A cooperative is an interesting concept. In elementary school we learn to cooperate with others by simply “playing nice.” Utilized as a business model, a cooperative offers two main components: one, to fund aspects of the business; and two, to support a community mindset or goal.
Some may be familiar with REI Cooperative. Outdoor enthusiasts sustain the nationwide company through product sales and lifetime memberships. They’re rewarded with a yearly dividend, a percentage of dollars spent throughout the year, and various workshops and discounts annually. A portion of the profits goes back to wilderness-centric charities.
Locally, Tidal Creek Co-op offers a piece of its proverbial pie through annual equity ownership. As Wilmington’s community-owned natural grocery store, Tidal Creek has been a nonprofit for more than 30 years.
While our area is no stranger to such business, Wilmington will be welcoming its first cooperative brewery in coming months. Located in the Soda Pop District at the corner of Princess and 10th streets, Tidewater Brewing Company will join the ranks of two other cooperative North Carolina breweries, both based in the Triad. The enterprise is founded by three local brewing alumni: Ethan Hall, Lydia Berzonsky and John Horton. The team is hoping to open in June.
Hall began his career 14 years ago when he founded Azalea Coast Brewing. Life led him through a sales director position at Millennium Beverage distributing and as head brewer for Thomas Creek Brewery in Greenville, SC. Most recently, he was the former head brewer for Wilmington’s Ironclad Brewery.
Berzonsky is a brewer and lab technician, with a degree in biology and will be responsible for ensuring quality control at Tidewater. Prior to involvement in the brewery, Horton was the director of operations for Cape Fear Beer Festival and Cape Fear Brewing Company, also recognized as Kind Beers. The trio is joined by a handful of investors and craft-beer enthusiasts, but the founding members are taking a different approach to their endeavor.
“We’ve done something kind of interesting for the brewery, following somewhat the model of Burlington Beer Works, Sebastian Wulfrom’s new place in Burlington, NC [as well as] Lucky City Brewing in Reidsville, NC,” Hall shares. “We’re actually selling cooperative ownerships in the brewery. We’re releasing 1,000 shares initially, at $200 per share is a lifetime buy-in. We’ll create a customer loyalty program, like REI does.”
The loyalty program will be dubbed “Sand Dollars,” wherein cooperative members will receive a gift card up to 10 percent of the yearly total spent in the taproom. Likewise, owners can vote for two seats on the board of directors and have an opportunity to serve if they choose. Tidewater intends to host quarterly owners-only events and offer first dibs on limited beer releases. “We’ll have some focus groups where our membership can bring things to the board, where they help make decisions on what beers are coming down the pipe next,” Hall details.
While the goals of the cooperative are to fund big-ticket items for the brewery, such as a canning line or satellite taprooms, Hall’s main goal is to create a more personable atmosphere. Guests are owners and they, too, can take a sense of pride in the business.
“It was just something different,” he tells. “To me it seems like it’s going to be more of a neighborhood brewery, considering what the development will be for the whole area,” Hall divulges, citing rumors of new housing, office space, restaurants, and possibly a grocery store joining the Soda Pop District.
Hall and Horton found the location, the former garage for Coca-Cola vehicles, roughly two years ago. The equipment from Azalea Coast was being leased to Beer Army in Trenton, NC. When Beer Army relinquished its brewing side of the business, Hall had the equipment ready to go. As longtime members of the local brewing community, Horton and Hall linked up to pursue a new avenue in 2018.
The duo scooped up the cooler and some furnishings from the former Old Chicago restaurant on Market Street, including several booths and barstools, to fill the 2,500-square-foot taproom. The atmosphere of Tidewater will be reminiscent of English or Irish pubs—warm and lived in, only with a coastal twist.
“Roughly 6,200 square feet will be for brewing space, including Lydia’s lab and a specialty grain storage area,” Hall describes. “Our goal is to have two grain silos outside, so our specialty malts will go in the room, but then our silos will have all of our base malt in it.”
As for core, year-round beers, patrons can expect a lager Berzonsky and Hall developed at Ironclad, which garnered a gold medal at the 2016 Carolina Championship of Beer. Nash Fralick was Hall’s assistant brewer at Ironclad and will be rejoining him at Tidewater. Together they developed a red ale the team will revisit at the new space. Hall’s Navigator Lager, a 10.5-percent doppelbock from Azalea Coast, will be pursued as well. From there they plan to experiment with hoppy beers and other unique varieties.
Folks can expect a taproom to open eventually near Hampstead, possibly featuring a pilot system in which limited releases will be brewed on-site. If successful, they’ll make their way to Princess Street for larger production.
While Burlington Beer Works raised over $400,000 through the co-op to date, and the thought of future investments seems fruitful, Hall’s main goal is to reach a more involved consumer. “Something to make it a little more personable,” he says. “I wanted people to be able to feel like this is the place they can come hang out.”
For more information on purchasing shares of Tidewater or to follow development, visit www.tidewaterbrewing.com.