It’ll be more than just another brewpub.
Yes, the Venice site just purchased by Paso Robles brewery Firestone Walker Brewing Co. will eventually become a restaurant serving beer brewed on site.
But brewery co-founder Adam Firestone said a Firestone Walker location near the intersection of Washington and Lincoln boulevards will be less about selling burgers and suds than about market research. Its first venture outside of the sparsely populated Central Coast, the brewery aims to build a kind of satellite campus that will serve as an outpost in the heart of its biggest market.
“Paso Robles, it’s a long way from people. Our fans are down south,” said Firestone, whose great-grandfather founded Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. “We want to project ourselves into our market.”
To that end, Firestone Walker plans to use the new site not only to serve its existing line of beers, but to make some new brews and test them on customers. The site will house some of the company’s marketing staff, too.
The brewery sells the vast majority of its beer in Southern California, and about 25 percent of it in Los Angeles, Firestone said. By having a physical presence here, he hopes to get insight into what its customers want, and get it better and faster than he can in the brewery’s home town.
“Most of our successful beers take us years to develop and only through a lot of sampling,” he said. “We’re going to get a much broader cross-section of people down there.”
Firestone Walker has beer-tasting rooms at its brewery in Paso Robles and a restaurant in Buellton – combined population: about 35,000. Venice alone has around 42,000, and the neighborhood also draws from millions of tourists and L.A. residents.
“Our brewery is on a dead-end street in an industrial park in a cow town,” Firestone said. “It’s remote.”
Frequent launches of new products are crucial to small and midsize breweries, said Alan Newman, principal of Alchemy & Science Brewing Collaborative, a subsidiary of Samuel Adams maker Boston Beer Co. that owns downtown L.A.’s Angel City Brewing.
“If we don’t develop new beers, customers get bored,” Newman said. “Having a small brewing system with the ability to sell off new products and get feedback is critical to new product development.”
Firestone Walker last month bought two adjacent buildings along Washington, just west of Lincoln, for about $7.5 million. One is a 6,719-square-foot restaurant space, formerly a Sizzler steakhouse; the other is a 4,418-square-foot office building.
By sometime next year, Firestone Walker plans to open a restaurant and bar, as well as a small-scale brewery, marketing offices and classrooms for seminars.
Firestone said the brewery prides itself on a scientific approach to beer, hosting seminars with suppliers and classes on hop varieties at its Paso Robles headquarters. So it will have similar offerings in Venice, geared toward beer enthusiasts that Firestone calls “beer wonks.”
“Our customers seem to be intrigued by the process, the technology, the science behind our beer-making,” Firestone said. “That’s our conversation.”
The Venice brewery will be tiny, capable of making no more than 130 gallons of beer at a time, compared with an 1,800-gallon system at Firestone Walker’s Paso Robles brewery. Beer made in Venice will be served on site, allowing brewers to tinker with everything from carbonation levels to the type of glassware each beer is served in, along with simply seeing what sells and what doesn’t.
In addition to restaurant staff, Firestone said the Venice site will likely be home to two full-time brewers and six to eight marketing employees, some focused on social media.
A few members of Firestone Walker’s marketing team might move from Paso Robles, but Firestone said most of the Venice team will be locals pulled from the Westside’s young creative class. That’s one element that drew the brewery to the area.
“We like the creative potential of this area,” he said. “It seems to have become a real gathering point for creative minds and that drove the decision.”
But setting up on the Westside has its risks as well. Firestone said customers in Venice will likely have higher expectations for the brewery’s restaurant than customers in Buellton and Paso Robles.
“We’re going into the foodie capital of the world,” he said. “Expectations are just enormous. We will have to take our game up a couple notches or the locals will show up with torches and pitchforks.”