Saturday, December 4, 2010

Hard To Find

One thing I was certain about when I began thinking about the brewery was that I wanted it to be located on the coast of New Jersey.  I grew up in the area and my wife and I had a small place near the beach in Ocean County to move to while we got the business off the ground.  We love the area and the people and we realized this was where we wanted to live and run a business.   

Having spent a lot of time in some of the smaller beach side towns in Ocean County and after speaking with some local zoning officials, I knew there would be challenges (such as getting municipal approval for a brewery and the high costs of commercial real estate) to opening a brewery in this area, so I began my search in southern Monmouth County.  I started with about five business-friendly towns that I thought had a good combination of industrial-type buildings and proximity to the coast.  I was searching for around 5,000 square feet of clear span warehouse space that was industrial or commercially zoned.  I wanted 16 to 20 foot ceilings, overhead door(s), three phase electrical, gas, and city water and sewer. 

I started in Asbury Park in the summer of 2009.  There is a great history to the town and despite several failed “revitalizations”, there is a lot going on there.  I spoke to several local leaders and the town seemed open to the idea of a brewery and very business friendly. 

Commercial real estate in New Jersey has cooled considerably and I thought I would be able to find something relatively easily.  Unfortunately, landlords in Asbury did not seem to be aware of the market conditions and I was unable to find anything close to affordable that didn’t need serious work.  It didn’t take long to realize it was time to move on. 

That fall I had found what I thought would be an ideal location.  It was an old foundry building in an industrial strip next to the coast train line in Manasquan.  The building had been empty for years and the owner had recently decided to invest some money in the building and find a commercial tenant.   For those of you who don’t know, Manasquan is a quaint beach-side town with a sizable year round population.  It seemed like the perfect combination of location and building. 

Based on my earlier comments I knew there may be some issues with getting this approved, but because it was an industrial building next to a railroad track I thought it might work.  I was told the town was business friendly and before I proceeded I spoke to the mayor and several members of the planning board and the town council to gauge reaction. 

In those early conversations I did not hear any objection to opening a brewery in Manasquan from any of the local leaders.  I was advised to speak to a local attorney who had been practicing in town for years and knew the local zoning codes.  The attorney said some variances would be needed but believed he could get it done and agreed to take the application.  We were scheduled to appear before the board in March.   

Since you already know we are opening in Ocean and not Manasquan you can surmise how the meeting went.  The next few months were an interesting insight into local politics and very eye opening.  By early June I decided it was in my best interest to withdraw our application and move forward in a new direction.  Maybe at some point I will get into the Manasquan Experience, but not in this post.  Let’s just say that it set us back about four to six months and about $15,000—not a great start. 

After the Manasquan Experience I resigned myself to the fact that we were most likely going to end up in a cookie-cutter warehouse-type building in some industrial park, despite my best efforts to find a space with some character.  I decided to shift the focus to buildings that were zoned properly in commercial or industrial areas that would not require a trip in front of any local boards. The industrial parks of Eatontown seemed to fit the bill.

I had never really been interested in an industrial park before, but once I realized the amount of (vacant) commercial space they had I thought I would have no problem finding a building.   What I began to realize once I started talking to landlords and brokers was that we were looking for a relatively small amount of space.   Apparently 5,000 square foot subdivisions in 150,000 square foot buildings are not that common. 

I was able to find a few that suited us but then we ran into another problem—we were a start-up.  Most of the large industrial buildings in these types of parks are owned by investment groups or larger real estate companies who were not all that interested in renting to a start-up.  I found a perfect space in the back of a mixed commercial / industrial building and spent weeks negotiating with the owner.  When we finally came to terms I thought we could both live with, he bailed on the deal when we went to sign the papers.  Another month wasted.

After that I decided the Ocean Industrial Park off Route 35 was worth another look.  I was familiar with the  area around the industrial park because it was where Heavyweight Brewing Company was located before it closed.  (On a side note, the owners of Heavyweight have since opened Earth Bread + Brewery in Mt. Airy, PA; it’s worth a trip if you’ve never been.)    There were several new buildings that had come open and the last place I looked at was an old casket shop that had recently moved to another location. 

It had about 1,000 square feet of office space up front and 6,000 square feet of warehouse space in the back—clear span, high ceilings, industrial utilities, overhead doors, etc.; everything we needed.  As I later found out it was also zoned specifically for brewing and distributing beer.  All that was left was to negotiate terms and sign a lease.  Finally, on August 6, 2010 after about 18 months of searching the coast line we officially had a location for Kane Brewing Company. 

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