Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.
That’s the expectation Divots owner Donna Herrick and brewmaster Jeremy Kirby said they have as plans move forward on the business’ latest expansion project — Divots Downtown Brewery.
The new brewery and taproom will be located at 204-206 W. Norfolk Ave. and provide space to expand Divots’ brewing capacity, as well as a place for guests to grab a bite to eat and enjoy the selection of adult beverages made in the brewery.
The new establishment will be Divots’ first expansion to take place outside of the Divots/Norfolk Lodge & Suites campus, located along Highway 275 west of Norfolk, which also includes the SandBar & Grill and the existing Divots Brewery.
Kirby said the decision to expand the brewery started out as a need for more brewing space and the desire to create a place with an ambiance quieter than the sports bar atmosphere found at the SandBar & Grill.
“We were looking for more of an authentic taproom. They kind of have a vibe about them. They’re a quieter space,” Kirby said.
Herrick said moving downtown had been on her mind for a while and the progress of the riverfront development project made the decision to open the new facility in downtown Norfolk simple.
“It seems like there are a lot of things moving downtown, and there’s a pretty heavy promotion of the downtown area,” she said. “This fits the feeling of the downtown.”
The new brewery and taproom will open in the building that had served as the home to Nebraska Life Magazine’s Nebraska office. It became available about two months ago, after the magazine’s owner and publisher, Chris Amundson — a former Norfolkan who now lives in Estes Park, Colo., — opted to shutter the publication’s storefront presence in Norfolk.
Amundson said he closed the Nebraska office after attempts at “a different business model” at his Colorado Life and Utah Life magazines proved successful.
“In Utah, we’ve had employees dispersed throughout the state. We started that in Colorado, and we’re seeing that’s a trend happening across the country. ... With our growth, we decided to do that in Nebraska, as well.”
The building had served as the home to Nebraska Life since Amundson and his wife, Angela, purchased it in 2008. They did major renovations before moving the business into the building.
“Back at the time, the downtown was not as far along as it is now,” Amundson said.
Amundson said Herrick reached out to him about the building’s availability, and he’s excited about seeing it transformed into a brewery and taproom.
“It will bring a lot more traffic and more people coming through as the result of that business,” he said.
Renovations will be needed before the building is functional as a taproom and brewery. A kitchen, bar and better restroom access will be needed, and the floor will be refinished.
But, Herrick added, “we’re going to try to preserve as much of that authentic look there as we can. ... The walls are in beautiful shape, the ceiling is in beautiful shape — it still has the original tin (ceiling) that’s been well preserved and well maintained.”
A large brewing area will be added to the back. The addition will allow Divots to “scale up” its brewing capabilities to accommodate the growing demand for the product.
Kirby said the renovation of the building would be like two separate projects — getting the front ready for the taproom and restaurant and setting up the back for brewing and production.
“Everything from the back of the building to the alley is going to be a two-story addition for brewing,” Kirby said.
“There’s a lot of storage involved with raw materials and finished product. That’s a big challenge,” Kirby said. “It takes a lot of grain to make beer. Once you have a lot of beer, you’ve got to store it until the distributor comes.”
The brewery and tap beer still will be available at the existing location, but Kirby said the addition of the downtown brewery would allow him to branch out into sour beers, which require controlled spoilage, if he so chooses.
“I’ve always been afraid to dabble in that, but with two different sites 3 or 4 miles apart, I’d feel safer to play down there,” he said of the existing Divots Brewery.
The projected opening date for Divots Downtown Brewery is early next year, and Herrick said she’s excited to finally get the ball rolling so Divots can be part of the increasingly popular downtown scene.
“Not only do we hope to enrich the lives and make it another option for the people in the community, hopefully it will draw in more tourism,” she said. “Hopefully it will be a draw for more of the community ... and get more people of all ages back into the area.”