concert at Stockyards Brewing, visited all of the breweries in the Crossroads, and ended at Torn Label. I sat next to a guy that told me that Transport Brewery would be opening in Shawnee. The rest is magic.” Now Merandino works as the operations manager at Transport. 

Merandino’s career in beer and spirits began when she was 21 as a brand ambassador for Bacardi, Grey Goose, and Dewars. She moved away from her hometown in Brick Township, New Jersey. Her fledgling career led to running the Hoboken and West Village market in New York City. That role included coordinating the food and beverage program at a rooftop bar in Asbury Park. Next Merandino relocated to work for her employer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she “accidentally started working for a brewery.”

“I went into this brewery called LauderAle, and was talking with a friend. I described the beers on my flight to him,” Merandino says. “The bartender overheard me and asked whether I just loved beer or worked in the industry. When I told him I just moved here and loved craft beer, he offered me a job.” 

Merandino grew up in an Italian family where wine was a central part of her culture. Craft beer held its own appeal. “Craft beer was different, but it still had such a rich history and so many different styles,” Merandino says. Trying unique beers and styles and visiting breweries fed her interest. “I was getting excited about it. It was always my hobby, but I never thought it could be my career until I started being happier taking more roles in the craft beer and beverage industry.”

Now Merandino’s craft beer career spans 11 years, including nearly three years at Transport Brewery. She’s worked many roles in the beer and spirits world, including bartender, packaging assistant, distribution account manager, events coordinator, general manager, and head of marketing and tours. Along the way Merandino acquired many different skills that helped her “understand the consumers’ wants and needs as well as the craft beer industry.”

“I worked through a lot of sex-based stigmas that really motivated me to work as hard as possible,” Merandino says. “Most importantly, I learned that this is a career I love to do. All parts of it. Whether it’s a 14-hour day or a beer festival with my colleagues, I work in a great industry that keeps evolving.”

Working in craft beer has produced many memorable experiences. Fundamentally, her love for the field goes back to “beer travels, finding that hidden gem of a brewery in the middle of nowhere, and having something delicious,” Merandino says. “Or finding that great bartender that just makes your experience amazing.”

Christie Merandino Transport Brewery

I moved here and didn’t know a single person. I just went for it. People doubted me. I think believing in yourself and working hard is one of the best gifts in life you can give yourself.

One memory that shines dates to 2007 at Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware. Navigating through a downpour of freezing rain, Merandino and a friend managed to make it to the day’s last tour on a Friday. They waited for a while until a guy came out. “He told us there was a problem with our tour guide. We should have a complimentary beer and reschedule,” Merandino says. “We were completely bummed. Some people left and only six of us stuck around for the free beer.” 

Then brewery founder Sam Calagione came out of the back. Calagione found out about the canceled tour and hosted the tour himself. “He gave us sample beers from tanks, secret beers, and so much information,” Merandino says. “He just fit in like he was everyone one of our best friends.”

The two-hour brewery tour behind the scenes ended at the pub. Calagione bought dinner and more beers for the group, and visited even longer. “We were having such a great time that we couldn’t drive. The local hotels were all booked too,” Merandino says. “Sam walked across the lot and came back with rooms for all of us. We continued to drink and eat until the pub shut down.” Merandino and the other guests each received a bottle of an upcoming release, Black and Blue, a Belgian-style golden ale fermented with blackberries and blueberries. 

Several years later at a Craft Brewers Conference, Merandino heard Calagione yell her name as she walked down the hall. “I was shocked he remembered me and even more shocked he noticed me,” Merandino says. “It was good to talk. He was happy I entered the beer industry. It was a full circle moment for me and my career path. I have modeled my career around that day and the hospitality and humbleness that he showed.”

Transport Brewery glass IMG_1506Merandino brings that perspective to Transport Brewery and the local craft beer community. “I think Kansas City is a hidden gem. People that know about us, love us,” Merandino says. “People that don’t know are getting curious. We are right in the middle of some of the biggest craft beer cities that people are interested in. In Kansas City, we have breweries owned by women and LGBTQ+, and our first black-owned brewery in the works. We are progressing and making great craft beer along the way. It is hard not to see the heart of America beating.”

That said, she recognizes that there’s ample work that can be done to improve that community such as more immersive and inclusive events. “Things like Brewers Read Mean Tweets, the Draft Lottery, and the Diversity Expo were great to get everyone together,” Merandino says. “We are a small but mighty community in the scope of other U.S. regions. We all have great ideas and breweries filled with smart and energetic people. We just need to get back together to help grow craft beer in our community.”

Merandino brings that perspective to Transport Brewery and the local craft beer community. “I think Kansas City is a hidden gem. People that know about us, love us,” Merandino says. “People that don’t know are getting curious. We are right in the middle of some of the biggest craft beer cities that people are interested in. In Kansas City, we have breweries owned by women and LGBTQ+, and our first black-owned brewery in the works. We are progressing and making great craft beer along the way. It is hard not to see the heart of America beating.”

That said, she recognizes that there’s ample work that can be done to improve that community such as more immersive and inclusive events. “Things like Brewers Read Mean Tweets, the Draft Lottery, and the Diversity Expo were great to get everyone together,” Merandino says. “We are a small but mighty community in the scope of other U.S. regions. We all have great ideas and breweries filled with smart and energetic people. We just need to get back together to help grow craft beer in our community.”

Transport Brewing coffee beer in mug

Working in the industry remains a key fixture of Merandino’s life. She plans to stay in craft beer for years to come. “I think it’s part of who I am now. It’s something I love and I can’t see myself doing anything else,” Merandino says. “Ultimately, I would like to have ownership in a brewery. I want to help build the Kansas Craft Brewers Guild. The Guild could help bring more education, funding, and resources to so many breweries that it would be a great asset for Kansas to use.”

Meanwhile, Merandino manages operations at Transport. She’s helped the brewery navigate through the pandemic, staffing shortages, and daily challenges that many businesses in hospitality have faced. Merandino has proven herself to be a driven self-starter ever since she hit the ground running in Kansas City.

“I moved here and didn’t know a single person. I just went for it. A lot of people doubted me. I think believing in yourself and working hard is one of the best gifts in life you can give yourself,” Merandino says. “I have adapted many times, and a lot of that was learning lessons after failing. We have a community of people that have supported us when Transport was just a thought, and made sure we weren’t going anywhere during rough times. I work for great owners who have supported my career and decisions while respecting me and helping me grow each step of the way.”

Pete DulinPete Dulin is the founder and editor of kcaletrail.com. His most recent book is Expedition of Thirst: Exploring Breweries, Distilleries and Wineries Across Central Kansas and Missouri. Pete’s other books include Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland, KC Ale Trail (out of print), and Last Bite: 100 Simple Recipes from Kansas City’s Best Chefs and Cooks.