I hear a lot of rumors in my interactions with the local craft brewing community. Generally they are little more than harmless gossip, and more often than not they aren’t true.
So, the first time I heard that O’Connor Brewing Company was opening a restaurant I didn’t pay much attention. But it kept coming up, and from different people.
Next I heard that some local restaurant groups had started dropping O’Connor beers from their taps. It wasn’t a harmless rumor anymore, so I went straight to the source to find out what is happening. Here are owner Kevin O’Connor’s answers to my questions:
AltDaily: Are you opening a restaurant?
Kevin O’Connor: Absolutely not! I have no intentions of opening or operating a restaurant. My passion is to make quality beer for the local community and beyond. We were a Production Brewery first, prior to SB604, and my focus is still on how we can grow our production capabilities to spread the beers made right here in Norfolk to farther parts of the state and beyond.
One thing I’ve heard is that you hired a restaurant GM to work at O’Connor. Is that true, and if so, what is that person’s role?
We recently hired a new person for the role of Hampton Roads Outside Sales Representative. This person, who was a GM at a great, local craft beer-centric restaurant, replied to our job posting and was looking for a career change. As with all resumes, we reviewed this person’s abilities and felt she would be a perfect fit for our company. From her beer knowledge and experience with craft beer buying and distributor relations, our new hire stood out among the other candidates. That is why we proceeded with our hiring.
What was the motivation behind doing the beer garden?
The Outdoor Beer Garden at O’Connor Brewing Company [above and below] was always something we had planned on accomplishing from the outset. With cost overruns during our initial build out, we could not afford to finish our complete vision as we opened our doors at the new facility. The motivation behind the beer garden is primarily to open up our space so people can enjoy our beers in an outside setting, but also to allow for more community/charitable events at the brewery. With our constraints inside and more and more charities coming to use our space, we knew we needed this additional space so all patrons would be welcome and have a place to enjoy our facility.
Plain and simple, from our original plan to now, the beer garden is intended as a patio for our patrons and to give more space for charitable events so we can stay true to what we set out to do…become ingrained in the fabric of the community.
As the market continues to expand for O’Connor, both in the region and beyond, why is it important to have your beers in restaurants near the brewery?
O’Connor Brewing Company will always be a local brand. I was born and raised in Norfolk, and these are the restaurants that I take my friends and family to. We are proud to be a part of this community and support all the new ideas generated from the talented people who live here. The restaurants around the brewery were the first customers to serve our beers, and without them we would not be where we are today. We support them fully and enjoy their food every time we are out in the market.
One thing I would like to add is that our ultimate vision for the brewery was to create a strong craft beer scene in this area, where locals and visitors alike could enjoy all the things Norfolk already has…great food, fun nightlife, cultural arts, and community spirit.
Beer tourism is real. We want to spread the love outside this building.
I had actually met with Kevin last month regarding beer tourism in the area. Recognizing that Norfolk has incredible potential to capitalize on revenue for beer tourism, I wanted to start with the entity at the center of that potential. The visitors to O’Connor are not all coming from the area around the brewery; they are coming from other places because of the brewery. Many of them would have never ventured to that area of Norfolk otherwise, and the other businesses are benefiting from that draw. The statistics from the handful of studies on beer tourism all indicate that brewery visitors also visit area restaurants. Would there be a Handsome Biscuit, a Toast, or a Cogan’s North without an O’Connor? In our discussions, Kevin made it clear the importance of including any craft-centric restaurants in the push for a unified and effective Beer District.
But what about the food trucks at OBC, which could be seen as competition to local brick and mortar restaurants? I love the food trucks, but my eating at them depends on if the limited menu has something I want. Also, I typically feel like I’m spending $9.00 for a snack; a really good snack, but I’m usually still hungry. I, like many people, often find my way to a local restaurant after a brewery visit.
I once had the opportunity to talk to Kevin about what it was like when O’Connor first opened (in their old location), a story that is equal parts hilarious and heartwarming. He credits the local restaurants with helping keep him afloat through the initial bumps. He is clearly still committed to a shared success. If it is within that shared success that there has arisen an animosity, that’s misguided. Hopefully, with the rumor debunked, a thirsty public can get back to having an El Guapo with our meal.