Nurturing the Local, Novice Brewer
A special report by The Tremonster
“We were originally going to be in Medina County,” noted Paul Benner, owner of Tremont’s brand-new Cleveland Brew Shop at 2681 West 14th Street. Benner had his crystal-clear vision of a shop to nurture beginning home brewers, as well as supply a growing regional industry, ever since he made his first home brew.
Benner’s story is similar to those of other Tremont small business owners and entrepreneurs: Once he discovered his passion, our small, community-based neighborhood of Tremont drew him in, and then became the only place he could picture launching his store.
He and his wife already had a love for Cleveland. He said, “My wife and I grew up in Cleveland, and it was very important for me to open the shop here.”
Benner explained, “I had been living in Indianapolis for almost a year, and then relocated back to Cleveland to open the shop. I’d been working with our distributer, who’s out of Akron, Ohio, and is the largest distributer of home brew supplies and equipment in the country – L.D. Carlson – and they’re right around the corner, in our back yard.” Before his return to Cleveland, Benner had narrowed down his potential locations. He said, “We had identified Medina County as a market that was in need of a shop,” but the Benners couldn’t rule out Cleveland’s near west side. “When I moved back here, and began looking to find a space, because of a couple connections I had here in the city, I was hooked up with some people in Ohio City and Tremont.”
Benner considered opening the Cleveland Brew Shop in Ohio City, initially: “…so I went to Ohio City, Inc., over there…and…you know, to me, the difference between Tremont and Ohio City is…Ohio City is attractive because it is ‘The Brewery District,’ so you have a lot of customers who are going to breweries, which just makes sense,” he said. “But, to me, it didn’t have a shop like a – it didn’t have the smaller-town feel like I’d always envisioned the shop having.”
Benner was honing in on his dream location. He liked the congestion of brewery traffic in Ohio City, but his yearning for a small-town community led him to get in touch with Sammy Catania, Tremont West Development Corporation’s Director of Physical Development and Property Management.
Catania said Benner made a great case for a successful Tremont business: “Paul is a good thinker; he had a solid business plan. We have a number of specific questions we ask when we are helping find space for a business. This helps us narrow the search and focus on their needs. There are a lot of questions. Some of these questions have to do with your business plan. Some of these questions are financial…Paul had all of that. He had a plan, we suggested several other financing mechanisms to help, but he had his basic structure in line. When you have a client like that – that has done their homework – even in a new startup like that, it makes you work harder for them. Because you know they will be a successful business…at least, that’s the hope.”
According to Catania, Benner made it easy to focus in and show off the best possible spaces in Tremont: “He said, ‘Someone has to service those people who want to be the craftspeople at home…on a small basis, on a continual basis, and there’s a niche for that market.’ So, we showed him a number of places,” Said Catania.
Now confident in Benner’s chances for success, Catania switched into sales mode. He said, “We gave him demographic data, traffic data…traffic counts between Steelyard and I-90 – there are forty thousand cars a day that will pass his space – they’ll see his shop every day, they will talk about it, and that helps.”
According to Benner, when Catania showed him the space on W. 14th Street, the storefront spoke for itself: “This place – when you talk about looking through the glass…and what our landlord, Mark Fourtounis, was willing to do – he basically did everything brand new…and then just – it was just it. We just knew right away. We didn’t know really what the price was. Then we started talking with Tremont West and they were getting us in touch with the owner, and, you know, the price was better than we expected. We have a basement downstairs that’s the same size as this first floor, and we’ll use that for storage, and also, eventually, our dedicated classroom.”
Thinking about when he first saw the space that now houses his business, Benner recalled, “It was a beautiful space. A big, wide-open, beautiful space. I think we signed in September. We were looking around in late August and September. It was a beautiful time of year. We had been to Taste of Tremont the weekend before and we were like, (he sighed) ‘…this is great!’ When we walked in and we just saw how big the space was, and how beautiful it was, it was just it – what I’d envisioned in my mind our shop looking like. And it met all the criteria!”
When asked if he had a message for Tremonsters, Benner said, “Let them know we really want to cater toward new brewers, and we rely on our classes to do that, so classes will be $12. For $12, we have a beer tasting before, we do about a two hour demonstration – we also have that catered by Bac – we feed everybody, and if they want to buy anything that day, they get a 10% discount…but what that three hours is meant to be is a kick-off to your weekend, a great date, or a great thing to do with your buddies on a Saturday.”
Benner emphasized, “It’s a cool hobby. It can be overwhelming, home brewing, but that class will be very easy. And it’s cool!” Benner said they will promote discounts if you sign up two people, adding, “Pairs are one of our biggest markets for brewers.”
It’s clear Benner did his homework on his competition, as well. He said, “There are full-time, full-service brew shops in Westlake…in Northfield Village…and then we have Mentor…and that’s it up here in Cleveland. Nothing but us in Cleveland, proper.”
Aside from those, other stores may sell some supplies but they’re not one stop shops, like the Cleveland Brew Shop. Benner said, about the many beer and wine retailers in the area, “They have a little corner for home brew stuff, so they have stuff, maybe this size,” He indicated a smaller brewing kit. “They sell some of this. They’ll sell a couple of these kits, some of this malt,” Benner continued, while touring his stocked shelves and displays, “They won’t sell full grains…probably can’t get bottles there…We’ve got a full line of yeasts, so…They may have one or two beginner kits on-site…”
When Benner arrived at his home wine-brewing supplies, he stopped dead in his tracks: “They won’t have the wine kits, like this,” he said, picking up a new kit, in the box. “This stuff – One of these will retail for anywhere from $80.00 to $120.00, depending on the wine, and this makes about twenty-two bottles of wine. If you do the math, it ends up about four to five bucks for a bottle of wine, and this stuff makes $20.00, quality wine.”
With this, the brewing geek inside Benner bubbled up to the surface, “Another cool thing about this stuff is,” he gripped the wine kit tightly, “as a consumer, you’re making this – you’re going to taste it as it ages – you can, literally, have a bottle at three months, and compare it to how it is at six months, nine months, and a year.” According to Benner, when purchasing a bottle of wine from a beer and wine retailer, “You get that at its peak, right there. It’s not going to get any better, I mean, they age it to the point where it’s ready for consumption. Here, you can, literally, taste if the wine gets better or worse – and learn from it. And that kind of makes it.”
The Cleveland Brew Shop is located at 2681 West 14th Street. The shop hours are Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. For more information on the Cleveland Brew Shop, visit www.facebook.com/ClevelandBrewShop or contact Paul Benner at paul@ClevelandBrewShop.com