If someone had told us that starting a brewery would mean sacrificing so much of my time and energy, that it would encompass the majority of our waking (and sleeping) thoughts and exhaust our life savings………..we probably would have done it anyway! But what we had never intended was for the process to take soooooooo long.
That’s why announcing our Brewery location has been so meaningful…and although we are still at the mercy of the Town of Okotoks to get the by-law amended to include us where we intend to go, we are maintaining optimism because we believe in Karma and we know with all that this process has lead us through, we must have earned enough good karma to finally call this home!
We are asked almost daily…”when will the brewery be open?” And it’s a fair question. We have been marketing our business and our upcoming brewery for so long now, it’s no wonder the majority of people who reach out to us are looking us up on google maps, hoping to find out where we are serving our beer. Alas, we aren't serving it yet and this has been very intentional.
What many people don’t realize is that you can’t sell beer without an approved location (AGLC says so) because of course you can’t brew beer out of your home (here anyway) and sell it to the market. So unless you contract brew (this is when you hire another brewery to brew your recipes for you and then can and/or keg it so you can get it to market), you need a brewery location to get the party started.
I can talk in depth about the reasons we decided not to contract brew (and we have wavered time and time again) but that would bore you to death, so I'll just sum it up to:
1) wanting to ensure we are able to maintain consistency in our product, and
2) needing to leave our money to be invested in building the brewery, because contract brewing is costly and often provides little financial return
We have learned from other breweries that contract brewing can be a nightmare (logistically and financially) or it can be wildly successful at getting your product to market…we just couldn’t afford to take the chance of experiencing the former and delaying our progress even further which is why we have continued to forge on in search of the perfect location.
Our first attempt at leasing a brewery location began with a great little industrial shop space right next door to Party Time Rentals in Okotoks, off Milligan Drive and close by the Dawgs Stadium. The shop was small enough to comfortably manage costs and large enough to get production and a small taproom up and running in very short order. But before we could even start writing our business plan, our idea was kibosh-ed...
The land under this great little shop was originally occupied by a NEXEN who operated a sour gas processing plant plan for a number of years before the land was sold to the town of Okotoks for a steal of a deal…with one major caveat…there would be "no food or drinks sold onsite” in any building on this land. We were welcome to manufacture our beer there but a taproom was out of the question. This of course was a deal breaker since our entire purpose was to bring people together, not just produce a product and never meet our end user! So the search continued...
Our second attempt at finding a home for our brewery (as some will remember) involved the “Landmark” site on McRae Street in downtown Okotoks. We saw this site as an amazing opportunity and got busy working on our first business plan (which in and of itself was incredibly time consuming). This small piece of property that had once been a number of different businesses but was sitting as an empty lot (and had been for quite some time) and quickly became the center of attention for residents that wanted to keep this non-designated "green space" from being developed in hopes that the town would create a "plaza" in it's place.
During this time Hub Town was criticized for being "just a bar" to those who were uneducated in what a microbrewery could be but to our absolute amazement, our clients, friends and family (our brand ambassadors) who knew us and understood what we were planning, showed tremendous support for the idea, which kept the air in our tires. Unfortunately, over time we could see that the location was not without its issues.
With Mark and I investing our entire lives into this brewery (remember, we aren’t spring chickens) and talking to the banks, it was clear we would not be able to receive the funding needed to support buying the land ourselves and constructing a new building on it ($2.2 MM), so we reached out to three different developers who showed serious interest at the onset. When they did their research on the site however, they decided the payout for such a build was just not worth the effort…so we lost that lovely site...and the search continued.
Now, keep in mind as you read this that Okotoks does not have an overabundance of vacant buildings (much less ones large enough for a microbrewery) in the downtown core where the town of Okotoks has great plans to focus on revitalization. Because of this, we again began to look outside of the downtown since so many microbreweries we knew and loved existed in such locations, and we came across Denis Brown’s Welding…an industrial shop for sale that lived on Fisher Crescent, with a larger lot that could support a great outdoor patio, a good size shop for brewing and a taproom, and the office space to convert into our little brew shop so our existing clientele still had access to their brewing supplies...and so began business plan #2.
