BY TOMAS SLUITER
The perfect building for your brewery. There’s so much to consider — your concept, system size, budget, target location, room for expansion, ceiling height, aesthetics .... Then you have to consider zoning and, in Portland, “Registered Use”: The building may be zoned for retail, but if it’s been only used as a production facility, a tasting room or other retail area may trigger seismic upgrades, sprinkler requirements and a not-insignificant “Environmental Impact” fee.
I am lucky to have found the perfect building. It’s gorgeous. There’s a red brick wall nearly 100 years old that spans the building. The filled-in graceful arched windows in the old wall add an old European feel - perfect for a brewery and taproom.
Massive old growth beams support tall ceilings. Big windows and skylights flood the interior with natural light and a flat roof area would make a lovely future beer garden overlooking the rolling West Hills.
I’ve put time, money, blood, sweat and tears into this building. I have architectural drawings that promise a vibrant future. I have some equipment parked there, blueprints tacked to walls and boxes of business cards, that may soon be obsolete.
Because now, this building and I are enduring a split ...and it’s time to move on. For brevity, I’ll spare most of the details, but I’d like to recap how much of this could have been avoided by following a few rules:
Don’t fall in love. These beautiful old buildings come with issues. And believe me, the aesthetics become less endearing every hour the engineer spends working up bad news. This is business. And this is your money. Don’t make an emotional decision and don’t let people pressure you into being hasty.
Due Diligence. Your landlord will extend a due diligence period before the lease is enforceable. Make sure your real estate agent informs you of this. When this period commences, you need your contractor, your fabricator, structural engineer, and any consultants to become a well-oiled machine. And be wary if they delay or offer platitudes. If you hear, “It should be fine” or “I think it will be alright,” you need to realize that there’s a good chance it won’t be — and it’s your project on the line, and your dollars spent, when it’s not “alright.”
“Think” is not “Know” and “Should” is not “Will.”
Settle for nothing less than concrete answers based on real information, in writing. This time frame is your exit policy: Use every second wisely.
Hire an experienced contractor, engineer and architect. My biggest failing was bringing on board a friend who is a contractor. He is honest and does excellent work — but he lacked commercial experience. I was led to believe we could get an easy “over the counter” T.I. (Tenant Improvement). No. The permit process took several months. Long before filing I brought in a structural engineer (another friend) to look at the brewery area floor and was assured that “it should be alright.” Well, it wasn’t.
A contractor and engineer who already have experience with breweries, tanks and point loads would have been more able to warn me of seismic and support requirements which absolutely killed the deal on his building. People told me this. I knew this. But I was in a hurry to start, and I listened to what I wanted to hear. It was an expensive lesson to learn.
So now I’m looking at new spaces. And this time, a little wiser, I’ll hopefully soon be able to pour you a beer in our new taproom, in the new “perfect” building.