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Brewpub idea fermenting nicely

First draft of the Brewtinerie floorplan. Our plans have evolved since this plan was drawn, but it gives you a sense of what type of thing we're looking at.

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First draft of the Brewtinerie floorplan. Our plans have evolved since this plan was drawn, but it gives you a sense of what type of thing we're looking at.

Those who know me know that I tend to brim with self-confidence. I'm perfectly aware that it verges on cocky — perhaps arrogant — at times.

But even I was daunted last fall when I realized how much it would take to turn Brandon's vacant downtown fire hall into a brewpub.

Oh, it's a sweet idea. Everyone loves it. I still get regular emails from people offering to help in any way they can, looking to buy share (coming soon!) or just lending their support.

But it's a lot of work. And, I admit, there hasn't been much out in public about it recently.

So here's an update:

First of all, the whole firehall-to-brewpub thing took off like a rocket last year. I couldn't believe that I was suddenly spearheading an actual real campaign. My whole life is full of "Someone should…" ideas, and now that someone was me?

Yikes.

But I dropped off a quickie plan to the city. And the city liked it. Heck, everyone liked it.

Of course, as I readily admitted, it was a pretty barebones plan. So when the city council considered it, they essentially said, "We like it, but come back in six months with a real plan."

I've been getting "Shows potential" on my report cards since grade school — finally, it applies in real life!

But it couldn't have come at a worse time for me, personally.

After more than five years of sneakily saving up my vacation time here at the Brandon Sun, I was about to embark on the trip of a lifetime. My girlfriend and I were headed off to jaunt around the Mediterranean for three and a half months, and I'd be drawing a paycheque the whole time.

We had a blast, obviously. But a big part of the trip was taking a step back from our Brandon life and evaluating it. A week at a time just isn't enough to consider all aspects of everything. This was more than enough time.

Sure, starting a brewpub and saving a historic downtown building sounded like a good idea, but it also sounded like a lot of work. Was I willing and able enough to tackle it? Could I devote enough of my time to it? Would I be willing to work like a dog in my evenings and weekends to get it set up?

I'll be honest — we thought a lot about it.

But the answer was yes.

So, we got to work. With a core group of a few friends, I sat down and started crunching numbers.

There are two big questions when it comes to turning the old fire hall into a brewpub:

1. Can a brewpub in Brandon be successful?

2. Is the fire hall a good location for it?

Although I've never run a restaurant a pub, or a brewery, it turns out that plenty of people have, and they are generally really nice, really kind people, happy to share information with a guy who barely knows what questions to ask.

As I've written before, people with the province have also been really excellent — the MLCC has been responsive to my concerns, and so have the small business and co-op development branches.

The answer to the first question, as it turns out, is a resounding yes. A brewpub in Brandon is a fantastic idea.

I kept expecting to find something that would be a deal-killer. I kept thinking that there had to be something that would make it really difficult, or impossible to do.

Financially, it's a stretch, absolutely. Restaurants are expensive to start. Breweries are even more so. A brewpub is both.

But if we can come up with the capital, the market is there — and it's a thirsty market.

The answer to the second question is much cloudier.

While the firehall is a great old building, there are serious risks inherent in it. It's not built to modern code, for example, meaning anything that we do on the second or third floor requires a huge investment into new staircases.

The high ceilings are deceptive — they look great from inside, but there's no real room between the ceiling of one storey and the floor of the next. That makes modern ductwork or plumbing a challenge.

The roof is deteriorating, and requires a significant amount of work, asap. At first, we were tossing around the idea of a quick patch job in the biggest problem area, then using cash flow from the brewpub to do a permanent repair in two or three years. But it's starting to look like the roof is a Year One problem.

Even with a solid building, there is only so much space. We've been working with an architect to shoehorn everything in that we want. It's stunning how much a restaurant kitchen, a few bathroom stalls, and a brewery eats square footage in your lounge.

Despite these challenges, I've been approaching the project from a perspective of saving a heritage building first, and starting a brewpub second. And I'm confident (cocky? arrogant?) enough to be sure we can do it.

There are a couple of weeks left before the city's deadline for a full plan. At that point, we're planning to hand them a document that says "This is how we do it."

We'll post it on our website, at brewtinerie.ca, on the same day.

Because despite the work we've already done on the plan, the only way we can implement it is with your help.

So if you've been asking me, lately, "Hey, what's up with the brewpub?" then get ready to hear a lot about it.

We'll be fundraising. We'll be selling shares. We'll have merchandise and T-shirts and probably social tickets. We'll be in your face.

It's been a lot of work over the past few months, as we have been getting all the Ts crossed and Is dotted. But in a lot of ways, the work is just about to get started.

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WELCOME BACK, Grant!

We missed you.

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