Dayton, Ohio’s Fifth Street Brewpub co-op served its own beers to patrons for the first time on July 16. While the doors to the brewery, taproom and restaurant opened last year — and beer from other brewers has been pouring from their taps ever since — the brewery just received all of the necessary legal approval to be able to serve beer brewed on premises at 1600 E. Fifth St.
“This has been a long and frustrating year,” says founding member and co-op president Brian Young. “But it’s all worth it in the end. … It’s like graduation day.”
Craft breweries are popping up all over these days — the country recently surpassed the 3,000 mark for the first time in history. But two things set Fifth Street apart from the rest of its American cousins. First, Fifth Street has an on-staff chef to dish up hot meals for patrons. Secondly, the brewpub is one of only two breweries in the nation operating as a business cooperative, or co-op, where members of the public can buy equal shares in the business for an equal voice in how it’s run.
Back in 2011, Young and some neighbors from Dayton’s historic district of St. Ann’s Hill, known as the 1600 Group, got together and bought a corner property. Hoping to attract an anchor for a business district in the community, the group spruced up the old house on the property and tried to sell it. After several frustrating attempts to find the appropriate buyer, Young had the idea to capitalize on the rising pop
ularity of craft beer and the nationally successful brewpub business model by turning the building into a brewery.
“I always had the idea in the back of my mind because of the way the property was set up,” Young says. “I thought that the brewing equipment would be showcased well in the building and that the property could have one of the best courtyards in the city.”
The costs for opening a brewery — investing in brewing equipment and supplies as well as getting licensing and certificates — are high. Young says he knew the 1600 Group wouldn’t have the money to start a brewery on its own and a friend suggested the co-op idea to him. That prompted Young to get things moving. He found 32 initial investors with a core of eight founding members, each of whom contributed something different to the business — one is a real estate agent, one a restaurateur, one an attorney, and so on.
Initial investors were eager to either have a viable business in the St. Ann’s Hill neighborhood or to provide the locals with Dayton-brewed beer. They spent days and nights planning and renovating — nearly all the work that went into building the brewery was volunteered. Even non-vested people from the neighborhood helped out.
At that point, all the brewpub needed was a head brewer. The co-op board turned to Darren Link, who was on the co-op’s tasting team.
“Each time we had a meeting, he would bring one of his home brews and they were always fantastic,” Young says. Link lived just a few houses away from Young in the neighborhood, so he asked him to become Fifth Street’s brewmaster one day while seeing him out walking his dog.
Link now manages a team of three other brewers. They use a seven-barrel brewing system to output the brewpub’s beers with five serving vessels behind the bar area to supply the taps. Link says their beers will only be available in-house for now but he would like to see them in other bars around town within a year. As of press time, they’re still pouring the highly drinkable brews that debuted on July 16: the Cure All Cream Ale, Deluge Pale Ale and Maybe Ramona Brown Ale.
Today, the co-op is made up of more than 2600 member-owners, but no one makes a profit or drinks for free. You don’t have to be a member to be a customer, but there are perks for members, like discounts on beer and a larger members-only glass to drink from.
Perhaps the most coveted of the member perks is the opportunity to make your own beer at the brewery. Using the equipment on site, members will be able to bring their own ingredients, brew according to their own recipes and have their beer served from the brewpub taps.
Board member and attorney Tony Clark said every decision the brewpub board makes is intended to be in the interest of the community. The co-op keeps members engaged by organizing volunteer opportunities, like cleaning up Fifth Street and staffing local beer festivals. And although it’s legally permitted to stay open until 2 a.m., Fifth Street Brewpub shuts down at midnight out of respect for the neighbors.
Learn more about FIFTH STREET BREWPUB at fifthstreet.coop. For more local and national beer news, follow Jeremy Fultz on Twitter @BrewStuds.