Photos: What’s Brewing. See also What’s Brewing’s interview with Steel Toad Brewing COO Richard Goodine
The recent news of Steel Toad Brewing Co. Ltd. closing as of January 31, 2018 sent some mild shock waves through the brewing community. The sale of Steel Toad seemed to be a closely-guarded secret until mid-January, which is a hard thing to do in this industry.
What might have been more surprising for some is who will be taking over the space. Successful restauranteur Daniel Frankel, owner of Steel Toad neighbour Tap & Barrel, has purchased Steel Toad’s assets and leased the space.
If you have ever spoken to Daniel Frankel, you’ve likely witnessed his passion for supporting local, his drive to operate sustainably, and his desire to create inviting spaces for people to converge. This new project, aptly named T&B Brewing Co., is to be no different.
Although Frankel is a huge supporter of the BC Brewing industry, as evidenced by his restaurants’ BC-only tap list, he wasn’t looking to get into the brewing industry. As he accurately commented, “Everyone knows it’s tough to make money in brewing.” I suspect there are a few brewery owners nodding their heads right now.
When Frankel was approached by Steel Toad’s broker in August or September of 2017, he said he wasn’t interested in owning a brewery. Ryan Craig, Tap & Barrel’s Beverage Director, had a slightly different view. He had already been working with local breweries to make what they call collabobeers, which they serve on draught at Tap & Barrel. Craig was excited at the possibility of expanding that program to brew more collaborations (they brewed 13 in 2017), experimental test batches, and having the ability to innovate. Over time, Frankel joined Craig in his excitement and they saw it as an opportunity to provide something different for the Vancouver market.
Frankel consulted with numerous brewing industry friends to discuss their ideas and to point out that they wouldn’t be competing with the local breweries, and received nothing but support. Their idea was to have two concepts: a Brew Lab to collaborate with other local breweries, and a modern day beer hall. I, for one, am intrigued to see what the latter will entail.
Frankel describes his modern day beer hall concept as playful and fun. He goes on to say that there is nothing like this in Canada. It will be a casual, relaxed, and fun atmosphere where the entire place is your playground.
When asked about the 12hL Brew Lab and their collabobeers concept, Frankel says it was a simple decision. Tap & Barrel has always been a platform to showcase their local partners – wineries, breweries, food purveyors, and the local artists that they have been blessed to work with. He says it was a no-brainer that the Brew Lab was destined to be a collaborative focus. Down the road, Head Brewer Kerry Dyson may decide to do some other experimentation, but the collaborations will be their main focus.
“We are where we are because of our relationships – how you make people feel, and how you value people. We are seeing such incredible support from our brewing partners.”
– Daniel Frankel
Once Frankel gains occupancy, they plan on renovating the space. He indicates that for the most part, the 350-seat layout will be similar, but with more flow space. The space will host a rebuilt kitchen to upgrade it to Tap & Barrel’s standards, with a new decor-and-furniture package that will be lighter, brighter, and unique. Part of Tap & Barrel’s values include using 80% repurposed and reclaimed materials in their buildings, and this renovation will be no different.
As for the bar, the lines will be replaced and additional taps installed. The beers on tap will obviously include their own collabobeers, but in addition to that, Frankel plans on adding some rotating taps from Washington, Oregon, and California. Guest taps will also showcase their local brewing partners and you should expect to find some unique cocktails with locally distilled spirits at the forefront.
When asked about the food options, Frankel is holding back for now but says that there will be limited or no overlap from the Tap & Barrel menus. The menu will mimic the fun and playful vibe they’re creating with numerous gluten free and plant-based options.
With their flagship location mere blocks away, I asked Frankel if he sees his own brewery/beer hall competing with Tap & Barrel. He agrees that it will compete, but perhaps not directly, since T&B Brewing is meant to be a different format and experience altogether. Frankel states, “You can’t touch that patio in Olympic Village – it’s so amazing and beautiful. You have the water in front of you, mountains, the city – I don’t really see [the new location] impacting that much.”
Frankel sees T&B Brewing as a conduit to bring more people into the village. When they opened in Lonsdale, North Vancouver, the neighbouring businesses were concerned about a bigger restaurant taking away business. In Frankel’s collaborative nature, he spoke to the business owners about his plans and how it should grow everyone’s bottom line, not just his. He states that since they opened the Lonsdale location, other neighbouring businesses have seen a significant increase in revenue. Customers are supporting local, building critical mass, and the businesses are all growing organically which is impacting the economy in a positive way.
As for opening day, the T&B Brewing team is hopeful that they will be up and running within a few months. They have big plans for brewing test batches, bringing in their friends to collaborate with, and showing Vancouver what fun a beer hall can be.