Selecting a Brewery Location

The journey began nearly four years ago.  In late summer 2011 I unmothbballed an over 10 year old brew stand along with some miscellaneous kegs given to me that I never put together.  Now, I just signed a lease in Merriman Plaza, Akron to start Akron’s newest brewery.

What a journey it has been!  The early version of the homebrew system, grew and grew and then there became a conscious decision: “if I spend anymore money on brewing equipment, it’s going to be the type of equipment to get ready for a brewery.”  From that point on, everything purchased was for the process on a bigger scale and to actually be able to be used at a brewery.

Kegerator – to serve beer as it would be served at the bar…to learn how to clean beer lines.  To get a good pour.

Sanke kegs instead of soda-kegs – more sanitary.  To learn the couplers and how to clean them.

Glycol jacketed fermentors and chiller instead of big plastic ‘jars’ – to learn temperature control on a big scale, learn how to pressure ferment for faster, fresher beer, though most importantly, to learn how to clean big fermentors commercially.

Pump – a bigger pump was needed to clean the fermentors plus this pump could be used on the 3.5 barrel brew-system that is waiting.

Plate filter – you just can’t effectively canister filter anything over half a barrel (15 gallons).  I needed some plate filter experience.

New Malt Mill – to better control the crushed grain size as the local homebrew store was inconsistent.  Plus I needed to build something that would handle a lot of grain.

Check, check and check!

Two years ago beginning with the tour of the old Renner Brewery in Akron that was for sale (early 1900’s), I looked at more and more property.  From the old Akron Brewing building, to the recently vacated Ohio Brewing building, to two old firehouses, to the old ABTEC building, to a vacated Wendy’s, to several commercial retail plazas, I sketched out possible floor plans.  Even if it was financially not feasible, I tried to make it work.  It never worked.  But I did get good at coming up with brewery floorplans and layouts, calculating how much beer and styles I can produce given a set number of fermentors.  It was good practice as my spreadsheet develped but it never went anywhere.  Either the entire building was for sale which made it prohibitively risky, or the parking or location was not that good.

I then realized that leasing at a retail space may be the way to go.  Retail spaces usually have plenty of parking, are updated and can have reasonable rates.  I wanted to go into this not creating debt and unnecessary risk for my family.  I was hot on a location in the Wallhaven area of Akron very early 2014, but the agent never got back with me after the first phonecall – I later heard it became under contract with a place that wanted that space and a much larger adjacent property to merge – hence no phonecall to me, understandably.

Sigh.  It was ok, my wife didn’t think it had the best drive-by visibility – even with a sign.

I then looked at several properties in the valley on Merriman Rd.  Though not this property that we just signed a lease on – it was still ‘Art Latte’ and in business.  One was an old drive-thru.  I loved it as it had all of the drainage and slanted floor just like a brewery…but it needed a lot of TLC.  Parking was problematic too – back of the building.   There were several other properties I looked in the windows at on Merriman.  I even inquired on the old Liberty Street brewing building – but it was later took over by the Saffron patch…and my wife and I weren’t confident on the location.  I wanted ‘a main street’.  I didn’t want the further unnecessary lost marketing due to being off the beaten path.

So at this time, I had viewed over a dozen properties.  All of the cool, old brick buildings needed a lot of work, and many had wood floors.  Even the old Renner brewery had wooden 2nd (ground level) floors.   The Akron brewing building was jut too big (though fabulously cool inside) and hard to get too – even though it had great signage from the freeway. That was a big issue.  Many of these locations were not on a main road and parking was an issue.  Several locations needed completely new bathrooms put in.  None of them had any provisions for a kitchen.

February and March 2014 went by.  I still brewed but kind of put the brewery idea on simmer as there was other things that needed my attention.  I was coming home through the valley one day late winter and upon driving by ‘Art Latte’, I saw two giant ‘for lease’ signs on it.  I went home and looked it up online to check the lease rate – doable. – this was almost too good to be true as it had everything I have been looking for.  I then contacted the agent and we checked it out.  A week later my dad and I went back to do some deeper looking, poking up the ceiling tile, measuring this, measuring that.  I drew up up a floorplan.  This could work.  This actually could work.  The inside was ‘just ready’ for a brewery.  No demo was needed, just some paint and positioning.

