Unless you have boycotted social media entirely, and we would understand why, it was probably impossible to miss the big announcement Thursday that Ex Novo Brewing will be opening a new taproom downtown.
This new spot will take over the former Firestone garage on the northwest corner of the intersection of Central and Seventh Street, across from El Rey, Launchpad, and many other downtown staples. It is a huge undertaking for Ex Novo founder Joel Gregory and his team, so naturally I made the trek out to Corrales this morning to talk all about the process that led to this point.
“It’s a really cool building,” he said. “We toured it … over two-and-a-half years ago, the first time rolling through there with some friends of ours who are developers who focus on downtown. They live in the neighborhood, they’re trying to make things happen down there. They had my ear for a while, just kind of loosely, just keep your eyes open for a cool building. We don’t typically do the shopping center thing, which obviously has been (the starting point) for some great places. Our three locations have all got good history and quirky old buildings.”
Gregory is partnering with Geltmore LLC and other local investors. They purchased the 11,000-square-foot building from the Presbyterian Healthcare Foundation. Modulus Design, which designed Ex Novo’s Corrales taproom and The Corral outdoor beer garden, will serve as the architect on the downtown location as well.
“We ended up looking at that building. It’s huge,” Gregory said. “Originally we were going to kind of have maybe half of it, and then be leasing out kitchen space for another restaurant, maybe to serve to our customers. And then there was this idea for a coffee shop/bagel shop in the other corner.”
Ex Novo had hired a culinary director for its two Oregon locations, and Gregory said the two of them began to work on a plan to actually run all the eateries planned for downtown.
“We decided to take it on ourselves on the food side, which is scary, but can also work,” Gregory said. “I think that part of downtown has got some great restaurants, but also needs more places to connect. Now we’re going to have this cafe/deli thing, name TBD, it will be open 7 to 8 a.m. and roll through lunch. Our main taproom restaurant space will probably around noon, also, a little overlap.”
The building will also have a second floor, which will have its own unique vibe and setup.
“We’ll also have this upstairs mezzanine with low ceilings, and a lot of potential,” Gregory said. “We wanted to go a lot more dark. It’s going to look a lot different than downstairs, a lot of dark, wooden materials. A little swanky, so going for more of that cocktail lounge vibe up there. I’m considering pulling the trigger on a full liquor license for that. We’ll see.”
There had been whispers about Ex Novo opening a location closer to the heart of town, and far enough away from Corrales as not to cannibalize its own customer base there, for quite some time. Gregory hinted to us in our Look Back/Look Ahead Series entry that this project was really starting to take off finally, and Thursday was the big announcement.
“It’s just been evolving really slowly, which is good, he said. “I think it’s good not to rush into something this size. Walt and the team at Modulus, which we’ve used for here and the Corral, have been working on iterations of design for a good chunk of that. We’re really close to getting our permits set together and get to submit, get construction going soon after that.”
Besides just the size of the building, the potential for a sizable outdoor area was also crucial for Ex Novo in closing the deal. After all, the Corrales location is basically more of an outdoor than an indoor brewery space.
“What is now that parking lot, we’re going to do a little fence around, put a stage in, and a lot of covered seating, so that will be good for shade and also heat in the shorter months,” Gregory said. “I don’t remember how many seats are out there, over a hundred, for sure. It’s a good sized patio.
“We want it to feel (inviting). It’s good to have going down Central or anywhere that you want to bring activity to a place, for people to drive by and see people outside. It draws you in, makes you want to park, and walk around, and see what else is going on in the area. That’s hugely important for us to have that outside patio space. You asked what specifically about that building, that’s a huge thing. There’s not a lot on Central that has that potential for outside space.”
Ex Novo already has two locations in Portland that are far apart, much like this will be here in regards to Corrales, so Gregory did not sound overly worried about being able to manage both. There will be challenges to come, from hiring a whole new staff to run the downtown taproom and its kitchens, and others that cannot be foreseen, but it is a challenge that Ex Novo is ready to tackle.
“All those obstacles of starting up and everything, they’re real,” Gregory said. “It’s never been like … three times, four with the Corral, every single time it’s delayed, it’s more expensive, there’s major things, but after year two or three, you forget and get into it again. I’m not entirely excited to get into that season again, because it’s a lot of stress, but then you do finish it, and have that huge amount of relief. It’s worth it.”
As we have gone through our Look Back/Look Ahead interviews, we are feeling a greater sense of optimism throughout the industry. In many ways, this taproom project is proof of that.
“I think this place is going to really come together in a fantastic way,” Gregory said. “I’m really proud of the designs we’ve got so far. We’re not quite done with that. Inside, a lot of space, we’ll have different areas to make it not feel so big beer hall-y. We’ll bring in shuffleboards, dart boards. We’ve never had a chance to have a really big bar, either. I’m really excited about getting more people on the bar stools. … We’re going to have like 20 to 30 people able to sit up there.”
Corrales taproom manager Stevo Jeter stopped by for a second before he finished packing up the company van for the drive up to Santa Fe for WinterBrew. Jeter said the excitement from the community was palpable on Thursday and continuing on Friday.
“If my phone and DMs/texts/emails are any indication, everyone will be there at least once,” he said. “The entire world! Mr. President, look, it’s going to be exciting, but I can’t give you an exact (opening) date.”
The location is prime, Jeter added.
“If I wasn’t so old, that’s my favorite area,” he said. “You’ve got Oni right there, you’ve got some great spots, any and every concert you want to go to is Sunshine, Launchpad, El Rey, Sister. It’s all right there. Pregame and postgame, I’ve had a lot of people excited about this.”
Dude, Stevo, we are the same age, so we are not too old to hang out there. Well, I will give him some slack since he does have children and I do not.
Anyway, Gregory said the positive feedback from other in the brewing industry has also been welcome.
“I’m really happy to see that as well, that positive response from people that agree that downtown does need more of a boost,” he said. “There’s some really awesome stuff that’s happening there recently, but it takes quite a few to make it work. It’s definitely leaning more into the optimistic side of things. We’re putting a pretty big bet down on this location and on downtown. We think it’ll work. Yourself and other beer historians and get to look back and say (if it does). I think it’s either going to be hugely successful or we flew too close to the sun, and not anywhere in between.”
Ex Novo has a target opening date of the Balloon Fiesta in October, but Gregory said there is much work to be done, so that is a fluid timeframe.
“We’ve been having this target goal of Balloon Fiesta for quite a while,” he said. “Every month that goes by, that gets a little more aggressive. But, I think that we’re all on the same page, ourselves and our partners on the project, that we want to be aggressive with our buildout. We’re going to drive it pretty hard when we start working, but it’s a huge renovation, so I would not be the least bit surprised if that (target date) moves quite a bit. We’ll know more later.”
Whenever this new taproom opens, it should be a great addition to downtown and our local beer scene. Grabbing a bite to eat and enjoying some Perle Haggard German Pilsner before a metal show across the street sounds like an excellent future plan!
A big thanks to Joel, and Stevo, for taking the time to chat so quickly after we reached out.
Keep supporting local!