A Year to Remember
Two years ago when we started the path to creating a brewery in Fairport, I remember making a prediction that the first five years would be all about managing growth. So far I am batting 100%. Everyday this year has been about managing growth or managing something!
On December 31, 2011 (one year ago today) I knew that 2012 was going to be a wild ride because I knew eventually we would get our licenses. Well it has been a wild ride, so I write this post partly so I don't ever forget the ride and partly so you know a little history of Fairport's Brewery in the making. 2012, for me, will definitely be a year to remember.
Business as usual
In January we were operating as a federal approved licensed brewery out of my rental property on Dewey Ave in the Village of Fairport. -Let me tell you, it isn't easy getting a federal license for a brewery in a residential area, in fact it is almost impossible. Keep in mind that a federal license means nothing without a state license in NY. So we had our federal license but couldn't sell beer, meaning, we could make beer legally but we couldn't sell it. We made beer and gave it away.
We had our 1/2 barrel system in the tiny back bedroom and used the bathroom and kitchen to clean. We had access to my computer, tunes, guitars, a refrigerator and kegerator filled with cold beer. The neighbors were our guinea pigs and life was good except for one thing... we were tripping over each other, running hoses in and out the bedroom windows and lugging those kettles to the back yard compost pile. At the end of the night we were beat. After all we were middle aged men!
A Quest for a Better Way
Since our backs were beginning to hurt and the thought of our neighbors not liking the idea of kegs consistently being lugged around the property we actively started looking for a commercial location. The idea was that we could occupy it and finish up the licensing process so we could begin brewing and selling beer.
Scouting new locations
Our first step was talking with the Office of Economic and Community Development in the Village of Fairport. They had a great pulse of what was going on in the Village and they directed us to Don Calabrese of Conking & Calabrese who had a property on the canal for rent, called "the Marina" which was previously a restaurant with a residential apartment above it. But it was on the canal. We loved the location but we took too much time on planning our build out, projections etc. and we lost it to Bad to the Bone BBQ. It was a big loss for us, the location was really cool and we would have been dab smack in the middle of the village, a great place to be.
Shortly thereafter we found 1000 Turk Hill Park which was the old Crossman Air Gun factory and also the previous home to The Pie Lady. The price was certainly better, but the location might be tough to find. Ahh location didn't matter so much since we didn't even have a "license" to sell beer. We just needed a place to call home and pay rent while we wait for our license. (That wait was approx 5 months)
1000 Turk Hill Road fit the bill for our next step. It was affordable and it was almost five times bigger than the space we had over at Dewey. I knew the neighbors on Dewey would appreciate it as well.
Signing a lease was a big deal for us. It meant we had to be financially committed to this project because both our names were on it.
We hired John Blyth, one of the best real estate attorneys in the country to review/negotiate the lease for us. John did a fine job for us, after all he was one of those guys banks from all over the country would call when they got themselves into a pickle. This guy knew real estate law and he knew it well. He taught at Cornell Law for over 20 years.
John uncovered that this property, in fact the entire complex was in foreclosure and the attorney representing the complex wouldn't negotiate any terms of the lease, period.
John clearly recommended for us NOT to sign the lease and to find another property but hard pressed for a location we took our chances and took occupancy late April.
Change of Address
Most people think that changing an addresses is no big deal, but when you are in business with Uncle Sam think again! 95 Days- minimum with the Feds! Yes it took all of the 95 days to get our federal license changed. It included so much red tape and about a hundred phone calls to Dottie, the lady upon whose desk our application sat. At one point one of our friends on Facebook recommended we call Congresswoman Louise Slaughter for help. We did and we got word from the feds immediately that our change of address was in the mail. A big personal thanks to Loise's office for getting involved. (Did you know she was a microbiologist? I wonder if she could help us with isolating a strain of yeast that is indigenous to Fairport?) Thanks again to our friend on Facebook and Louise's office!!!
The build out
Tom, being the engineer immediately began the build out. Methodically he laid out this big 870 sq ft rectangle, probably to scale, and began with the plumbing.
