Craft brewer plans to move downtown after city changes zoning

by Jeff Sykes

An update to Greensboro’s land development ordinance passed by city council recently will allow a microbrewery to operate downtown. Because of the change, a local entrepreneur will bring his love of craft beer, and his significant experience in manufacturing, to a 6,750 square foot building on Lewis Street.

Mark Gibb, president of Gibb’s Hundred Brewing Company, requested the amendment to the zoning ordinance to adjust the definition of brew pubs and microbreweries in order to expand their use in commercial and other mixed-use zoning areas. This key change allows microbreweries into the central business district while allowing them to sell a majority of their beer offsite.

In the past, only a brew pub, such as the popular Natty Greene’s, was allowed downtown, Gibb said, and by definition they were required to sell most of their beer onsite. But as the craft beer industry has expanded in North Carolina most microbreweries are establishing tap rooms in order to capture important revenue on site.

The change is seen as a positive move by city officials and local developers, one of which says that at least two more microbreweries are potentially in the works for downtown Greensboro.

Gibb, who is president of SMT Food and Beverage, hopes to open for busi ness by July. He’s secured nearly $1 million in start-up capital from Self- Help Ventures and equity investments.

Gibb comes across as the role-model for the exploding craft beer industry. He’s cerebral but grounded in manufacturing processes due to his MBA in business management and career in sales, marketing and factory supervision. His recent experience as president of a business that makes process equipment for food and beverage companies rekindled a dormant passion for home brewing and sparked the idea of running his own brewery.

Gibb and his wife, Sasha, who is also his business partner in the brewery, moved to Stokesdale about five years ago. Gibb had taken some home brewing classes and become a certified beer judge while living in Alabama, and was active with the Battleground Brewers Guild when he first moved to the area. But business and family commitments created a four-year lull in his craft beer hobby. All that changed as SMT began making equipment for craft brewers. Gibb became more familiar with the brew houses and fermentation tanks used in the industry. Working with several start-ups and seeing their equipment needs and helping shape business plans got his interest going. But it was the sense of friendly competition and energetic creativity of the industry that moved him to act.

“It is a really great industry to be in,” Gibb said. “There is a lot of camaraderie. Where this industry is, and where it is going, is very exciting.”

The current explosion of craft breweries is of a higher quality than the one that took off in the mid to late 1990s, Gibb said. Lower expectations and lack of process hurt quality in that trend.

Now craft brewers have a higher respect for experience and a desire for businesssuccess.

“The difference now is that people typically have some experience, maybe an assistant who goes out on his own or an experienced head brewer,” Gibb said. That commitment to quality requires a higher investment in equipment and staff. In order to reach those goals, the industry evolved to where most microbreweries want to capture the dual revenue streams of off-site sales and bringing people in to the tap room.

Under past central business district zoning, Gibb would not have been able to sell his beer offsite. He cited the successful Foothills Brewing in Winston-Salem as an example. That operation was brewing 8,000 barrels a year in its early years but only selling about 1,200 on site. Gibb hopes to brew up about 1,000 barrels in year one and quickly move to 2,000 and then 5,000. His operation will consist of a 15-barrell system that includes four fermentation tanks. !