Earlier this month a for-lease sign went up beside the signage for Little Miss Brewing’s much-anticipated tasting room on Ocean Beach’s Newport Avenue. The conversion of the site’s interior into a French World War II-themed sampling space is roughly halfway complete and the company’s logo has been mounted outside, making this an unexpected turn of events for everyone, including owners Greg and Jade Malkin. The marrieds behind this Miramar-based company’s satellite project have been paying rent on the space since last December and, in the time it has taken to attempt to obtain approval from the local faction of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), have opened another tasting room in Normal Heights. But the ABC process for their would-be OB interest has been nothing short of a bureaucratic nightmare.
The Malkins submitted their ABC application for the OB tasting room a week after sending the same paperwork for the Normal Heights project. Early on, things went as expected, including receipt of protests during the 30-day period when residents are allowed to formally raise issues. The majority of the protests were rescinded once the Malkins reached out to the individuals who had initiated them. What the Malkins were unaware of, however, is that a private meeting had been held without their notification or knowledge in late-April—outside of the public-protest period—between ABC supervisors, representatives of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD), a State Assembly member and additional OB residents not in favor of the tasting room. ABC representatives claimed the meeting was not specifically about Little Miss, but rather all tasting-room licenses pending on Newport Avenue, but Little Miss’ was the only license of that type pending at the time. The negatives that came out of that meeting, where the project was scrutinized without the applicants being able to defend their business, followed the Little Miss project file through its lifespan without the Malkins even knowing. But this constitutes only a portion of the obstacles.
While the Malkins respect the job and authority of the ABC and appreciate the hard-working nature of ABC employees, they echo the opinion of most (including ABC employees) that the department and its local offices are severely understaffed during this time of unprecedented brewery openings. During the many months they spent trying to open the OB tasting room, meetings with ABC agents typically yielded little in the way of concrete answers or reliable advice. Often, one agent would contradict the other. In the cases where they agreed, other governmental factions saw things differently. Additionally, the Malkins were told to call ABC reps at different offices as well as various individuals at the City of San Diego offices and SDPD. Most calls went unanswered, as did requests for information.
The key piece of info they coveted during the process were crime logs. During a meeting with the ABC on July 20, the Malkins were shown a letter from the SDPD dated June 29 stating it would not support the issuance of Little Miss’ OB license. The reason: the neighborhoods the Western Patrol Division serves (Ocean Beach, Hillcrest, La Playa, Linda Vista, Loma Portal, Midtown, Midway District, Mission Hills, Mission Valley West, Morena, Old Town, Point Loma Heights, Roseville-Fleetridge, Sunset Cliffs, University Heights and “Wooded Area”) had experienced an overall increase in crime and could not handle another ABC license issued in the area. The ABC said they would not go against the SDPD’s recommendation because they felt it was impossible to change their opinion. Determined to give that a try on their own, the Malkins asked to see the crime reports for the aforementioned communities. The ABC had those reports, but said they were not allowed to provide them to the Malkins, and directed them to obtain the data from the City. They attempted to do so, but after more unanswered calls, ended up downloading the information they needed from the City of San Diego’s website instead.
Through this fact-finding exercise, they discovered that, although alcohol-related crime had gone up in the Western Patrol Division’s patrol area as a whole, it had gone down in OB by a whopping 40% since the November 2014 introduction of the neighborhood’s first brewery tasting room—Culture Brewing Company on Newport Avenue. Also, the number-one alcohol-related crime in OB is open-container violations, primarily on the beach. They presented this information to multiple City Councilmembers, the Mayor’s office and ABC, even going so far as to waive Little Miss’ ability to sell packaged beer or growlers to go, but never received an answer. The final straw was a call earlier this week when the Malkins say it seemed like someone at the ABC had decided they were going to deny the license long ago—possibly as far back as the meeting that they weren’t given the opportunity to attend—but nobody wanted to be the bearer of bad news. It prompted them to officially pull the plug on the OB project.
This drama isn’t the only turbulence for the company, which last week parted ways with the only brewmaster it has known during its first year of existence. This seems a much easier hurdle to get over than ABC issues. Former Green Flash Brewing Company brewer Joe Lisica spearheaded brewery and tasting room construction and beer production for Little Miss. His desire was to create clean, clear beers, including an assortment of single-malt-and-single-hop (SMASH) beers. While quality was never an issue and ownership appreciated Lisica and his beers, their vision for Little Miss’ portfolio was vastly different, leading to an amicable parting of ways. Mike Morbitzer, a fellow Green Flash alum Lisica hired as his assistant, has been promoted to brewmaster and will be responsible for reshaping Little Miss’ offerings to match the Malkin’s desires, which includes more new-school beers such as hazy IPAs and beers brewed with fruits and other adjuncts across varying styles. Meanwhile, Lisica is taking a brief hiatus from the industry to contemplate his next move, while entertaining offers from companies in need of his services.