Tom did a great job with the build out. He even engineered the cooler so that it was modular and could be removed easily, and taken down the elevator if and when we moved. He was always thinking ahead.
Birth of Community Brew
At the end of May while still waiting for paperwork we began testing our "systems" and recipes in our new location. People started hearing about us from the blogs, Facebook and the Finger lakes Beer Trail Maps etc and they just started showing up. We kept the doors open and they kept coming in, hanging with us and brewing with us. It was like a brotherhood. That's how we met Ansel, Logan and Paul.
Today Community Brew is a Fairport event and people from all over come to participate. Some even bring samples of their home brew!
July 5th Buzz Kill
I took my family to Portsmouth Maine for a little get-away for the 4th of July and while laying by the pool I got an email from a friend who works for the town of Perinton. 1000 Turk Hill park was named as an inactive hazardous waste disposal site and added to the state's Superfund. Not very cool at all! Here we are, in one of the most regulated industries in the country and now we have to start looking for another site!
So I immediately started talking to all the parties involved, DEC, NYS Dept of Health and the group that runs our complex and I was told that the Crossman Arms Co. dumped their grease cleaning solution in the soil on the property which got into the ground water. They reported that this chemical is coming up in vapor into the first floor of the building, enough vapor to get on the Superfund.The DEC and Dept of Health both tell me that since we are on the second floor we are "OK" due to the chemical's properties. But the sad part for us was that I was told by both organizations that the leasing agency knew the results of this testing 6 months before we moved in and It was never disclosed to us or our attorney. The leasing agency has released us from our lease and we are free to go as soon as we lock in a new location. But finding a new location is not as easy as it sounds. We have looked at numerous locations with only a couple that make the grade both in the village and in the town. Although I can't say much about which sites we are considering, I can say we are close to making a decision.
The bottom line? I do believe the agencies when they tell me we are "OK" in our location but I can tell you with 100% certainty that we wouldn't have picked this location if we knew upfront about the testing, and I don't ever want the public perception issues....
Remember that 95 day change of address with the federal government? Here we go again! Maybe Louise's office can help us again with the 95 days change of address under the circumstances.
The Final License
On October 10th, 2012 we got our license from the State of New York which meant we could sell beer! What an incredible high that was. Now we could sell beer to people that come into the brewery but still not to bars. We need our labels approved by the feds and the state before we can ship out a keg to any bar and just as soon as we catch up with our production we will be reaching out to one account just to get things rolling
As I mentioned earlier we met some really great people this year. Many came and volunteered for starters, and some actually got hired! Ansel was hired July 19th, Logan was hired Oct 24, and Paul was hired November 19th. All part time but all great people.
This was a big deal for me. On Sunday December 9th, almost two months after opening our doors to the public and almost a solid two years after starting this brewery project, I accepted my partner and my good friend Tom Bullinger's resignation. I will always appreciate what Tom did to help get this thing off the ground and I am hoping we can get him back for community brew sometime. Tom will not be forgotten.
End of 2012
Running the brewery myself the last few weeks has been extremely stressful and trying to instill a smooth transition has been a challenge to say the least - especially during the holidays but I want to thank my employees for everything they have done to make it possible. There wasn't a lapse of brewing or retail throughout the entire transition. Paul and Ansel, and Logan all stepped up to the plate, each one with their own backgrounds and specialties. I also want to thank my family. Lori, Brenda, Jordan, and Jeff for kicking in. You all have helped me immensely! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! I hope that someday I can make it up to all of you!
Looking out to 2013
First things first. My vision hasn't changed. My focus remains the same as the day we began...It is about quality beer (not quantity) and Fairport. We will make great beer using the best ingredients and strive to be a great partner to our community. We will focus on beer which will feed growth therefore creating jobs and we will utilize as much of the local resources as possible. I grew up in this community and it, and the people in it, are as important to me as the beer we brew!
We will be focused on a new location, more production, a beer called "Scum Jumper", selling to local bars/Clausen's, moving, and when possible getting a bigger system!
Another wild ride coming this way!!!
Thank you all so much for helping us keep the lights on in 2012! Here is to 2013, and to you and your family! Cheers!!!!
Happy New Years!