Worth the drive to Wisconsin

The number one question we get is “When do you plan to open?”. What a great question, one we would like an answer to as well. Getting to a final answer is largely out of our control. Some of you even politely yell at us to “Hurry up already we want to go there”, and this kind of encouragement keeps us going. Let me give some insight on where we have traveled thus far.

“Two guys in a box”

Setting off on this adventure to create local fresh craft beers and sodas we equated to two guys in a box brewing. First thing required was the box. We searched many sites around Rochester and learned there are great boxes for brewing and not so great boxes for brewing. We visited many breweries in Minnesota to see how other duos managed to brew in their boxes. Lucid, Town Hall, 612 Brew, Urban Growler (where the two guys are very nice Ladies), Dangerous Man, Day Block, Indeed, Canal Park, Fitgers, Bent Paddle, and more on the to do list. The brewing community is amazing. Everyone involved is very helpful and willing to give their insights into what makes a good local microbrewery.

We located our current site which had the correct sizing for the brewery and accompanying tap room. Alright now we can start two guys brewing in a box, all we need is a change of use permit from the city. To get the change of use permit we needed to show that we would have ample parking and trees around the site. Okay, we tried to negotiate the parking and the trees but it was not obvious how to make everything work with our newly acquired box and the business plan we are working from.

We brought in the pros. We talked with an architect and she determine how much parking we could allocate on our site. It looked like it might just work out, except we did not have any room for the things we needed that are not parking spots, like the glycol chiller and dumpsters. So our new box needed more parking to get the change of use. Even though parking is allowed on the street, we are not allowed to count that in our allocation of required parking spots.

As luck would have it, the two empty lots next to our box were for sale (the empty lots were actually another reason we liked this box for our location). You guessed it, we purchased those two lots and went back to the architect to see how she can make everything work out for the change of use and fit the business plan. She did a nice job of laying everything out for us using our box site and one of the empty lots. We go back to the city oversight to see what else is required for our change of use so we can start brewing in our box.

Turns out we needed to hire an engineer for thousands of dollars to figure out that the parking lot should be mostly flat and slope towards a holding pond we needed to put in, basically for the 100 year flood. The holding pond is needed because the city requires a dust free surface for the parking lot and that the run off from the dust free surface is the same after constructing the parking as when it was a field. The holding pond also came with a storm water management fee for a few more thousand dollars. We also needed to pay for a photometric plan that showed ample light for the parking and box site. All this resulted in a parking lot on the vacant lot that looks like you would imagine, a rectangle with a sidewalk on one side and two parking light poles on each end and lights around our box at the exits.

Okay, so we have the box with parking and trees, now we can get to the brewing part. Not so fast, the city would not grant the change of use with our current arrangement of purchasing the box from one set of folks and the vacant lots from another set of folks. The concern was that if either default back to the original owners, they would either have a parking lot with out a box or a box without a parking lot. So we got our lawyer involved to write up an agreement that whomever owned the box or lot could also use the other. This does not happen overnight so by the time the engineers and lawyers where done weeks have gone by, but we did get the change of use permit.

Next up is to build out the box so we can start brewing, nice. We decided to do the build out in phases, first the brewery, then the tap room, followed up by a kitchen. For that we needed engineering designs and tradespeople for electrical, plumbing, and mechanical. The architect helped us create the functional layout inside our box and we decide since it is a fairly straight forward project to just brew in a box we would do what is referred to as Design Build. This is where the tradespeople that will do the build out are also the ones that do the design. This is a one stop shop for each of the trades, they design their piece then build their piece. The designs also need approval by the city building safety folks.

As we went through the Design Build process, it was obvious that we where not getting the same answer on what is required for our build out from the various trades that bid on our box project. We needed designs that would satisfy the state and city requirements as well as our business plan. After several more weeks of trying Design Build it was obvious we would not get what we wanted. Instead we hired another engineer to complete the design for the plumbing and mechanical build out. The electrical build out was straight forward enough that we could stick with design build for that. Several more weeks passed as the engineer competed the designs (During this time we were able to paint most of the outside of the box and get the equipment set in place, setting the equipment had its own challenges with much trial and error needed without a user manual ).

