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WilmingtonBiz Magazine

Breweries In The 'burbs

By Miriah Hamrick, posted Apr 10, 2023
(Photo by Megan Deitz)
There were many reasons that led Jud Watkins to open his second brewery across the bridge in Brunswick County.
 
Watkins, who also owns Wrightsville Beach Brewery on Oleander Drive in Wilmington, started scouting locations for expansion in 2019. Growing in Wilmington was an option, he said, but after driving around the tri-county region and crunching Census data, Watkins landed on Leland as the home of his second venture.
 
“If you drop a pin and draw a radius within 5 miles of Wrightsville Beach Brewery, the projected growth in that area in the next few years is a fraction of what Leland’s projected growth is,” said Watkins.
 
Meeting with town officials, Watkins said he was further emboldened by their enthusiasm for the project.
 
“They made us feel like they really wanted us out here. So that made our choice a little bit easier,” he said. 
 
Brunswick Beer & Cider served its first guests from a brand-new, 13,000-square-foot space in Brunswick Forest in October. While Watkins was the first to open a brewery in Leland, he won’t be the last. Mannkind Brewing and Leland Brewing Company are close behind, with both estimating a late spring opening. And north of Wilmington, Burgaw landed its first brewery in time for St. Patrick’s Day with the debut of Burgaw Brewing.
 
In exploring the terrain outside of Wilmington, Watkins has gleaned some insights into the differences between operating a brewery in the city versus the suburbs. For one, business quiets down earlier than in Wilmington. Following a busy lunch most days, Watkins said the crowds start to wane by early evening.
 
“We usually peak between 6:30 and 7 at Wrightsville. Here, it’s about 5:30,” he said.
 
Watkins expected the crowd to be a little older with Brunswick’s population of retirees, and the amount of younger patrons at Brunswick Beer & Cider was a surprise.
 
“What we didn’t know is the number of young professionals who are commuting into Wilmington or working from home out of Leland because the rent’s more affordable or as first-time homebuyers; out here the dollar just goes further,” Watkins said.
 
As more people move into the suburbs in search of affordable housing, the town’s new crop of breweries can help residents limit their trips across the bridge – a desirable proposition according to Jeremy Mann, of Mannkind Brewing, a Brunswick County resident himself.
 
“The general chatter I hear from the Lelandites is that they don’t really prefer to travel across the bridge,” Mann said. “That’s the market we’re hoping to serve: the folks who want to stay on this side of the bridge and have some good beer and entertainment.”
 
Set to open this spring in a new business park off Ploof Road, Mannkind will offer about a dozen taps of beers, including something for “health-conscious” consumers that is “low carb, low alcohol (and) crushable” in a collaboration with neighbor Eternal Fitness. For families, Mannkind promises to cater to kids with board games, room to roam within a 3,000-square-foot outdoor beer garden and a housemade nonalcoholic libation.
 
Many of the people behind these ventures cite a need for this kind of gathering place in small towns, whose landscapes tend to be dominated by ubiquitous fast food and chain restaurants. Mark Said, who serves as CEO of Leland Brewing Company alongside COO and partner Chris LaCoe, echoed these sentiments. Said and LaCoe first began working on the project in 2019.
“We didn’t come into this looking at it like a bar,” he said. “We looked at this as a location where we can bring families together, have a great outdoor space as well as an intimate indoor space.”
 
Once Leland Brewing Company opens at 133 Old Fayetteville Road, the site will offer ample indoor and outdoor space to enjoy a housemade brew – like Mannkind, that will include both alcoholic and nonalcoholic choices – and tacos.
 
Kevin Kozak, owner of Burgaw Brewing, hopes to provide something similar north of Wilmington. The brewery is Burgaw’s first and only the second in Pender County. As such, Kozak hopes to draw in customers from surrounding areas that might not want to trek into Wilmington for a beer and a bite to eat.
 
“I’m hoping we’ll get locals from Castle Hayne all the way up to Wallace and everywhere in between to come out and enjoy a casual, family-friendly place,” Kozak said. “Everybody’s welcome. Bring the kiddos in.”
 
Kozak brings more than 20 years in the craft beer industry, including a 13-year stint at Front Street Brewery, to his new business in Burgaw. He said he intends to use that experience to create a strong product and to adapt as needed to suit the appetites of the community. 
 
“We’ll keep it simple. I’ll do what I know how to do and do it well,” Kozak said.
 
Watkins reiterated a similar recipe for success, one that he recommends regardless of the location of a brewery.
 
“At the end of the day, you have to make great beer. You have to execute that,” Watkins said. “That’s true in a city. That’s true in the suburbs.”
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