Iowa City Big Grove brewery part of bigger vision
Big Grove Brewery's Iowa City expansion on South Gilbert Street is set to open around mid-March and will serve as the centerpiece of a mixed-use, multi-property redevelopment. Wochit
Big Grove Brewery Iowa City is going to be massive.
In size, the restaurant and brewery will take up 26,000 square feet. In beer, the brewery will be able to produce up to 10,000 barrels a year, or 20,000 kegs. That’s 10 times more than the original Big Grove Brewery in Solon produces.
Matt Swift, one of Big Grove Iowa City’s six co-owners, said it will be one of the 10 biggest breweries in Iowa once it opens in mid-March.
With 337 seats for diners inside, another 60 to 70 seats outdoors and a staff of about 60 people, everything’s bigger at Big Grove Iowa City.
The brewery will soon be a part of something much bigger than itself.
Thanks to coordination with the brewery’s owners, city officials and Johnson County leaders, Big Grove Iowa City will be the first part of a large, new development that will reshape the Riverfront Crossings district on the southeast side of town.
The brewery, at 1225 S. Gilbert St., will be the centerpiece of a multi-property overhaul near the intersection of Gilbert Street and Highway 6 that will include eight new mixed-use buildings and transform a former wastewater treatment plant site into a park.
For Nate Kaeding, another co-owner of the new brewery, the chance to be one part of a drastic redevelopment in his hometown is a big deal.
"There is this ability to become a community hub," he said. "The city is doing amazing stuff with the park back here with the future Riverfront Crossings, which helps us do this great, adaptive reuse of this space."
Big Grove Iowa City, which is co-owned by Swift, Kaeding, head chef Benjamin Smart, Danny Standley, Faye Swift and Doug Goettsch, will be markedly different than its Solon counterpart, which at 7,200 square feet is dwarfed in comparison.
The Iowa City location also will have counter-service food and drink and feature an almost entirely new menu, Smart said.
An in-house stage will regularly feature live music, and there will be pingpong tables, foosball tables and a large outdoor lawn with bocce ball courts and a kids' play area.
"I want people to feel that they’re in my backyard and I’m taking care of them," said Standley, who is also general manager.
New home for beer, food and music
Since the announcement nine months ago that a South Gilbert Street warehouse would become Big Grove Iowa City, that space has gone from being empty to housing dozens of vats, mixers and fermenters that are already brewing beer in anticipation for its opening.
"We’re a taproom first and foremost," Smart said. "We’re here to brew as much beer as possible and get it to as many people as possible."
For head brewer Andy Joynt, that means he gets to have some serious beer-brewing fun.
"The brewhouse was built to do whatever we wanted to do, but we really kept what we’ve been doing in Solon," Joynt said. "So we can do every beer people enjoyed in Solon and maybe even more than that."
Having two breweries under one name means the possibility of expanding their beer selection, Joynt said. One Big Grove could make a host of old favorites, like Arms Race pale ale, while the other makes more experimental beers, more double IPAs and imperial stouts.
The capacity to brew 10,000 barrels a year makes it one of the biggest breweries in the state, Kaeding said. In a state that has a rapidly growing brewing industry, it's hard to know where it ranks in size, but Swift said he's confident the Iowa City location will be in the top 10 in Iowa.
The food and its service are where Big Grove Iowa City will differ the most from the Solon location.
To foster what Kaeding called a "do-it-yourself, come as you are atmosphere," Big Grove will offer counter service instead of having servers. Diners will order food from Smart’s counter, get a pager to notify them when it's ready and grab their own table.
"We want people to bring their kids and family and take over the space however they want to," Kaeding said. "There's not going to be too much formality involved — it's going to be a very casual place."
Smart and his kitchen staff of about 26 will prepare food that reflects the more casual atmosphere. The Solon location is known for serving intricate entrees featuring seared scallops or pork belly, for example, but the Iowa City fare will include items like chicken wings, sandwiches and street tacos with house-made tortillas.