Now we could go back to the trades with a completed design and determine which ones we could work with. Finding tradespeople we can work with was most important as we know there would be more changes likely. We did not want to feel as though we worked for them rather than with them. So this took a little more time.

Great, we have our plans and help to complete the phased build out. Now we just needed to get the building permit. This is a process we where warned could take many unexpected turns. More than a couple of the tradespeople commented that the build out would be easier and cheaper if we would have picked a box outside of the city. We knew this was likely the case, but we really want to brew our local fresh craft beers and sodas where it is convenient for our friends, neighbors and community. So lets keep going.

Everyone we have dealt with at the city offices have been very helpful and great to work with, however the regulation and oversight they are required to interpret and enforce I equate to a strong headwind for small business like two guys in a box. Rochester is something like the 7th most windy city in the U.S., this might also equate to the headwinds for getting a microbrewery or similar business started here as well.

The comments that we received on our build out plans from the city were fairly understandable, save the plumbing design. The plumbing inspector had a concern that we left the overhead doors in the brewery (overhead doors are required for a production brewery for getting goods in and out) and that a vehicle service pit would remain. This would then tempt us to service vehicles in the brewery (even though no room remains for vehicles once all the brewery equipment and supplies are in place). To alleviate this concern, the engineer worked with the inspector to determine what else is required to get the building permit. The changes included removing the single flammable waste trap in the brewery and replacing it with multiple floor sinks, a new floor drain in the pit and a vent trap for the existing trench drain. A flammable waste trap is just a big tank underground to separate any flammable waste such as oil or fuel from the waste water before it enters the city sewer. This process took more time measured in weeks but did result in us getting a building permit to proceed with the build out.

The build out required a new power transformer to handle the new equipment loads for the brewery and this transformer required a new concrete pad. This was our first round of slinging a concrete saw to allow for the new pad and fortunately was outside the box as concrete saws make a ton of fine cement dust that covers everything in its path. Now the tradespeople could get started inside the box and we can do some demolition work. The new underground plumbing work inside the brewery required more rounds with the concrete saw to remove the flammable waste trap and add the additional vent traps. Unfortunately, this concrete cutting put large holes in our otherwise continuous ribbon of concrete floor and created large amounts of cement dust that goes everywhere possible. Cleaning up all the dust will likely take another week in the timeline of things to do before we brew in the box. It took several more days to complete additional alterations from the inspector and an unexpected required pressure test of the entire buildings underground plumbing but we did get approval to move ahead.

On a side note, I just have to say that taking a fine flammable waste trap that serviced all the waste water in the brewery and replacing it with six individual waste traps spread across the brewery seems unnecessary. As far as the physics of it goes, the flammable waste trap was serving the same purpose as the six individual traps and the concrete was continuous making it less likely to leak between seams in the floor. In this case, interpretation of the code trumps physics, so we move on.

Another thing we needed to get was a permit for the steam piping for the boiler that runs the brew house. Here the plumbing inspector was unsure about plumbing steam to the brewing equipment we purchased as it was not lab certified by an independent lab. No other brewery in Minnesota that used this same equipment supplier had to deal with this question of certification, another unique experience of building a brewery in Rochester. The end result was for the state inspector to come to the box and check out the equipment. After a few questions he was fine with the equipment and we did get both the state and city permits to hook up the steam. Another requirement in Rochester is for the boiler to have it’s own room. This was not the case for most of the breweries we visited in Minnesota the boiler is in the open next to the rest of the brewing equipment. These details again took more days in the timeline to resolve on the road to “When do you plan to open?”.

Currently we need to finish all the build out in the brewery and get things cleaned up. Then we can get the state inspectors to look things over and see if we can get a thumbs up to start brewing in the box. Once this happens we will start to focus on phase two, which is the tap room build out. How long will this take? Perhaps we can crowd-source the answer and you can tell us what you think it will take.

I’ll try to keep you updated on how it’s progressing inside the box. If you are considering starting your own two guys in a box, or a similar start-up venture, it is worth the drive to Wisconsin.

Leave a Reply