The first time he went inside the Hannon’s Block building downtown, the Rev. Tom Schaeffer fell in love with it.
Its high ceilings, exposed brick walls, and interior arches seemed perfect for the monastic feeling he wanted to find as a setting for the soon-to-launch Black Cloister Brewing Co.
PHOTO GALLERY: Brewery finds downtown diggs
Mr. Schaeffer, founder and pastor of Threshold Church in Rossford, is passionate about beer. He brews at home and has long thought about starting a brewing company. After getting a thumbs up on the idea from some local business people, he decided to go ahead with the dream.
The idea of a beer-brewin’ preacher might rub some Christians the wrong way, as Mr. Schaeffer readily admits. But he doesn’t see it that way.
“Monasteries and brewing go hand-in-hand. Some of the best beer in the world is made by monks,” he said.
Black Cloister is set up as a for-profit business with no formal connection to Mr. Schaeffer’s church. The church hasn’t invested in the project, but does stand to benefit from it: Officials plan for 20 percent of Black Cloister’s profits to go back to Threshold.
Establishing a brewery can take considerable capital. Mr. Schaeffer, who is Black Cloister’s chief executive officer, declined to say what he and his partners have invested, but said it would be more than $300,000.
Eventually they plan to hire a brewmaster, but they’ll start without one. Mr. Schaeffer said Bob Hall, a friend and partner in the business who has been brewing beer for more than 40 years, will serve as the vice president of manufacturing. The business’s other two partners are Mike Kennedy, who is vice president of sales, and Scott Biddle, who is vice president of marketing and promotions.
Black Cloister has purchased a 17-barrel brewing system from an Arkansas outfit that outgrew it. Mr. Hall leaves next week to train on the system, which is still in use.
At maximum capacity, Black Cloister should be able to do about 1,000 barrels a year. They have set a first-year sales goal of 500 barrels, however. Each barrel is 500 gallons of beer. Black Cloister will self-distribute to start, and Mr. Schaeffer said several locations have already expressed interest.
A start date for deliveries hasn’t been set.
“Early summer is about as specific as I can get,” Mr. Schaeffer. “Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Right now the inside of the building is so cold that visitors can see their breath swirl from every word. Much of what’s inside lies under a fine coat of red dust from brickwork being done.
But the building is in a far better state than it was.
“When I bought this place it was trashed,” said owner Scott Kozak, who bought the building in 2008. “The roof was caved in, it was full of garbage, debris. It was a mess when we took it over.”
Mr. Kozak, who also owns Manchester Roofing, guessed he must have hauled 20 Dumpster loads of junk out of the 142-year-old building. He immediately replaced the roof and spent about two years finishing the basic renovations.
Black Cloister will be his first tenant. It feels good, he said, to finally hammer out a deal.
“We’ve had three or four deals that fell through. It’s been a long road for this place,” Mr. Kozak said.
The three-story building, which sits at 619 Monroe St. in the heart of the Warehouse District, was purportedly the first in Toledo to be wired for electricity.
Its renovation and occupancy is a major win for the Warehouse district. It’s kitty-corner from Table 44, and sits across a parking lot from the building Marco’s Pizza founder Pat Giammarco is renovating for a new restaurant.
Mr. Giammarco said this week the project has been delayed considerably, but is still moving toward completion.
Mr. Schaeffer said he looked at about 20 locations, but really wanted to get in on what he sees as renewal of downtown.
“This is about more than just making money,” he said. “There’s a purpose behind this brewery. And part of that purpose extending off our faith is we want to make a difference in downtown Toledo.”
Pete Shawaker, a commercial real estate agent with Reichle Klein Group who listed the Hannon’s Block building, said it’s in a great area for residential and retail properties.
Eventually Mr. Kozak would like to put apartments in on the building’s second and third floors. Mr. Shawaker thinks having a first-floor tenant — and a beer maker at that — could help.
“Although there may be some people who don’t want to live above a bar, [those living] downtown would be the people who do want to live above a bar,” he said. “If it’s empty with an unknown future use it could make tenants uncertain. The fact Black Cloister will be there first eliminates the unknown.”
The actual brewing operation will be in the rear section of the building, which is connected to the main section by an atrium. The main part of the building will be divided into office space, restrooms, a large cooler, and a bar and lounge.
Black Cloister will initially be a taproom, meaning it’s only permitted to serve its own beer. That could change later, Mr. Schaeffer said.
While still a tiny part of the overall U.S. beer market, craft beers have been outpacing total market growth by a wide margin.
“The craft beer market is just booming, but the reality is … Toledo’s kind of behind on that development from the rest of the state,” Mr. Schaeffer said.
Toledo has two craft breweries currently, Maumee Bay Brewing Co. and Great Black Swamp Brewing Co.
Mr. Schaeffer acknowledges that he and his partners are undertaking a big risk, but he has an entrepreneurial spirit and firmly believes that someone who is afraid to fail will never succeed.
And while the brewery’s story is interesting — and will be closely watched — he knows there has to be more than an interesting background.
“None of that will matter if we don’t make good beer,” he said. “We’ve got to be passionate about our product also, and we are.”