"We didn’t want to give anyone in Iowa City a reason not to drive up Highway 1 to go to Solon. That will always be its own thing, it will always have the amazing entrees and beautiful vegetable salads," Smart said.
Smart said he aims to make sure that no dish at the Iowa City location is more than $14, with Swift adding that most dishes will be about $3 to $4 since they are smaller plates. "But those looking for a big, full meal don't need to worry. We'll have burgers and fries and sandwich meals," Smart said.
That doesn't mean Smart will skimp on the culinary creativity and skill that made him one of the 30 chefs to watch nationwide by Plate magazine last year. Smart said he loved crafting new menu items for the Iowa City location.
"New menus, new techniques and a little bit of unease about being out of your comfort zone is when growth really happens," Smart said.
Along with a signature Big Grove Iowa City burger, which Smart calls a "Big Mac on steroids," there will be smoked chicken wings with Tapatio hot sauce, crushed pumpkin seeds, roasted garlic, lime and cilantro.
"It's fire. It's totally unique," Smart said of the smoked wings. "I know no one in the area is doing anything like it."
In addition to the food and beer, Big Grove Iowa City will host live music. Local Americana musician Brian Johannesen will be booking musicians nightly at the Iowa City location. With its own built-in stage, Kaeding said live music will be a serious part of the venue both indoors and outdoors.
The large outdoor lawn, which will flow seamlessly into the city park once it's developed, will also host concerts during the warmer months. Kaeding said the plan is to turn the space into an "urban beer garden" with trees, two bocce ball courts, areas to play bags and a play area for kids. There's also a second bar that can serve both indoors and outdoors when the brewery's large windows are opened.
"The whole place is going to be a dynamic, indoor-outdoor space," Kaeding said.
Seeing the bigger picture
As the brewery takes shape, developers are working on the first phases of the redevelopment that includes the eight mixed-use buildings on two Gilbert Street parcels near Highway 6, a project that is like "building a neighborhood," one developer said.
Randy Miller, president and managing member of 1201 Gilbert LLC and 1301 Gilbert LLC, said Iowa City staff are reviewing building plans for the first piece of the project: redevelopment of the Pleasant Valley Garden Center and Flower Shoppe property at 1301 S. Gilbert St.
Miller said the current building will be demolished and work is expected to begin in June on a new three-story structure. The new building is planned to include about 16,000 square feet of commercial space on the first floor and 27 apartments on the second and third floors.
The new building, set to open in 2018, Miller said, is the first step in a project that will eventually expand to the Alexander Lumber property, formerly Nagle Lumber, at 1201 S. Gilbert St.
"Alexander Lumber's lease goes through 2018, so that would probably be a 2019 project," Miller said. "Those are a bit bigger buildings, so they'll probably take a full year to build. The whole project is sort of set up in three phases, so construction will continue down here until around 2024."
Last month, the Iowa City Council voted to commit $312,000 that will allow Miller to apply for workforce housing tax credits. The credits, administered through the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board, offer developers tax credits of up to 10 percent of the construction costs for housing units that do not exceed an average $200,000 per unit to build.
"We're going to work to keep them affordable. The workforce housing is an important part of the entire project," Miller said.
The project also will include streetscape changes to improve pedestrian and vehicle access, a trail system with connections on both sides of Ralston Creek, and draw on the city park revitalization.
All told, Miller said the project is a $50 million to $60 million investment in the stretch of Gilbert Street.
"It'll be a nice area for the residents, and we're trying to incorporate as much into these buildings as we can amenity-wise," Miller said.
Kaeding also emphasized the nearby Iowa River Trail's connection to Clinton Street, its ease of access to downtown, and how visions of the Riverfront Crossings park, brewery and redevelopment are beginning to coalesce.
"The thing that really excited us about the location was the interplay between what we can do here and what the city will do with the park, and being able to make this cool outdoor space that just bleeds into the park," Kaeding said.
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