Little Miss’ business model from the get-go has been to open six satellite tasting rooms under their manufacturing license, focusing on unsaturated neighborhoods — besides the planned OB location. The Malkins are leery of filing through the San Diego office again. A local ABC agent advised them to apply in La Mesa, a municipality that only recently began encouraging brewing companies to lay down stakes, but they will also likely look north once they have some time to gain some distance and lick their wounds.
This weekend, West Coaster obtained official communications from representatives of Helm’s Brewing Company (5640 Kearny Mesa Road, Suites C & N, Kearny Mesa) stating that the five-year-old business is accepting offers from interested parties. Ownership will entertain offers of $500,000 and above.
Helm’s Brewing opened its doors in 2012. Founded by a homebrewer and associates from his primary career, the company’s first head brewer was Brian Mitchell, who went on to work as a small-batch brewer for Stone Brewing before opening his own project, Pariah Brewing Company, at North Park’s Brewery Igniter complex on El Cajon Boulevard earlier this year. Under Mitchell and subsequent brewing personnel, Helm’s’ beer quality has fluctuated, leading to something of a hit-or-miss reputation among consumers. Still, the company was able to add a satellite tasting room in 2016, becoming the third to open in now satellite-saturated Ocean Beach.
The OB tasting room, which is located at the corner of Newport Avenue and Cable Street (the same block as tasting rooms for Belching Beaver Brewery, Culture Brewing Company and Kilowatt Brewing Company) will be included as an acquired asset should Helm’s sell. Among attributes listed for that venue in the company’s solicitation communique are the fact it faces the neighborhood’s Wednesday farmer’s market and “has posted strong revenue numbers through its first year-and-a-half in existence.”
When Little Miss Brewing was putting its business plan, that road map was unlike those of other fermentation-based entrepreneurs in San Diego County. A brewery with a Type 23 license may apply for duplicate licenses to open additional retail venues, something numerous operations do via satellite tasting rooms. Little Miss owners Greg and Jade Malkin decided early on to make their satellites the workhorses of their business. At first, they weren’t even going to install a tasting room at their Miramar headquarters, instead saving that space exclusively for production. A number of obstacles and delays forced them to change their mind at the eleventh hour and construct a tasting room in Miramar during the week leading up to their debut last summer. But on Thursday, June 8 the first of their two work-in-progress satellites will debut at 3514 Adams Avenue in Normal Heights, transforming the company into what the Malkins envisioned when they decided to enter the San Diego brewing scene.
Little Miss’ branding revolves around fun, games…and World War II. It’s not the most natural pairing, but a visit to the Miramar tasting room is sort of like hitting up the USO; cinder blocks, munitions containers and military posters let you know where you are, but the overarching mood is one of jovial relaxation. The idea with each of the satellites is to assign them an individual thematic inspired by one of the US’ WWII Allies.
An upcoming tasting room in Ocean Beach will give a nod to France, while its Normal Heights predecessor will honor the United Kingdom. That thematic is driven home by a Union Jack flag painted on the ceiling, British wartime propaganda posters painted on the walls and an outdoor mural by local artist, Leroy Davis. Another local, Kelly Hutchison, will also have pinup paintings on display, bringing in a bit of ’40s-era Americana, while the spirit of the neighborhood will come in care of a giant picture of Winston Churchill dressed as a hipster.
The 1,000-square-foot Normal Heights space has a bar-top made from bullet casings giving way to a vintage cash register and 16 taps dispensing Little Miss beers. On the recreation front, the venue has board and card games, Jenga, dart boards and four televisions. It will be open from noon to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Saturdays from noon to midnight and Sundays from noon to 8 p.m. Sites have not been selected for future satellite tasting rooms, but the Malkins say the next Allied country they select will likely be the former Soviet Union.
Breweries make the best margin by far when selling their beer in their taprooms. With a county expansive as San Diego, getting customers to a single location can be a challenge, but the satellite tasting room model—one where a brewery opens a non-brewing sampling space in a geographically removed community—has proven quite successful in helping brewing companies reach new customers, move inventory and generate additional revenue. Many satellites have been sent into orbit throughout the county in recent years, and quite a few are in different states of planning at present. Here is a breakdown of such projects by the neighborhoods they may someday call home.
