In the same northeastern Mission District area where big-name breweries like Hamm’s and Rainier once stood, Anthony LaVia plans to open the Southern Pacific Brewing company, a new brewpub and restaurant that promises to return the Mission to its brewing days.
But while LaVia, 33, envisions the revival of the Mission as a brewing hub — the Rainier Brewery used to produce up to 350,000 barrels per year — he’s taking his plan one step further: Once opened, Southern Pacific Brewing would become the first brewery in San Francisco to host a dual license, allowing it to produce beer to sell on site as well as to other commercial clients, such as bars and restaurants.
LaVia, a 10-year Mission resident who built up Gestalt Haus on 16th Street and what used to be the bar Matador SF on Sixth Street, said he hopes to open the location at 620 Treat Avenue late this spring.
After eight months, the city approved building plans for the 8,500-square-foot warehouse at Treat and 19th. The space once served as machine shop but has been unoccupied for about five years, say LaVia and his business partner Chris Lawrence, who worked as a sales manager at Speakeasy Ales and Lagers in Bayview, and more recently spent more than two years working as a wholesaler for the beer distributor Matagrano Inc.
There are 17 locations in California with the same capacity to brew and serve, but the closest one is in San Rafael, according to Juliet Lack, a public information officer with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
A few things have been stalling the process, LaVia says.
“We had some NIMBY neighbor issues that held us back.”
Commercial neighbors, such as a carpentry business, said they didn’t want the extra foot traffic or more people parking around the area, according to LaVia.
“I said, ‘C’mon guys, don’t hold us up. Let’s just talk about it.’”
In the end, LaVia met with the neighbors at the likeliest of places: a local bar. Over a few drinks, they came up with solutions. LaVia said the other businesses could use the brewpub’s loading zone as their own.
Another holdup came when then the Public Utilities Commission wanted to charge the company nearly $65,000 in water capacity expenses because it was classified as a restaurant, says Lawrence. More than two months were spent trying to negotiate the price down to about $40,000.
Sounding relieved to have one more issue out of the way, LaVia says he wrote one major check for all of the building permit fees earlier this month.
The idea for Southern Pacific Brewing has been in the works for about a year and a half, LaVia says. The first three or four months were spent trying to secure a location around Hayes Valley.
“We kept going back and forth with the landlords. I knew it wouldn’t work out.”
Ultimately, LaVia is happy to have Southern Pacific Brewing open in the Mission. “I’ve got ties; it’s where I hang out.”
Both LaVia and his partner have ties in the Mission and beyond. Lawrence grew up on Bernal Hill and now lives on Harrison, close to 22nd Street. With his business connections, he has 30 bars and restaurants lined up as prospective clients, including Toronado in the lower Haight and Gestalt Haus.
As for the company’s name, LaVia looked to the Southern Pacific Transportation Company, which used to run trains straight through the Mission. Lines supposedly stopped near Seals Stadium at 16th and Bryant, just a block away from Hamm’s Brewery — one of several plants that operated in the Mission.
Hamm’s opened in 1954 in the building that had housed Rainier Brewery until the year before, when it closed due to competition from other brewers like Lucky Lager. In 1972, Hamm’s too shut down after the company was acquired by the Olympia Brewing Company in the late 1960s. Its beer vats were taken over by punk-rock squatters in the 1980s. It seems that at least 15 breweries have operated over time in the Mission, many before the Prohibition era of the early 20th century, including Fauss and Kleinclaus on 19th and Mission (1874-1877).
At Southern Pacific Brewing, beers will be named for different train lines.
“Pilsner beers may be named after the Starlight, and weaker beers after the Golden Rocket.”
The partners also brainstormed drink prices. “We’re thinking $3 pints that are as fresh as can be,” says LaVia. On Valencia Street, the Phoenix Bar and Amnesia sell pints for about $5.
The license that would allow Southern Pacific Brewing to serve as a small beer manufacturer would put the cap for beer production at 60,000 barrels per year, said Becky Stolberg of California Beer and Beverage Distributors.
From 11 a.m. until 1 a.m., typical brewpub fare will be served: think burgers, skewers, roasted chicken and pizza, all made from local ingredients. Prices will range from about $7 to $14, says LaVia.
There will also be an outdoor patio.
When it comes to looking for employees, “I can’t say that I will only hire from the Mission,” LaVia says, citing equal employment opportunity laws. “But the Mission will be represented by who’s working, whose faces people are going to see when they walk in.”
He plans to go through the site TableHopper.com as well as Craigslist to hire.
For now, Southern Pacific Brewing is waiting for its liquor license to be approved.
“We’ve done the paperwork,” says LaVia, but because the company will be making its own beer, it must go through the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The company can’t buy an existing liquor license because of its brewing nature, so a new one will have to be created for it.
What’s more, the company is zoned at the site to add a distillery in the future.
When it comes to the double license, “People in the brewery business told us, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ Well, yeah, you can,” says LaVia. “There’s a little vindication there.”
The company’s ultimate goal? “To spread beer through San Francisco and onward and upward,” says Lawrence.
To check out photos of the site’s construction progress, visit Southern Pacific Brewing’s Facebook page.