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Beyond the cave

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  • | 11:00 a.m. December 18, 2015
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Opening and running a brewery may be as close to having fun and making money as you can get.

Robert Menzies, partner with FisherBroyles law firm in Naples, Scott Alexander, president of Alexander Building Corp. of Bonita Springs, and retired real estate agent Norm Scherner formed Riptide Brewing Co. in Naples. The trio is the latest entrant into the frothy craft-brew industry.

The three men with a love for making home brews met at a local brewing club. Each had been making beer at home, but their spouses were fed up with their garage contraptions.

Expelled from their homes, the three brewmeisters rented a garage they affectionately call their man cave on Jaeger Road, a construction-heavy industrial neighborhood in Naples. For a couple years every Wednesday night, they hosted 50 to 70 mostly male friends to drink their beer from one of 24 taps and munch on whatever Menzies roasted on his Wal-Mart grill.

After talking about the brewery idea, Menzies formed a limited liability company in October 2014. “Bob pushed it,” Alexander chuckles.

The three men have invested “north of $500,000” (they won't say exactly how much) and got a loan from Sanibel Captiva Community Bank to start a brewery that can quench the thirst of 150 people at their facility on Third Avenue North in Naples and supply dozens of restaurants with kegs through eager distributors.

“We are the first brewery in the city,” says Menzies, whose title on his Riptide business card reads: “In Charge of Legal Affairs and Other Important Stuff.”

Getting there wasn't easy, however. For one thing, the city council by a vote of 4 to 3 allowed the business to obtain a conditional use permit because no brewery classification existed within the zoning code.

The vote was close on the home front, too. “You already have a business,” Alexander says his wife told him. “Since when are you Mr. Social?” Menzies' wife quipped.

Then, there's the tricky part of running the place since it opened on Black Friday. Menzies recently had to stop by the bank on his way to the brewery to get quarters and one-dollar bills because the register was running low. “It's a work in progress,” he acknowledges.

Menzies balances his busy corporate law practice by commandeering a corner table of the brewery with his laptop. “We've got Wi-Fi in here,” he says. “You've got to make time for the things you want to do.”

Fortunately, Scherner volunteered to be the full-time brewer. The title on his business card confirms it: “The Beer Guy,” it reads. “None of us needs to draw a salary,” Menzies says.

Before they launched Riptide, the three men toured the state and visited craft brewers. They hired a consultant, Alex Postelnek, the former head brewer at Funky Buddha Brewery near Fort Lauderdale, who guided them on making big batches.

With Postelnek's help, they bought a brewing system from St. Petersburg-based Brewfab, a manufacturer of steel tanks for craft brewers. They can now brew 15,500 gallons of beer at a time.

Clearly that's much more they can sell in their brewery, which is open Tuesday through Sunday (they charge $5 to $7 for a serving of one of eight beers on tap, with three more brews on the way).

The men project break-even could come within two years and could warrant a second production facility in a few years. They have a license to open eight locations, but the production facility will come before that. “We will distribute out,” Menzies says.

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss


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