Bay Park: As announced earlier this week, Grantville-based Benchmark Brewing Company has signed a lease on a space. The family-run business had been exploring the prospect of opening a satellite in Oceanside, but ultimately decided to stay within the City of San Diego.
Carlsbad: A collective of artisans will someday share space with crops of produce, wine grapes and hops at the North 40 development. Numerous tenants have been reeled in over the past two years (and many have walked away), but Miramar’s AleSmith Brewing Company and Carmel Mountain’s Second Chance Beer Company are signed up, with the former hoping to sell house-made cheese with its beer.
Chula Vista: Fresh off the high of moving into Twisted Manzanita Ales’ former production brewery (and distillery) in Santee, Groundswell Brewing Company is working to open a sampling space on downtown Chula Vista’s main drag, Third Avenue…right across the street from soon-to-debut Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Company.
Encinitas: Though a community that’s openly resisted brewery-owned venues, this beachy berg has two breweries slogging against the tide for space on Coast Highway 101: Point Loma’s Modern Times Beer Company (across from La Paloma Theatre) and Solana Beach’s Culture Brewing Company (next to Bier Garden of Encinitas).
Marina District: Developers have spent the better part of the past year curating a list of breweries to share space at The Headquarters at Seaport Village. Planned as a central courtyard surrounded by six identical yet uniquely appointed brewery tasting rooms, it has proven challenging for a variety of reasons, but would create a concept unique to San Diego.
Normal Heights: Longtime craft-beer champion Blind Lady Ale House will soon have some sudsy company in their ‘hood care of Miramar-based Little Miss Brewing, which is hard at work on two fun-and-games equipped tasting rooms within San Diego proper.
North Park: Another interest with two satellites in the works is Second Chance, who recently revealed plans to open a tasting room on 30th Street in North Park, across the street from popular beer-bar Toronado and doors down from the site of Ritual Kitchen, which announced last week that it will soon shut its doors after 10 years in business.
Ocean Beach: Little Miss Brewing’s other upcoming satellite will join the county’s most tasting room-dense community, on the same block as Belching Beaver Brewery, Culture, Helm’s Brewing Company and Kilowatt Brewing Company; and a short walk from OB Brewery and Pizza Port OB; and a quick drive from Mike Hess Brewing Company’s sampler.
Pacific Beach: Downtown’s Mission Brewery is geared to cash in on partygoers’ thirst for beer, installing a tasting room on Garnet Avenue where it intersects with Gresham Street. PB is currently without a brewery satellite after Twisted Manzanita’s closed down when the company folded last year.
Entrepreneurial brewer Mike Hess’ eponymous brewing company has come a long way since its initial days as a nanobrewery tucked away in a labyrinth-like business park. That ever-so-humble starting point may soon have a seven-barrel system installed, while the newer North Park production brewery continues churning out larger batches. And, if all goes as planned, Mike Hess Brewing Company (MHB) will open an 1,800-square-foot satellite tasting room in Ocean Beach by the end of summer.
Located at 4893 Voltaire Street, the new venue will be equipped with 24 taps and an integrated cask beer engine, and offer beers for sale on-site or to-go in “purrowlers.” Known by many in the industry as “crowlers,” they are one-liter sealable receptacles fashioned to look and work like standard beer cans and serve the same purpose as growlers (glass jugs used to transport beer from a brewery for off-site consumption). Unlike growlers, which are incapable of holding beer at acceptable freshness levels for more than a few days, stored under proper conditions, crowlers or purrowlers (a name trademarked by MHB) provides a significantly improved rate of degradation.
Hess and company first toured and began considering the OB site (previously occupied by a dog washing operation) six months ago and were encouraged by the fact it’s by the beach, and nicely positioned at a busy four-way stop at Cable Street and Voltaire in the neighborhood’s up-and-coming north end. The owner of the site received several tenant proposals for the site, but ultimately decided to go with MHB after being impressed during a tour of its North Park tasting room.
Now that the deal is done, MHB will embark on a complete interior build-out, aiming to bring lots of light into the equation, some of which will come via roll-up garage-style doors. Matching the eclectic nature of its new environs, the tasting room will be outfitted with a mix of different seating options, including picnic benches, high-top tables and drink rails. All in all, the expected capacity will be between 75 and 80 (dependent on coding).
Back at ground zero, the Miramar tasting room will likely receive a bit of a face-lift in the semi-near future. Touch ups will bring it more in line with the North Park facility’s aesthetic, though Hess intends to maintain a casual vibe so visitors still feel as if they’re enjoying beers from the comfort of their homebrewing friend’s garage.