It had plenty of parking, the building wasn’t ‘just a square’.  The building is a very odd shape which gave it interesting possibilities.  It is literally on one of the busiest streets in Akron.  I grew up in this area on Portage Trail and know it well.  The place has a toooooooon of frontage, hence signage couldn’t be better.  Rush hour can be a little tricky getting in (if this place has a downfall, this is the only one)…but that is fleeting and can work in our favor (think a lineup of cars parked in front stuck in rush hour traffic = hostage marketing).

So this Merriman Rd. property has:

– Doable $sq/ft lease
– Plenty of parking in front
– On a main road (really, it’s ON a main road)
– Easy drive
– Virtually no demo or remodeling needing done. It even has existing ventilation in the ceiling I can use for the equipment.
– Major frontage for signage
– Bathrooms. It has 3 bathrooms including an ADA bathroom
– It has capabilities and service for a kitchen as we plan to have a limited menu
– Plenty of square feet with options to grow
– I know the area very well. I grew up minutes away from this space.

My wife and I discussed this intensely for a week while I researched a lot of ancillary items to get any hidden costs unhidden.  Early April we had to cool our jets as some other things were going on that needed attention.  In June I contacted the Realtor and it was still available. I knew it wouldn’t be available for too much longer.  From all of the other buildings we looked at over the years, this is our best chance and it wouldn’t come around again.  Let’s do this.  I went ahead and pursued zoning certification with the city of Akron at this address, a few weeks later it was approved and I picked up the official letter stating that the city will allow this.  I then asked for the lease and after weeks of back and forth between my lawyer and the owners, we are here.

On my subsequent posts, I will be chronicling the startup of Akron’s newest brewery.  The lease is signed.  The equipment is ready.  The homework is done.  There is no backing out.

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2 thoughts on “Selecting a Brewery Location”

    1. Julie,

      I’ve been looking at a location for over two years. At the end of the day it came down to my ‘wishlist checkmarks’ – this had it all. I honestly wanted to be a little bit closer to West Market Street where I live (I would love to be able to bike to work) and I looked hard and actually toured several ‘for sale/for lease’ places. On West Market one place I really wanted had insect problems and wood floors – and it was for sale…that was a lot of money for buying plus gutting. Other places around Wallhaven either had terrible parking or it was hard to get too. Further down towards the mall the price per square foot goes up astronomically…$30/sqft…ouch!

      I grew up in the valley for my entire childhood. It’s a unique area were people use it as a transit to get from the Falls to the Valley, to Akron, to 303/271, to Montrose and back home. I’ve worked at Freshway through college, worked out at the old Bally’s building for decades. I lived on Portage Trail on the hill building and fixing golf clubs for my dad at Shea’s Golf Shop. I love the valley, it’s businesses and the people that go through it.

      Driving through the valley to go home one day, I was stopped during rush hour…waaaay back to around the bike shop. Next to me was a little sign – like those political ads – for ‘TrailHead Brewing’ – I thought ‘No way! That is too cool.’ I’ve been in Trailhead many times myself and with my family since. Eli is a great brewer, passionate about beer and is holding his own from conversation – he has a very distinctive style which puts him in a niche off-the-bat. The Ohio and national craft beer environment is exploding. People want great beer that is not ABInBev. I honestly think that two nano’s in the valley will just build off of each other. The valley is a destination, and for craft beer drinkers, with TWO breweries in the valley, it will be an even better destination. Being born and raised in Akron for 40 years, Akron is doing great and there are a lot of craft beer drinkers needing local nano’s.

      So to answer your question, Trailhead being there wasn’t a factor as the craft brew environment is huge, the economy is on the up-and-up and there will be more synergies as a ‘destination’ with two nano’s in the valley. The place I picked was the old ‘Cheryl’s Daily Grind’ (decades ago) – it has a special place in my heart as she made THE BEST mocha EVER and was busy all the time. I hope to transfer that mojo to the beer I produce. At the end of the day, my family are at a place in life to do this or not do it. After two years of searching, for our budget and our wishlist, it ain’t going to get any better than this.

      I hope to see you there! And once you’ve had a pint, you can send Eli a boomerang pint…especially when he has on tap his Christmas and the chocolate peanut butter coffee stout…yuuum.

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