The news that Kaktus Brewing was planning on opening a taproom in Nob Hill broke while Franz Solo and I were up in Denver two weeks ago. Once our respective busy schedules fell into place, Kaktus owner Dana Koller and I finally met up last Friday morning to talk about the decision-making process that went into this huge leap for Bernalillo’s only brewery.
The taproom will be located at 2929 Monte Vista, in the location that up until now was occupied by Amore Pizzeria, which is already on the move to the Green Jeans Farmery at Carlisle and I-40. Needing a new tenant for the vacated Nob Hill space, Kaktus jumped at the chance, even though it will be a big risk going into an area crowded with other taprooms (Bosque, Tractor) and a slew of craft-beer-centric bars (Nob Hill Bar & Grill, Two Fools, Shade Tree, etc.).
NMDSBC: What possessed you guys to do a taproom and put it in one of the busiest parts of Albuquerque?
Dana: Well, people love their beers in Bernalillo. That’s always going to be our home base. That’s always going to be our production facility. We love it down there. Our thing, we’ve been doing really well and as you’re probably aware, we started the entire business completely out of pocket. We’ve been very thankful for that, very fortunate.
But with that you’ve got the struggles of having minimal funds. In Bernalillo we’re trying to really create this killer destination spot. I kind of bring up Casa Rodena, even though it’s a winery, the environment, people are just drawn to it, the beauty of it. We’d like to see that happen in our location. We just are realizing as we’re growing down there it’s going to take more cash flow. We felt that we’ve really captured the population of Placitas, Bernalillo, and the north side of Albuquerque, but that population is still only what it is. If we want to create a better cash flow and if we want to dump more money into this property, we have to sell a lot more beers.
We’ve had a lot of people ask us to go into Albuquerque, that want our beers in Albuquerque. Luckily for us, Roy Solomon, who owns the building, Amore decided to move to his new facility where Santa Fe Brewing is going on I-40, so before that building came on the market he immediately called me because we’ve been friends for a while. He said, ‘Hey man, what do I need to do to get you in there?’
We’ve only been in business it will be in two years in October. At first it was like are we ready for this. But this summer has been so successful for us, we actually we were running down out of beer. We were down to six taps instead of eight. This is fantastic. Let’s just ramp up the (number of) fermenters, let’s get into a new place. The beers are working, the atmosphere is working.
What we’re planning on doing is duplicating our eclectic, fun atmosphere in Nob Hill at that location, the 2929 Monte Vista. We’re very confident that we’re going to offer not only a unique style of beers — ours are more sessionable than most. We don’t focus on the big IPAs and big stouts. I always say we do kind of European style, because we’re still in that form of 4.2 to 5.5-percent alcohol, a little more malty style of beers. Our equipment is made for lagers, so we try to make a lot of lager beers.
The building itself as you know has its uniqueness. We like the newness of it, but the rooftop patio, also, which we feel has been underutilized by businesses in the past. We’re really going to focus on creating the rooftop patio as something special.
NMDSBC: Of course the tough thing is, there’s Bosque. There’s Tractor. There’s Nob Hill Bar & Grill with their huge tap list. There’s Two Fools with their great tap list. Was there ever that concern where you’re going in to compete head-to-head with a lot of other places? When did you guys talk about that and what that challenge could be like?
Dana: We’re excited about that and it’s also a concern. It’s a little bit of both. I’m not going to pretend it’s not a concern, because it definitely is. It’s a concern on both sides. I want them to be successful and continue to be successful, and I want us to be successful.
I still feel, and you’ll have to correct me if I’m wrong, it’s still a very positive industry and we’re all still trying to create an industry where everybody can get a nice piece of the pie and make it. It’s a concern on our side and for them because we don’t want to people to feel like it’s a competitive industry. So with that, what I feel, not only did I notice from being up here, was our beers set themselves aside. But on top of that we’re going to bring a little bit more of an atmosphere that walks away from Tractor and Bosque and all that. Il Vicino separates itself, a lot like Kellys, people think of it first as a restaurant more than a brewery. And so we are bringing our food menu to Nob Hill. We’re bringing an atmosphere. We’re beer first and foremost, but we’re also complementing what we do with the beer scene with our food and our service. Our service is something where we’re extremely attentive to customer service. We attribute that to our personal attention to customer service.
I think Nob Hill, there are so many different things going with the young families, the university kids, and the retirees. What we’ve got is targeting all of them. We don’t need to capitalize in just one area. We are providing an atmosphere where we can take a little bit of everybody. I think we’re going to be extremely successful, but I also think the other businesses in Nob Hill are not going to be (adversely) affected.
Looking at the University, they’re constantly growing, CNM is growing, so the population is there to support the new businesses. You’ve got to remember, Bailey’s on the Beach was successful, they just chose to change hands for other business opportunities. If you think about it in that respect, there was and has been a successful business there.
NMDSBC: That covers most of it, but as far as the endless process of permitting and such goes, do you guys have a projected opening date yet?
Dana: Well, I don’t want to mislead anyone and say the wrong date. I’ve got to say though, that the state has been surprising. We’ve already done our hearing with the AGD for our liquor license, which means on the 27th we have ours, so after that we’re done, we’re in the clear. Things are happening fast.
I have in the back of my head and I always did was December, but it could be as early as November. What we’re going to do is take advantage of that. Instead of opening to the general public right off the bat, we’re going to make it fun, we’re going to have individual parties, keep it privatized. Maybe one for the industry, give them a sneak peak. Just do these fun little sneak peak openings and that gets the word out. And then we’ll open to the general public.
NMDSBC: You talked about increasing beer production at the original location. Do you think it will ever get to the point where you need to start looking at a wall and saying that needs to go?
Dana: Yeah, I hope we don’t have to do that. But we are prepared to make those changes. We have looked at options for that.
I don’t know if we’ll expand the building, it’s really going to be adjusting things. We anticipate direct competition in Bernalillo soon, just because we’re doing well and when you’re doing well, other people pay attention. We’re still just getting into the industry and we don’t want to overextend ourselves. We’re going to stay small. Our business model is two or three solid locations, we’re not looking to package, we’re not looking to distribute. We’re just keeping the relationships we have in the community and keeping it a small, much talked about place.
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Thanks to Dana for meeting up. Lord knows the man is busy with all of these preparations. It will be quite interesting to see how Kaktus fares in a crowded region, away from the many unique aspects of what it has in Bernalillo. If their plan to create a new, different atmosphere in Nob Hill works, then they should succeed. We can only wish them the best.
Tomorrow we will have a check-up on another story that broke while we were away, namely the Distillery 365 tasting room at Green Jeans Farmery. It’s all part of this bonanza of news week that has fallen upon us.