In 2020, Sarasota-based Calusa Brewing had to make pandemic pivots —like just about everyone else in hospitality and restaurants.
“We stopped placing as much product into kegs and started placing more into cans and bottles,” says Vic Falck, co-owner of Calusa Brewing, to cite one example. “We were selling in more of a to-go model, which was a significant change from what were used to doing.”
But even while navigating the ever-changing pandemic landscape, the brewery, known for craft beers like its popular Zote and Citronious IPAs, also looked ahead. In the summer, Calusa made a major move for its future by purchasing the former location of the White Buffalo Saloon on McIntosh Road in Sarasota. The brewery was already exploring how it could expand before the pandemic hit, and it discovered the opportunity from retail partner Evie’s, a local restaurant and bar group that had run the White Buffalo. Calusa paid $2.4 million for the 5377 McIntosh Road property, Sarasota County property records show.
Plans are to move the Calusa retail taproom from its current location on Derek Avenue in Sarasota to this new, more than 12,000-square-foot spot. The Derek Avenue location will then focus on production and manufacturing, and there will be additional production space at the new location as well. “We’re still very much in the planning phase of that,” says Falck, 40. “We’re working on getting plans drawn up and hope to submit them soon. Our realistic expectations are to open in the new location mid- to end of 2022.”
Calusa is mostly making modifications to the existing space rather than doing a total gut job. The brewery knows it faces ones sizeable challenge, in undertaking a project at a time when sourcing materials and labor isn’t an easy task in the construction industry.
“Just the general level of busyness that many of the vendors and contractors we’re working with [are experiencing] has been a little bit of a challenge,” says Falck. “It’s taking longer than we had expected it to, but I think on some level we also expected a certain degree of that when we went into it. We’re happy that we’re making progress, but we always wish it was going faster.”
When the new Calusa location does open, it will offer more bar space and seating than the current taproom, plus a 900-square-foot covered outdoor area. “The new space will be focused on the retail experience,” says Falck. “It will really be a more inviting, open space for people to enjoy the product.”
Plans are to bring a food operation in, and Calusa is currently developing a concept for that. “We’re excited about that and hope we can bring that same kind of passion and creativity we’ve brought on the liquid side on the food side, because I think they go really well together,” says Falck.
The new location will also have areas for games and events space for private parties and rentals. The former White Buffalo dance floor and stage will be transformed into an approximately 4,000-square-foot production area. That ability to increase production is important for Calusa Brewing’s future growth.
It currently has about 125 draft retail partners in Sarasota and Manatee counties and has been averaging around 20% growth year-over-year. Even so, the growth has been stifled a bit: Falck says the brewery, which opened for business in 2016, “ran into a bit of a roadblock over the last couple years” because it had essentially maxed out capacity. (Falck declines to provide revenue figures.)
We’ve always been very focused on the taproom experience. We were very appreciative of the local support [during the pandemic] and we really didn’t miss too much of a beat. Vic Falck, Calusa Brewing
Before the new site, Calusa Brewing has been producing about 3,800 barrels of beer a year. “The immediate increase in manufacturing space that the new location will provide should allow us to double that amount annually,” says Falck. Plus, the brewery will be able to make additions and modifications to its Derek Avenue facility once it no longer needs to serve as a retail taproom that will allow for even more production capacity increases.
“It opens up the possibility for significant expansion as it relates to total volume,” says Falck. “We hope to push beyond the Sarasota and Manatee county limits.”
Calusa’s current staff of 15 will also grow once the new site opens. “We expect that number to more than double as we bring in food operations, expand production and increase the size of our taproom,” says Falck.
The brewery’s grateful that while the pandemic required shifts, it didn’t totally throw them off course. “We’ve always been very focused on the taproom experience,” says Falck. “We were very appreciative of the local support [during the pandemic] and we really didn’t miss too much of a beat. We were still able to acquire the new building and while it’s been challenging, we’re super thankful for all the support that’s allowed us to keep going on this path.”