Special loan helps Mare Island Brewing Co. Expand

By April, the owners of the 3-year-old Mare Island Brewing Company hope to be creating their own craft brews in a completely remodeled historic Coal Shed on Mare Island, thanks to a Grow Vallejo Fund loan, city and company officials said.

Work has already begun on the building, brewery co-owner Kent Fortner said.

Fortner and his business partner, Ryan Gibbons, who operate a tap room in the Vallejo Ferry Building selling craft beers now brewed at a friend’s Sonoma brewery, applied for the Grow Vallejo loan about a year ago, he said. They got verbal approval about three months ago and the deal closed last month, Fortner said.

While reluctant to provide an exact loan amount, Fortner said, “a typical startup brewery costs about $1 million for basic build-out, and this got us a long way toward that.”

An independent brewing facility in the Coal Sheds was always part of their business vision, but it appeared out of reach after the South Napa Earthquake, he said.

“We used to be in the Coal Sheds, our very first office was in there,” he said. “We painted it a crazy purple because it was the only paint we had left. The earthquake in 2014 exposed the issues and expense of retrofitting an old structure like that and we moved out. It was evident we weren’t going to be able to do the brewery there.”

However, officials of the island’s main developer, Lennar Mare Island (LMI),approached the men with their vision for restoring the buildings and renting one out to the brewery, again, Fortner said.

“LMI always planned to restore those coal sheds, though it’s a really expensive proposition and they didn’t have a clear vision (for several years),” he said. “Then they developed one, and came to us with a plan.”

LMI is restoring the exteriors and structural elements and leaving the interior to the brewery, he said.

“They gave us some say in how it needed it to be for our use, and we’d be their first tenant,” Fortner and LMI spokesman Ed Moser said.

LMI plans to restore all the coal sheds, starting with two, including the brewery’s, and going on to the next, eventually getting to all nine, they said.

“If the brewing gods are willing, we hope to be brewing again in April,” Fortner said.

The company’s expansion will allow it to nearly double taproom hours and support adding wholesale accounts “to achieve a retail and restaurant presence throughout the San Francisco Bay Area,” city officials said.

The company was so enthusiastically embraced by the Vallejo community, that “it quickly became evident that the small batches they brewed on-site weren’t nearly sufficient to satisfy demand,” Economic Development Analyst Annette Taylor said, making a Grow Vallejo loan a perfect fit.

“We’re excited to be able to provide funding to help a local business expand,” she said.

“We had identified the perfect historical building for renovation and had already designed the space. We just needed to pay for it,” Fortner said. “We explored a few different avenues for funding, but in the end, the friendly terms and the community focus of the Grow Vallejo Fund were a great fit.”

The Grow Vallejo Fund is a partnership between the city of Vallejo and the National Development Council Grow America Fund, designed as a small business loan program, Taylor said. It’s run by a nonprofit lender with more than 20 years experience working with cities and doing loans, she said.

The brewing company expansion is expected to create local jobs, Taylor and Fortner said.

“We’ve been able to hire some people, who have relocated to Vallejo, along with the Vallejo residents we hired,” Fortner said. “Now that we’re building the brewery, we’re hoping to build a whole team of brewers we can hire and have a vibrant little cadre of artisan craft brewers. It’s fun to bring craft people back to the island to make beer. I’m ecstatic. Its great to have a vision and have it come true. It’s kind of a pinch-me moment. It’s also great to see these old buildings re-purposed for a cool use.”

Newly installed Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan expressed a similar glee.

“Kent and Ryan are the ideal applicants for the Grow Vallejo Fund. They are entrepreneurs with a good business sense and a vision for growth,” he said. “One of the principles of the Grow Vallejo Fund is to create jobs, and with the construction of their 15-barrel brewery, Mare Island Brewing Co. is anticipating immediately doubling their current workforce of 12 full-time employees. They are great community partners and have opened their taproom for various charitable events. We are looking forward to this expansion and their continued success.”

Contact Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at (707) 553-6824.