From Tap to Table – Craft Breweries Revitalizes Communities
By Emily Allan with Marcus Jackson
The creation of beer dates back to 5th Millennium BC and has been argued to be responsible for humanity’s ability to build and expand civilization. Over this time, we witnessed the production of beer evolve from Artisanal to Industrial and back again to Artisanal. To this day, craft breweries continue to be the catalyst in building up civilization and building our community. It begs the question, “if you build a craft brewery, who will actually come?”
Overall NC statistics
North Carolina boasts the largest number of craft breweries in the American South, with more than 258 breweries and brewpubs. There are 56 breweries in the Research Triangle, an increase over the prior year of 43. In the past year, 4 have closed but were immediately replaced by new breweries. See all 56 of the breweries here: Triangle Brewery List 6-1-18 (1). What is it about North Carolina that provides a stable and thriving atmosphere for breweries to thrive? Or, maybe we should ask ourselves, what is it about breweries that create a stable and thriving environment in their community?
As I sit outside one of my favorite craft breweries in Durham, Ponysuaurus, I notice all walks of life coming and going. To the left of me is a gathering of families with kids running about as the adults unwind and catch up. To the right, there are couples accompanied by their furry friends. Everyone is engaged. Everyone is mingling. No one is looking at their phone. No one is distracted by a wall of TV’s, mainly because there aren’t any. It dawns on me, I am the odd one out as I sip on my Plum Saison and peer over my computer screen.
A group of people in running gear start to gather inside the fence and my interest is piqued. I walk over and inquire. Fleet Feet organizes a group of runners who gather at the pub, every Thursday, and head out for a 3 mile or 5-mile jaunt around Durham. They circle back at the end and treat themselves to a lovely beverage and more chit-chat. This got me thinking, who else uses their local pub as a place to gather? I am looking at their Facebook events page and start RSVP’ing to just about everything. The diversity of gatherings is impressive. The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival has a preview party planned which is open to the public. I scroll further. May is Foster Care Month and Ponysaurus is hosting an event to support foster care families as well as educate the community about additional volunteer opportunities within the foster care system. As I review past events, a pattern is blatantly obvious and that is that each event circles around community building. A brewery is not just a place to go grab a pint, although by all means, that is perfectly acceptable! It is a place that provides a forum for emerging artist to showcase their work, it provides ample opportunities to volunteer and gives back. Essentially, it is the cornerstone of the community, itself.
Three Brewery Tours
On my visit to Ponysaurus, I found out when it first opened in 2016, it was the only consumer establishment in this gritty east side area of Downtown Durham. Now suddenly, it is being surrounded by economic vibrancy. Smashing Boxes, a 10-year-old high growth tech company, just renovated a 1930’s built former Canada Dry bottling facility into its new headquarters, which it moved from the American Tobacco campus. The Fruit, housed in a former 1920’s-built fruit and produce company, opened down the street a New York style arts and entertainment center. And restaurants and offices are being quickly announced all around Ponysaurus. Scott Howell, the famed restaurateur, just announced a move here.
I was so amazed at the Ponysaurus beer, the fun social experience, and the amazing community impact, I continued my brewing investigation. Next stop, Bond Brothers Beer Company, where Jay and Jeremy Bond, Whit Baker and Andy Schnitzer, have established an award-winning brewery in the rapidly revitalizing Downtown Cary. While the founders were brewing first in a shack behind someone’s home, the Town was heavily investing in its downtown’s infrastructure, to include a revitalizing Academy Street and a new urban park along with a Town Theatre.
Jay, Jeremy, Andy and its Certified Cicerone Brewmaster, Whit Baker, performed so well, they decided to locate in a spot where a dumpster and a flower shop once stood. When talking with the owners, I was so curious as to why they picked a low visibility location and heard “We liked it because of the lack of visibility….it created a sense of gathering together in a more private setting.”
And on opening day, they were met with immediate excitement and beer success. Over 6,000 people attended which were brought here only by word of mouth, social media and the fact that the Bond brothers belong to a large running group….1,100 strong. The Bonds already had roots in Cary. On opening day, they easily had over 50 volunteers to handle the crowds….just amazing! They were struck by the diversity of the crowd, including a mom’s group of about 20 with their strollers and kids. “This was a pivotal moment, as we knew we created a safe and inclusive place for everyone.”
