KINGSVILLE — The owners of the Grove Brew House in Kingsville are making the switch from a small downtown beer-making operation to a large, high-production brewery.
Jeff Smith and Jeremy Truax are hoping to open their new Wigle Street brewery this March on St. Patrick’s Day.
“If you look at a lot of breweries in Southwestern Ontario, Ontario and even the United States, a large portion of them are in large commercial, industrial spaces,” Truax said. “There are very few large-capacity brewers that can afford square footage in a downtown business core.”
In early 2020 Truax and Smith bought out their former equity partners, Jim Flynn and Shawn Chapman, so they could act on long-held plans to expand to an industrial-scale brewery.
“We were bottlenecked,” Truax said. “Jeff and I had a lot of interest in the brewing business and that’s why we approached the guys about buying their shares because they weren’t as excited about this as we were.”
The brew pub on Main Street brews about 100,000 litres a year; the new location on Wigle will increase annual production to more than 300,000 litres.
Smith said the new multimillion-dollar brewery will remove the “logistical nightmare” of brewing the beer at the downtown location, transferring it into kegs, then transporting the beer by truck to a canning line on Wigle. The kegs are washed at Wigle and returned to the brew pub where the cycle is repeated.
“We just couldn’t keep up with the capacity and it’s a lot to ask of the team to do a bunch of redundant stuff that shouldn’t have to happen that’s really laborious,” Smith said.
Befitting its new location, the new brewery will have an industrial feel, much like Walkerville Brewery in Windsor’s distillery district. The brewing equipment will be located in a large space next to the north wall, close to a rectangular bar. The dining area at the south end will also have a clear view of the fermenters and tanks. Large, easy-to-open garage doors will give the space an outdoor feel. The kitchen will be expanded and the new brewery will have an in-house canning line and a large retail space. There will also be office space on the second floor.
There’s a term, your biggest gross is when you sell closest to the tap. The best gross is when somebody buys a pint in the taproom, but our second best gross is when we retail our own beer on our own site.
For Smith, owner of Jeff Smith County Chevrolet in Essex and Truax, owner Truax Lumber and Building Materials in Kingsville, the new, expanded retail space is a key component of the expansion. In-store beer sales increase a brewery’s profit margins.
“There’s a term, your biggest gross is when you sell closest to the tap,” said Smith. “The best gross is when somebody buys a pint in the taproom, but our second best gross is when we retail our own beer on our own site. When we transport to a third party (like the LCBO) our margins thin out.” Truax added: “We want to get as much of our market through our front door.”
The hours of the retail store will largely mirror the hours for the pub and dining room.
Truax said the expanded brewing capacity will allow the Grove to increase its marketing footprint and sell more beer and seltzers to the LCBO and Brewers Retail.
The new brewery is the latest chapter in Kingsville’s rapid development as a micro-brewing centre. Kingsville also has the Banded Goose Brew Pub and the Kingsville Brewery. The Kingsville Brewery is also setting up its own brewing plant near the town harbour.
Smith said the expanding brewing industry in Kingsville is a natural complement to the area’s wineries in expanding Kingsville’s reputation as a tourist destination. “They can really work hand-in-hand together,” he said.
Truax said he’s not worried about moving the Grove’s focus from Kingsville’s bustling downtown core to an industrial section of town. “I believe we’re going to have a better lunch crowd because we have better parking. Everyone knows the hurdle downtown is always parking. We’ll have a better after-work crowd and I think our evening crowd will expand.”
Smith agreed and said the new location is conveniently located beside the Chrysler Greenway and close to the harbour. He expects a lot of drop-in business from cyclists and walkers and said the brewery will have bike racks.
The new brewery will also have a striking exterior. The Grove uses historical themes for its beer and seltzer labels and the east-facing exterior wall features a mural highlighting some of the town’s lesser-known historical facts.
The mural features a “farmette” representing women who worked on Kingsville and Ontario farms during the Second World War, a skeletal figure in a top hat that local ne’er-do-wells used to scare visitors away from their 19th century clubhouse and a figure that conjures up the ghost that according to legend haunted the old Grovedale Hotel.
The mural was painted by Windsor artist David “Derkz” Derkatz.
Smith and Truax still hold the lease on the Main Street location and will operate it as a pub. “It will continue being a great restaurant-pub. We’re in talks how to handle that the best, so it will continue to be what it is. Whether it will be called the Grove or not, that’s something to talk about just because we think it’s difficult for customers to think about two different Groves in town,” Smith said.