Last week, Fat Head's announced two brewpub expansions—one in Canton, Ohio and one in Charlotte, N.C. This week, the brewery has built upon that news by announcing plans for a new production facility that would more than double their capacity.
WHY IT MATTERS
While these three expansions have been in the planning stages for some time now, their announcements come as Fat Head's is still riding high on their five medals—one gold, two silver, two bronze—last month at the Great American Beer Festival. Those wins, compounded by the awarded-then-rescinded Mid-Size Brewery and Brewer of the Year honors have resulted in increased attention for one of the Midwest's best and most decorated—if under-the-national-radar—breweries.
The new production facility, which will include a 250-seat full-service taphouse and restaurant, will be an upgrade to their current location in virtually every way. In addition to the exponential growth in capacity (topping out at 60,000 BBLs annually in about five years, up from around 30,000 currently), the new equipment will include a fully-customized BrauKon brewhouse and a dedicated canning line. The latter will allow Matt Cole and his team a new packaging option as they look to expand their current distribution footprint—Ohio, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Florida, and Indiana—to include Kentucky, Virginia, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.
When it was initially built out in 2012, the current production facility in Middleburg Heights, Ohio was the third Fat Head's location, complementing the original saloon in Pittsburgh, and the brewpub in North Olmsted, Ohio. Then, 2014 saw the opening of a fourth location, a brewpub in the Pearl District of Portland, OR.
Now, two new locations loom. With the passing of Issues 43 and 44 in Stark County—allowing for the sale of alcohol, and the sale of alcohol on Sundays, respectively—the brewpub in Canton is greenlit for launch in 2017. On top of that, the brewpub in Charlotte’s South End neighborhood is slated to open in 2018.
These announcements are interesting in that Fat Head’s is approaching growth in a non-traditional manner. The brewpub in Portland was a bit of a risky proposition—trying to transplant a non-native brewery into a highly competitive, notoriously local-centric market. The success over the past two years has served as a testament not only to the quality of Fat Head’s beer, but also to their ability to penetrate markets, winning hearts and minds.
They’re looking to capitalize on that success by opening similar models elsewhere: one, just outside their home market, and the other, in a young market replete with expat Ohioans who are likely already familiar with the brand. And they’re doing all this in lockstep with a huge effort to double production and the number of states to which they distribute.
Whereas most breweries look at expansion through a kegs-and-packaged lens, Fat Head's is approaching it with a two-pronged attacked, meeting new markets on taps, on shelves, but also right in their local neighborhoods. The big question is, of course, will it work? And if it does, how sustainable will it be? In the meantime, Cole cautions, "There's not a massive plan to open a shit-ton of these." But it's safe to say he's considering what other markets might make sense in the coming years.