The Challenges of Opening Up a New Brewery in Philadelphia

The future home of Saint Benjamin BrewingThere are over 2,400 breweries operating in the U.S.  That number will be even higher by the end of the year, as the number of small and independent brewers increases.  Enthusiasm for good craft beer is still growing, with craft beers now accounting for 10 percent of sales of all beers.

So you brew beer at home and now you want to join these ranks and open up your own brewery in Philadelphia?  Piece of cake, right?  Not quite.

Fishtown resident Tim Patton is starting his own nanobrewery called Saint Benjamin Brewing Company.  Though the brewery was incorporated back in 2010, Tim still is in the process of taking all the necessary steps before he can open up later this year.  The long “delay” is all thanks to state and city requirements and restrictions.  Given all the barriers, it’s not surprising few small breweries have opened up within city limits.

Finding a building to house a brewery is the first and most important step.  In 2011, Tim planned to open up right out of his home on Richmond Street in Fishtown.  With respect to breweries, state laws restrict breweries from selling beer directly at the brewery, even if they can brew and distribute, unless there’s special zoning and licensing.  A zoning variance can be obtained so long as there’s neighborhood approval.  Unfortunately, the Fishtown Neighbors Association voted against the variance, pointing to supposed concerns about “noise and odor.”

So, instead, using the assistance of a consultant, Tim located and, in February 2012, closed on an alternative site in Kensington at 5th and Cecil B. Moore.  This building has been a warehouse and factory but also has history serving as a carriage house for the Theo Finkenauer Brewery in the 19th century.  From this sizable 15,000 square foot space, which Tim purchased through self-funding and savings from the Internet boom years, Tim is planning a three barrel brewery and pub.

While the 5th and Cecil B. Moore site was zoned for industrial use, Tim still needed a zoning variance.  This time, the local neighborhood groups, South Kensington Community Partners and Old Kensington Neighbors Association, granted approval, though the process of obtaining it was somewhat drawn out.

With neighborhood approval for a zoning change, next up is obtaining federal and state brewing permits as well as building permit approval.  Tim is working with an architect to submit plans to the Licenses and Inspections Department, which should take another six to eight weeks to review the permits.    Assuming the permits are granted (a big IF considering L&I will likely have a lot to say), and the city’s Board of Health also gives its blessing, there would be another two months of construction before the brewery and pub can open at some point in the fall.

Once the brewery opens, a brewer has to address staffing.  Even the most intrepid brewing entrepreneur would be foolish to try to tackle, by him or herself, all the necessary roles: marketing, selling, delivering, running the brewpub, oh and brewing.  Tim plans at least one full time employee and perhaps one part timer to assist in managing the bar, but Tim will remain one of the primary brewers.

All these steps, of course, take a lot of money.  Not even counting the cost of purchasing the building, Tim estimates he’ll be out of pocket about $500,000 with all the attendant costs, including legal and consultant fees.  By way of example, in order to sell growlers, Tim has to go through zoning and end up paying about $10,000.

Currently, Saint Benjamin needs additional funding for some renovation of the exterior and first floor of the building.  The work would rebuild the façade, move the front door to a more useful area, shift windows, add lighting and essentially make it look less like a warehouse and more like a brewery and brewpub.  There’s a Lucky Ant (which helps facilitate the funding of small businesses) fundraising project, for the work.  Saint Benjamin is seeking $20,000 for the necessary work, with the deadline of the end of the month (April 30).  Contributors receive fantastic rewards (such as a pint glass, gift certificates, special metallic growlers, tasting parties, etc.) depending on the level of donation.  If Saint Benjamin doesn’t reach its goal, then, unfortunately, the project isn’t funded, and everybody gets their money back.

Please consider a donation and helping the only nanobrewery in Philadelphia open for business.

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