If things go the way Todd Kennedy hopes they will, he’ll be pumping out more beer in one shift in a new production site than can be made around the clock for a week inside his 4204 Main Street Brewing Company pub in Belleville.
Kennedy got the keys to the former Mad Pricer site Friday, allowing him access to the husk of what used to be the grocery store in the 6400 block of West Main Street. The site needs lots of work before it’s ready.
It’s a gamble, to be sure. But Kennedy said he decided to pull the trigger on buying the Mad Pricer because it has the space he needs to produce enough of 4204’s brews to meet demand.
We’ve been brewing essentially around the clock. Six days a week, 20 hours a day, just to meet the orders on the distribution side and based on the sales growth
Todd Kennedy, 4204 Main Street Brewing Company owner
“We’ve been brewing essentially around the clock,” Kennedy said Friday. “Six days a week, 20 hours a day, just to meet the orders on the distribution side and based on the sales growth. And then we realized, looking at a graph, at some point we’re not going to be able to fill orders.”
The Mad Pricer has the square footage Kennedy needs to expand.
“We’re putting in a 60-barrel system. Right now, when we brew a batch of beer it gets us seven barrels. That’s about 220 gallons of beer every eight hours. The new system will make 1,900 gallons of beer every eight hours,” Kennedy said. “Obviously, that’s much larger.”
Put another way, the brewery can currently produce 4,000 barrels of beer a year. At full capacity, the new system could produce 60,000 barrels a year.
In addition, Kennedy announced he would bring Joseph Davis III aboard as head brewer. Davis currently brews in Florida but prior to that spent 12 years brewing at Schlafly in St. Louis.
Despite the planned expansion, beer still will be brewed at the original 4204. Kennedy’s plan is to use the equipment there to try new varieties of beer to put on tap. If the new brews are a hit at the restaurant, they may earn a spot in the rotation of beer for mass production 22 blocks down the street.
4,000 Barrels of beer 4204 Main Street Brewing Company can produce in its current West Main Street brewery in a year.
60,000 Barrels of beer the brewery could produce with an expanded production facility in the former Mad Pricer site in Belleville.
Kennedy can’t just decide willy-nilly to increase his production by 15 times. The law is finicky about brewing. State law forces owners to choose between being manufacturers or retailers of their craft beer. They can’t be both. That was until a special niche in the law was carved out for people like Kennedy who wanted to serve their beer in their pubs but also package and sell it. Under that provision, people like Kennedy can brew as much beer as they want for restaurant consumption but can only brew 50,000 gallons a year for distribution.
The high demand for Kennedy’s beers is butting up against the law that says he can only produce 50,000 gallons for distribution per year. In order to expand, 4204 needed to be classified as a different type of brew pub.
The rule about not being both a retailer and a manufacturer still applies, so he had to sell off his ownership of other retail establishments, including 4204’s sister site in Alton and Julia’s Banquet Center in East Alton. But the new classification allows him to produce far more beer for distribution and still run 4204’s restaurant.
Kennedy said having to divest of his other businesses was tough to swallow, but the possible return is worth the risk.
“It’ll be unlimited growth (at the new facility) for a while. It’ll take us a long time to outgrow that facility,” he said.
Kennedy’s not even using the entirety of the Mad Pricer’s square footage for brewing. Part of it will remain open and could play host to any number of ideas he has running through his head. He envisions concerts, events, wedding receptions and even gatherings of food trucks for the space not used for brewing.
“That’s kind of my vision for that space, until we need it (for production),” he said. “There’s a lot of room for expansion. We are going to do some fun stuff with it, we’re just not 100 percent sure what that is yet.”
I’ve lived on the west end of town for 16 years. Besides the $20 shoe store that was there for a brief period of time, (Market Place) has been empty the whole time I’ve lived here. So it is kind of exciting
Todd Kennedy, 4204 Main Street Brewing Company owner
That’s the same way Kennedy felt this spring when he decided to reclaim what essentially is 4204’s back yard, creating an outdoor beer garden that includes a pavilion, yard game areas, fire pits, plenty of seating and some play equipment for kids.
He said that idea’s been a success, even as it continues to evolve: A new addition to the space this summer was misters strung between trees to keep folks cool. A stage for live bands is currently under construction.
Not bad for a business that began barely two and a half years ago. Back then, Kennedy’s goal was to bring “a true brewery” to Belleville, to do for the city presently what Stag did in decades past. The same is true now.
“We’ve done a lot in two and a half years,” Kennedy said. “But this is just a huge step production-wise.”
It’s also a huge step for the Market Place Shopping Center, anchored by the Mad Pricer site that’s been vacant for years.
Developer Adam Hill, who owns the center, purchased the property and has received tax incentives from the City of Belleville to defray the cost of renovation projects at the site. Hill sold the Mad Pricer portion of the site to Kennedy.
“I’ve lived on the west end of town for 16 years. Besides the $20 shoe store that was there for a brief period of time, (Market Place) has been empty the whole time I’ve lived here. So it is kind of exciting,” Kennedy said.
But with the excitement comes nerves. “This is a $2 million-plus deal,” he said. “We have to be able to sell enough beer to make it work.”