Growth on tap as Kingsville Brewery expands production capacity, seeks foothold in U.S.

KINGSVILLE — Former NHL goalie Marty Turco’s first visit to Kingsville was in the mid-1990s when he was the starting goalie for the Michigan Wolverines hockey team.

He played with Brian’s goalie pads and had been invited by the company’s co-owner, Brian Heaton, to visit the factory in Kingsville to see how the pads were made.

“After lunch he was pulling out all these prototypes … back then I was just picking out colours (for pads) but he showed me all the straps to make things lighter, the knee braces … the big (toe) foils that I’d never seen before,” Turco said.

For the first four years of his career in the NHL, Turco played with Brian’s goalie equipment.

Turco was in Kingsville again this week to visit another local business, the Kingsville Brewing Company, which he co-owns with his cousin, Mark Muzzin.

His visit comes at a time when the Kingsville Brewing Company is entering a new phase in Turco and Muzzin’s goal of making the company a big-name brewery.

Since November the company has been brewing its own beer at its plant on Park Street. Previously it had contracted out brewing to Brunswick Bierworks in Toronto.

A new canning line will be added later this summer, allowing the brewery to can its own beer but also to enter into “co-pack” agreements with other beverage makers.

Kingsville Brewing Company will also be relaunching a pilot program to sell its beer at 7-Eleven convenience stores in Texas — a program that was delayed by the pandemic.

Walmart stores in Texas are also now on board to sell the beer.

The challenges to get beers on lips has never been higher. Getting that shelf space has been crazy tough.

Turco, who tended goal for the Dallas Stars and now lives in Dallas-Forth Worth, said 7-Eleven has purchased the Ohio-based Speedway chain of convenience stores which will gives Kingsville Brewery the opportunity to break into Midwest American markets.

Michigan and Illinois are target markets for Turco and Muzzin.

“I’d love to see us throughout Texas, to have a pretty good foothold similar to Ontario and have our own brewery down there,” Turco said. “And then also start looking at expanding in a couple of other states based on production. This is where I’ve got to get into the analytics. In my head I think, minimum four states.”

Muzzin and Turco’s fathers are first cousins; the Windsor-born Muzzin spent summers with Turco in Sault Ste. Marie at their family cottages. The two are pals as well as relatives.

Muzzin said Turco’s connection to the Kingsville brewery came in a circuitous fashion. He had purchased the building next to the butcher shop he co-owns with his wife Izabela with the intention of opening a brew pub.

Quick facts

  • The brewer at Kingsville Brewing Company is Derek Bilokraly, Muzzin’s former neighbour.
  • The 127 on each can of Kingsville Brewery beer is the number of wins goalie Marty Turco earned during his four years on the University of Michigan hockey team.
  • Mark Muzzin played Triple-A peewee hockey with Ed Jovanovski, a former Windsor Spitfire and the first-overall pick in the 1994 NHL entry draft.
  • Turco was the third-string goalie when the Dallas North Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999. He retired from the NHL in 2011.
  • Over his 11-year career in the NHL, Turco had 41 shutouts.
  • According to 2017 statistics, Texas had the 10th-largest economy in the world. The state has a GDP of $1.65 trillion, slightly ahead of Canada.

Muzzin said Turco with his contacts throughout the NHL and still-strong links to the Michigan Wolverine hockey program had given him a close connection to the world of big league hockey.

“We had the butcher shop and we saw this space next door and wanted to have a small, small brewery in that space and I wanted to make one beer for Marty to say thank you for all of the awesome times I’ve had.”

Later there were discussions around the campfire at the family cottages, a few beers, a few Scotch whiskies, and a business plan was formed, not to go small, but to go big.

Turco, who still works for the North Stars and their charitable foundation, has during the course of his career and charity work built up a sizable Rolodex of business contacts.

“The challenges to get beers on lips has never been higher. Getting that shelf space has been crazy tough.”

The former NHLer wouldn’t name names, but the brewery’s major investors include high-profile Texas executives in the hotel and real estate sectors.

Kingsville Brewery has a 35-barrel, four-vessel system that is capable of turning out 70 hectolitres, or 7,000 litres, of beer in one run. It’s one of the largest microbreweries in Southwestern Ontario. columnist Nick Cotsonika has known Turco since his days as a sportswriter for the University of Michigan college newspaper. He said Turco is a natural networker with top-drawer social skills.

“Marty is more than an athlete. Even in college he was the type of guy who knew the starting quarterback, the captain of the basketball team. He knew student leaders away from athletics … the fraternity presidents … he could move in different circles; he’s got a great personality, he’s approachable and could talk about more than just hockey.”

Cotsonika said he wasn’t surprised by Turco’s business success..

“If you look at other players he played with at Michigan, a lot of guys have done a lot of different things, and Marty is right up there with them.”

As a professional hockey player Turco knows the importance of teamwork in achieving success on the ice. He said the same rules apply in the highly competitive business of making beer.

“The challenges to get beers on lips has never been higher. Getting that shelf space has been crazy tough,” Turco said. “Mark and I are competitive, super competitive, and we’re dreamers. We’ve put together an amazing team around us, we have a great beer, we’ve built great relationships so we can execute that dream.”

In an interview with TSN in late 2020, Turco talked about the close relationship between hockey and beer. Those views haven’t changed.

“Hockey and beer have been synonymous and they always will be,” he said. “You play the game and (afterwards) you want to have a beer when it’s all said and done.”

Former NHLers to share ice with local players
in cancer-research fundraiser

The meet-and-greet session with Marty Turco at the Kingsville Brewery Taphouse also included Jeff Casey, a cancer survivor, who talked about his fundraising efforts with the Cancer Research Collaboration Funding initiative.

Casey said eight local hockey teams, involving 120 players, have raised $376,000 in pledges and donations for local cancer research.

Tonight at the Vollmer Centre in LaSalle those players will share the ice with former NHLers like Turco, Adam Graves, Mike Krushelnyski, Paul Coffey, Aaron Ward, Al Iafrate, former Spitfires goalie Michael Leighton, and Rick Vaive, whose record for goals scored by a Maple Leaf was passed Thursday night by Auston Matthews.

Three games will be played and part of the action will involve a shoot-out challenge involving Turco and Leighton, a former NHLer and now a goalie coach based in LaSalle.

“It’s just a fun part of the event,” Casey said.

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