We got to know Denis who was excellent to deal with (in fact if we could have leased from him we would have) and we had hoped very much that we could lease out his location but as we searched out investors to buy and lease the shop to us, there just wasn't a single taker. The economy wasn't hot at that time with oil and gas falling through the floor so investors were sitting tight, so once again we kept looking.
At this point you can imagine we were becoming worse for wear...each time we would pick a new location, we would write a new business plan with a new market analysis and business/marketing strategy. This was an enormous effort because where the brewery lived, determined how it should be run. That said, we continued on in search of a home when we finally decided we would check out the old Sears building.
It wasn't too long prior that Wheel Life Cyclery had moved into half of the old Sears building on McRae Street. Mark and I had been long time bike commuters to and from our jobs in Calgary and loved the idea of being next door to a business we could potentially collaborate with so we sought out the leasing agent and took a look.
Although the location wasn't huge, it had a good shell for turning into a brewery so after some consultations with our builder, we decided that could be our new home and we began writing up business plan #3.
When we finally submitted our letter of interest to the leasing agent, it turned out the location already had an offer on the table. We were told that didn't mean we wouldn't be chosen, just that we needed to give them our plan prior to the expiry of the existing offer so they could review both and make a decision. After some time, the leasing agent got back to us to say they had chosen the other offer...a Pizza Hut. So...off we went once again. Can you believe this story???
Now, when I say that the announcement of our location was so meaningful, you can see why...we have struggled with one location after another...been rejected and beat up all along the way (ok that might be dramatic), but we know why it all happened that way...it was to get where we are today.
It was March 18th, 2018 when Mark and I were driving down Elizabeth Street and I looked over at Boothill Gallery and casually said, "you know THAT is where our brewery should be...". Mark just looked at me and said, "well then I guess you better ask them." He wasn't serious and I had no intention of asking. We were just dreaming out loud.
The next day we were taking our son to a concert in Calgary when our friend Trellis Palmer sent me a text saying, "hey, would you guys be interested in doing a beer tasting at my friend's shop?" We have been asked this question a lot of times and each time I unfortunately have to explain that we aren't allow to sell our beer yet because we don't have a brewery location, and this time was no different. But what I did ask was, "where is the shop?" Trellis told us it was Boothill Gallery. As we sat there at a pub in the University Campus, waiting for our son to get into his concert I quickly responded with, "well if she ever wants to lease out her building to us let me know because we love her location." To which she said, "my friend wants to talk to you!" I looked at Mark and couldn't believe what was happening...
Shortly after that we met with Carol and Stan...brother and sister in law and business partner to each other. In no time flat we were absolutely enamored with them and new it was time to build business plan #4. They were down to earth, funny, and treated us like we were their family from the moment we met, hugs each time we showed up and hugs every time we left...Carol anyway, Stan was a hand shaker mostly hahaha. The best part though was they had such a real passion for the idea of putting our brewery in their location and believed so strongly in what it could do for the town they loved as much as we do that it was a no brainer...we needed to work with these guys.
Since then we've met Stan's wife (Carol's sister) Roxy and Carol's husband (Stan's brother in law) Brooke and as you can imagine, they were as warm and welcoming as the others!
We have spent months planning and sorting out details, and have landed on a dual split of the Boothill Gallery location where Hub Town will occupy the main floor with the brewery, taproom, offices and even a vault (this building was once an ATB Financial Institution) and the boothill gallery will occupy the upper level. We will build a beautiful rooftop patio with a stairway from the outside of the building for the amazing summer nights we enjoy between June and September and throw a bunch of tables out front too so that on all event days people can enjoy overlooking the festivities while having a pint of the freshest beer around!
So...five locations, four business plans and two years later (year one we weren't even thinking of building a brewery)...we have signed our lease and are ready to get this party started....EXCEPT...If you look back to the beginning of this BLOG you'll remember that we are STILL at the mercy of the Town of Okotoks to get the by-law amended in our location to include microbreweries as an acceptable use.
On July 16th the Town of Okotoks introduced Bylaw 36-18 to amend Land Use Bylaw 40-98 by adding Brewery, Distillery, and Winery to the listed uses in the Central Business Commercial District, Highway Commercial District, Business Industrial District, Sout