Cheaha Brewing Company, as the brewpub will be called, will open in a century-old rail depot at 12th Street and Walnut Avenue, according to Rodney Snider, the group’s chief executive.
The restaurant will open in mid-March, serving breakfast and coffee, according to the announcement. Evening hours — and the beer — will come “later this spring” once a bar is built and the brewing equipment is installed and operating.
Snider declined to name the exact amount, but said the company’s founders are spending “six figures” to renovate and equip the old Louisville and Nashville Railroad freight depot. BB&T Bank is providing financing, he said.
“We are extremely excited to open our doors in Anniston,” Snider wrote in the company’s announcement, “especially in such a special landmark building in the middle of the revitalizing downtown.”
The building bears a plaque that says it was built in 1890, not long after Anniston’s founding. Anniston architect Julian Jenkins renovated the structure in the early 1990s, and the north end of the building became home for a time to Le Mama’s, a restaurant whose name still adorns a green awning on the red-painted brick structure, between Anniston’s new police headquarters and the county’s new Department of Human Resources. Developer Earlon McWhorter, the property’s owner, maintains offices in the depot’s south end.
The rail line the depot served is long abandoned, the same route followed farther north by the Chief Ladiga Trail. City leaders hope to expand that trail south into downtown. Snider and chief operating officer Karl Walser, giving a tour of the building on Friday, said they hope the trail’s cyclists will help the brewpub succeed. Coldwater Mountain, which is home to a growing network of mountain biking trails, is visible from the building’s back porch.
“The bicycling community has demonstrated here and in many other states … that they are passionate about craft beer,” Snider said.
Craft beer, beverages made in smaller batches, usually by brewers on a local or regional scale, has grown rapidly in Alabama since the Legislature began relaxing beer laws in 2009. The same kind of growth in specialty and local beer happened more than a decade ago in his home state of Michigan, Walser said. His wife, Kimberly Schneider, will be the restaurant’s brewer. Schneider worked nine years for different brewers in Michigan, Walser said.
“We’re excited to give people new things to try,” Walser said, adding that he sometimes has to explain to the uninitiated that there’s more to beer than the familiar nationally distributed brands.
“It’s like cheese or bread,” Walser said. “It’s not all the same.”
Opening a brewpub, where almost all the beer is consumed in the same place it is made, can be a more comfortable way for a new company to enter the beer market, according to Dan Roberts, director of the Alabama Brewers Guild, a trade group for the state’s nascent craft-brewing industry. Because a brewpub is also a restaurant, it has other sources of revenue to rely on besides beer, he said. It can also be a less-intimidating way for customers to try craft beer for the first time than buying a six-pack in a store.
“A brewpub’s a destination,” Roberts said. “If you travel there, at the very least you’re probably going to like the food.”
Snider’s announcement said Cheaha Brewing will pay “atypical attention to quality” with the food it offers. He said the restaurant will use fresh, locally grown and organic ingredients whenever possible.
Another partner in the operation is Rick Okins, who introduced Snider to Walser and Schneider. Okins went to high school with Walser, and moved to Anniston to take a job with a local company, where he met Snider. Snider credits Okins with being the project’s “visionary.”
Okins said the idea for the brewpub came one day as he and his wife were driving around downtown, and noticed the depot standing near a number of other vacant century-old structures, some now demolished.
“They’re begging to be breathed back into the breath of life,” Okins said of the buildings.
Though he moved back to Michigan in September, Okins said by phone Friday that he hopes to visit the brewpub often and will certainly be here when it serves its first beer.
That will still be many weeks from now. Snider said the group has only recently ordered its brewing equipment, being custom-made by a company in Portland, Ore.
Managing Editor Ben Cunningham: 256-235-3541. On Twitter: @Cunningham_Star.