Since opening day, Bond Brothers has added an events room, countless events and restaurants are opening nearby….one can get a pizza next door at Pizzeria Faulisi or at the Food Trucks that serve the crowd. Check out the video of the Bond Brothers Fall Festival. And their beer only gets better. It offers a wide variety of beer styles – from IPA’s to Stouts, Berliner Weiss to Cream Ales. They even offer locally made sodas from their friends at Brood and white and red wine for those wanting something a little different.
A Trip to Wake Forest
Only fitting that I visit a diversity of locations from the hyper-growing Durham downtown; to the downtown of the long-established RTP (Research Triangle Park) bedroom community of Cary; to the booming northeastern Raleigh suburb of Wake Forest. So nice to talk with Dino Radosta, the Founder of White Street Brewing, the beer with a Small Town Soul.
Dino is unique in the local craft brewing industry, as he did not have a prior career or interest in brewing. He was a successful software entrepreneur with a passion for the charming, historic downtown of Wake Forest. He had been frustrated that no one had wanted to experience downtown, so he set out to turn the lack of interest around. He first wanted to develop a community establishment in the historic former car dealership that he decided to purchase. He even thought about a restaurant and settled on a brewery. He then set out to hire the best brewmaster he could find, which has turned out be his biggest key to success. He likes to also say he “makes beer that lasts”, just like the charming downtown. And he further says “if you do something, you must do it right”.
Opening day was September 12, 2012. The Town had provided proactive help in his meticulous rehabilitation of the old car dealership. Dino continues to compliment the Town’s effort to ensure his business success. The Town also made infrastructure improvements to produce a more pedestrian friendly White Street. But, construction was still ongoing on opening day. In spite of the sidewalks being incomplete, the crowd waiting to consume their first taste of Wake Forest beer was 100 feet deep. Since opening day, White Street Brewing has grown from its initial 4,000 sf facility to a total of 60,000 square feet, including a new production facility off-site. It now distributes statewide and several of its beers have won national and international gold and silver medals.
Dino has since become a downtown leader and in fact, co-sponsors Friday Night on White, which occurs every second Friday evening during the Spring and Summer. Two years ago, the first one attracted 6,000 and these days, attendance is close to 10,000 and is a major economic boost for all of downtown.
Like Downtown Durham and Cary, Wake Forest is undergoing a renaissance and is already a highly walkable suburban downtown. A new 160 unit urban-style townhome community with rooftop terraces is currently under construction in downtown by Stanley Martin Homes. And how wonderful that the B & W Hardware Store, established in 1949, is thriving in the face of big box competition. The family co-owner, Josephy Kimray summed up craft brewing’s economic impact on local small business by saying:
“The presence of White Street Brewing has made a tremendous impact on our business. Although we have been in this location for almost 70 years, the brewery’s presence has allowed us to reintroduce ourselves to the community with updated product offerings for the new customer demographic that is now present. These new customers are not just out-of-town visitors, but also local residents that now have a renewed sense of pride in our Historic Business District. Since the opening of White Street Brewing in 2012, our annual total sales figure has more than tripled; and we have become the largest dealer of Traeger Wood Fired Grills in the state of North Carolina. Much of this is due to the added exposure and foot traffic we have seen since the brewery’s opening.”
Small towns and blighted industrial areas in the larger cities are the prime locations for regeneration. Breweries serve as an anchor in these parts as they are usually the first business to put down roots. In addition to encouraging regeneration and investment of previously undesirable areas, breweries are one of the few sectors in manufacturing that shows job growth. Once a brewery is established, we see pockets of prosperity start to grow as other businesses gravitate towards these anchors.
As an advocate for growth and economic prosperity across the Triangle and Triad regions, I’ve seen firsthand the impact breweries have had on our communities. They are literally “game changers” time and time again for mostly forgotten and very old urban industrial districts and often on blighted housing surrounding them. Instead of building new, these breweries are helping to propel the green movement by recycling old buildings and using local ingredients. Relationships and taking care of one another can strengthen a community. Businesses that support one another’s missions and goals foster growth. My goal is to continue to share those stories of success and provide a platform for others to share theirs.
Urban MJ is an information hub founded by Marcus Jackson to connect citizens, investors, tenants, and those passionate about their walkable communities through intelligent discussion on urban investment in both existing and rising metropolitan areas. Through Urban MJ, Marcus utilizes his years of experience in mixed-use and urban assets to offer valuable insight into the practice of urban investment, adaptive re-use, and development.