Cure for what ales you

Behind-the-scene challenges of opening Midtown Sacramento’s newest brewery

Larissa Meltz and Alex Larrabee sit around a conference table in a darkened office on L Street. It’s hard to believe this space will transform into Midtown’s newest craft brewery in a little under four months—if everything goes to plan. Engaged for over a year, Meltz and Larrabee need Big Stump Brewing Co. to open for sure by May 22 to host their wedding reception.

But launching a brewery on the grid has proven tougher than expected.

Meltz and Larrabee, who’ve dated for six years, decided New Year’s Day 2014 to open their brewery. Living in San Francisco at the time, where Meltz worked for Gap’s corporate offices and Larrabee was an attorney who brewed on the side, they soon relocated to Sacramento’s central city.

Meltz, who grew up in El Dorado Hills, knew that the beer thing in San Francisco was competitive. “Sacramento, we were familiar with the town. I used to live in Midtown on the grid beforehand. So we decided it was a good move for us,” she explained.

Their architect, Craig Hausman, who designed New Helvetia Brewing Co. on Broadway and 12 Rounds Brewin Co. in East Sacramento and is working on the 14,000-square-foot restaurant and brewing facility for Burgers & Brew on J Street, walked Meltz and Larrabee through several Midtown locations—making sure they had sufficient power for brewing—before settling on vacant law offices at 1716 L Street. It’s the same building as Old Soul Co.’s coffee house and roastery.

The couple appeared before the planning commission in December, won a conditional-use permit to build their brewery, and applied for a license to serve beer and wine to brewery patrons. They won’t operate a restaurant or sell cocktails, just a simple taproom.

But neighbor Tom Plumb quickly filed an appeal with city council, alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act. Plumb and his wife, Maria Reyes, live across Liestal Alley. Big Stump will have doors that open onto L Street but shares a bathroom with Old Soul, which opens onto the alley.

“To say this is not an alley-oriented business, great,” Plumb told SN&R on December 29. “But it’s an alley-impacting business.”

Plumb agreed to drop his appeal after a meeting on December 30 with Meltz and Larrabee, however, mediated by Angela Tillotson of the Midtown Neighborhood Association. “We all believe things can be worked out through respectful, healthy dialogue,” Tillotson told SN&R.

The brewery owners agreed to several conditions in writing with Plumb, including promising to post signs urging customers to respect neighbors. They also agreed to scale back hours on Friday and Saturday nights. “It’s a sacrifice we had to give up, but it’s also important for the wellness of the community,” Meltz said. While she said that, Larrabee added, “You’ve got to be good neighbors.”

Protests of alcohol establishments are common in Midtown. But now comes the biggest challenge for Meltz and Larrabee: getting doors open. They’d like to follow the route of their biggest role model for local breweries, nearby Rubicon Brewing Co., and open a second production facility in West Sacramento, but that’s at least three years off. For now, Meltz and Larrabee say they’re excited to be part of the redevelopment on the grid.

Larrabee told SN&R, “I really do believe we represent a good model for new, innovative businesses that are wanting to come into downtown.”