As the new generation of the beer industry expands around it, the godfather of Richmond brewing is quietly preparing to launch a new growth phase of its own.
Legend Brewing is in preliminary talks with planners and architects to expand and renovate its headquarters, brewery and restaurant facility at 321 W. Seventh St. in Manchester, according to Dave Gott, Legend’s vice president of operations.
“It’s something that we’ve been talking about for a while. We’ve got some plans and ideas, but haven’t submitted anything permanent yet.”
Preliminary plans call for interior and exterior renovations to allow Legend to accommodate larger crowds and increased brewing operations. That would include adding a second level to the brewery, expanding the kitchen, adding additional seating and updating its administrative offices to its 4,000-square-foot, 1.35-acre spot, Gott said. Legend also plans to raise the existing ceiling in the brewery to consolidate many of its 30-barrel fermenters into larger and taller 90- and 120-barrel operations.
While Gott would not comment about an estimated cost or timeline, he said the brewery’s plan to expand and renovate would not be cheap.
“It’s going to cost a lot of money, we already know that,” Gott said. “(Legend owner Tom Martin) has some solid ideas for how he would like to grow and expand the brewery…the physical growth is just part of that vision.”
Gott said Legend is exploring all of its options, including private financing to funding the upgrades out of their own pockets. He added the brewery is hoping to meet with city and state economic development officials to identify grants and possible incentives that could help finance the expansion.
But that could be tough, since Legend’s expansion would not create a significant amount of jobs.
Local and state economic officials have been aggressive in securing big-name breweries that create hundreds of jobs to locate in the state and region.
Officials backed a nearly $30 million incentive package to land Stone Brewing’s East Coast operation in Richmond’s Fulton Hill neighborhood and a promise of 288 jobs.
Richmond-based Hardywood Park Craft Brewery got more than $1 million in state grants and additional matching funds pledged by Goochland County to bring a $28 million, 60,000-square-foot brewery to West Creek office park. The brewery, which is under construction, is set to create about 56 jobs once completed.
“Stone and Hardywood are creating a lot of jobs, and that’s good for the region; that’s good for everybody,” Gott said. “But what we’re looking to accomplish is not going to be a huge job creator, and that presents a challenge when we’re trying to go after state or city incentives to expand.”
Another option, which could cost less, is to build a brand new brewery complex.
“It would be cheaper to build a new building than revamp what’s there already,” Gott said. “It’s certainly not off the table.”
Gott said a departure from the city to build new someplace else is the ultimate last resort – especially if permitting and plans progress at the city level.
“We love Manchester, we love Richmond,” he said. “We own the building, so we don’t want to relocate. We’ve been here for the long haul and we don’t want to leave.”
The company’s other aspirations include market domination around the state, with plans to push Legend beer and its brand into new territories ripe for growth – including the Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia markets.
“We’ve got a guy already down in Hampton Roads handling territory sales for that area,” Gott said. “Eventually, we would like to see the same kind of setup and growth we’re anticipating down in the Virginia Beach area to translate into additional territory sales in Northern Virginia.”
Gott said the local craft brewing market is getting more crowded by the day and increasing competition for space on restaurant and bar taps.
“What used to be six taps has now grown to 30 at some bars and restaurants,” Gott said. “It’s good in a sense that customers have more choices, but to make room for all the beers, some restaurants and bars have had to rotate the taps…so instead of having your beer on tap all the time, it may now only be offered Monday, Wednesday or Friday, and that affects sales.”
Gott said sales of Legend have been swift this year, thanks in part to its restaurant sales.
But there could be signs of national saturation and slowing, which has Legend on alert.
National market research firm IRI Worldwide, which tracks craft beer sales volumes nationally, released its report Sept. 1 regarding national craft beer sales through May 15.
According to the report, craft beer sales were up 6.5 percent over the same period last year. That’s down significantly from this time last year, when sales volume was up 20 percent.
“That’s something we are monitoring, because you never want to start a project like we’re considering, or start a new product line, if the market is too saturated,” Gott said. “Some people are going to disagree with me, but I feel like we are getting to the point where there is so much beer out there it’s getting harder for some of these breweries to sell them.”
In the meantime, Legend will quietly plot its next course of action.
“For us, it’s about staying relevant in the market,” Gott said. “In a market like Richmond and Virginia, we’ve got to find a way to keep bringing people back because we know we have a great product…it’s all about how you market it, and that’s why we’re taking the next steps to our growth.”