A group of entrepreneurs is planning to start a small-production craft brewery called the Big Ditch Brewing Co. on Ellicott Street in downtown Buffalo to make and sell its draft product to local bars, restaurants and retailers.
The three behind the new company has selected the two-story former Verizon Communications facility at 337 Ellicott St. as the location for their new business.
They plan to start operations early next year and say it will be the first production brewery in more than 40 years to locate in downtown Buffalo. The Flying Bison Brewing Co. opened on Ontario Street in 2000. And, unlike Pearl Street Grill & Brewery, Big Ditch will not be a brew pub or restaurant.
The business will be operated mostly by Matt Kahn, 37, and Corey Catalano, 27, but the group also includes Wesley Froebel. Kahn said he and Catalano each have “extensive experience” in manufacturing, engineering and project management in the biotechnology and consumer products industries, which share similar practices with brewing.
“Biotech is very similar to making beer,” Kahn said. “It sounds kind of funny but happens to be true. It’s a manufacturing operation, so we have plenty of experience to be able to run the brewery and to be able to make good beer.”
Froebel, 42, who is chief sales officer for Stereo Advantage, has also been an active shareholder and adviser for Flying Bison for more than a decade.
The building, which is owned by Iskalo Development Corp., is located on a little less than three-quarters of an acre at the corner of East Huron and Ellicott streets. Plans call for the new business to occupy a portion of the first floor of the building that fronts on East Huron.
Besides selling the beer to restaurants and retailers, Big Ditch plans to include a tasting room and retail sales outlet in its space, possibly with limited snacks available to accompany the beer.
“From the outset we were committed to establishing our brewery operation in Buffalo,” Kahn said. “The neighborhood where the 337 Ellicott St. building is located is emerging as the next up-and-coming district in downtown, and the building serves our needs well.”
Iskalo bought the 32,878-square-foot former Verizon warehouse facility, including a small service bay, in May 2011, and converted the warehouse portion into indoor parking for the nearby Electric Tower, also owned by Iskalo.
But the facility still has some extra room, including on the second floor, and officials are considering options for the 7,000 square feet of space. Those possibilities had included apartments or office space, until the Big Ditch group began looking around for space downtown. Iskalo is going before the Zoning Board of Appeals later this month to seek a use variance to permit brewing, which would take up about 4,000 square feet.
The new business is named for the pejorative nickname for the Erie Canal during its construction in the early 1800s, before the waterway turned into the catalyst for Buffalo’s economic growth.
Breweries have a long history in Buffalo, which has been home to more than 100 – including 35 that operated simultaneously in 1872.
“Craft beer is growing rapidly across the country, including Buffalo, and Buffalo could use some more breweries. There’s plenty of room to grow in Buffalo, and it’s a good fit with our background. And we both love beer,” Kahn said. “It took a little while to come to the realization of what we want to do, but it made sense ,and we’re pretty excited..”
The two have been “brewing and working on this plan” for more than two years, he said, but have primarily just made beer at home, in five- to 10-gallon batches to test their recipe and production.
“We sort of jumped into it thinking we might start a business, and learn from scratch, but it wasn’t a steep climb in terms of learning, because the process is so similar to what we do in our daily work that we would pick it up pretty quick,” Kahn said. “We work around big tanks all the time in our current jobs, and it’s the same for brewing. We’ve installed those systems, we’ve tested them repeatedly, so it shouldn’t be too much of a jump to operate the brewery.”