Norfolk’s Kevin Erskine has been in the news as the Virginia craft brewer who helped spark a change in the Virginia law about dogs in breweries.
It was kind of on purpose, but not really…. but all’s well that ends well, right?
Here’s the Pilot article on that. But there’s a lot more to Kevin and Coelacanth than a story that’s gone to the dogs. We got to know him a little better, and gave him a chance to tell his side of that situation.
AltDaily: So tell me the whole dogs in breweries story, from your side. What happened there?
Kevin: Short version: Like all other Hampton Roads Breweries, Coelacanth allowed dogs until we were told by VDACS (Virginia Department of Agriculture – the main state agency that oversees brewery facilities and operations) that dogs were NOT allowed in breweries in Virginia – and have never been allowed in Breweries. We complied immediately since we were told that the penalties were pretty severe if you didn’t.
We immediately started getting bad reviews (as the “only” brewery that didn’t let dogs in), and were then tagged as THE REASON dogs were not allowed in Breweries. This defamatory rumor continues to be spread. I’m on the board of the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild, so while I participate in the legislative process in support of breweries, I don’t want to be seen as someone who doesn’t follow the laws.
Are dogs good for breweries?
Anything that gets people into breweries is good for breweries. And well behaved dogs in breweries – with owners who control the dogs – are a win-win.
It’s when dogs are not controlled and bother other patrons that we get complaints. Several breweries in Virginia have been or are being sued because a dog bit a patron. That’s when it gets problematic. But if a dog is friendly, well behaved, gets along with people and other dogs, then they will be welcome. I’m looking forward to bringing my own dogs into the brewery!
How about kids?
Kids are definitely good for Breweries. Visiting a brewery allows young couples to get a break without having to pay a baby sitter. It allows generations of families to spend some time together in a low stress environment. We aren’t bars, so there’s not the same onus of “Kids in a place with alcohol.” We only ask that kids are well-behaved and stay with their families.
But we love having kids in the brewery – we especially love when we get to host a baby’s first brewery visit!
This feels like a requisite questions for anyone in the Hampton Roads craft beer industry: are we at market saturation? Should we expect a couple smaller local craft breweries to fail, or might we be at a good number?
Honestly time will tell. To me it’s less about the number of Breweries and more about the potential patrons.
It’s an interesting time for the hospitality industry as a whole. People are going out less – and spending less on food and alcohol when they do go out. The restaurants are definitely feeling it. There are only a certain number of craft beer drinkers in Norfolk, and when THEY go out to a brewery they have to split their time among more and more breweries.
For some reason Virginia Beach people don’t come to Norfolk often – and vice versa. So we don’t benefit from their larger numbers – or the Beach tourists as much. Plus there is the issue of quality. If your beer isn’t up there, you are going to suffer – the public is not very forgiving to new breweries taking time to “get up to speed.”
Also in the end breweries are businesses and have to be run well. You could be making the best beer in the world, but if your cash flow is off, you are not going to survive. I think some people get started and may not have a good grasp on business basics – and that’s going to hurt as well.
Lastly, the key to longer term success via growth is distribution. With so many breweries in Virginia, and only so many restaurants, taps, and shelf space, if you open without a path to distribution, it might be tough to meet your growth numbers.
Do you feel like Norfolk supports the local brewery industry? Where can they do better? Where have they failed you?
I don’t think it is Norfolk’s job to specifically support breweries – but I do think it is their job to support small business – and in that I think Norfolk could up their game a bit.
I think Norfolk could leverage the breweries in town better – as they do tend to drive certain types of tourism – and cities now seem to be measured on the quality of the beer that is produced.
I think ensuring that the bike share program was set up with stations placed close to the breweries is a BIG missed opportunity. Stations should be placed where people want to bike to, not where sponsors decide to place the stations. That is obvious in every major city with a bike share program.
I think the city could also use something like FRED to do a brewery route – making traveling from brewery to brewery a bit easier (and safer).
Norfolk is on the cusp of some great things, but a lot of that greatness is happening organically, and projects like The Main are not necessarily driving the greatness, but an indicator of it. The city should spread the love a little bit, and support more organic growth in OV, NEON, Ghent & The “Railroad District” – not just Downtown.
One way I wish they would improve is the structure of Equipment & Machinery Taxes, which could be a bit more balanced. Breweries have very expensive equipment – and we get taxed on that equipment at a phenomenally high rate for a start-up. The first Machinery Tax Bill I got was panic-inducing. I think they could help with our tax situation to ensure that Equipment Taxes aren’t one of our biggest outlays each year! It also gives you second thoughts when considering expansion.
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