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1/15/04: Jonathan Wehle, owner of Rochester's recycled brewpub, Brü: 

Jonathan Wehle (of the founded-and -used-to-own-Genesee Wehle's) bought Empire Rochester after it closed. Wehle had been looking for a site to open a brewpub in Rochester for some months, and this opportunity was evidently too good to pass up. I called him at the brewpub on the 15th and had a chat with him.

Lew: Tell me about your concept for Bru: what’s the place like, what’s the beer like, what’s the food like?

Jonathan: The food is a wide variety of American-style food. A lot of sandwiches, wraps, entrees like shrimp scampi and chicken cordon bleu, five kinds of burgers, shrimp. The atmosphere is upscale. We have two pool tables, and they’re real nice tables, not drop-a-quarter-in-the-slot tables. We’ll rent them by the hour. We’ve got three dart machines. There’s a sectional leather sofa in the billiard lounge. We have a sports room with two plasma TVs, and a 61" inch plasma TV behind the bar, a $25,000 TV. It’s a floor model, we got it for half price.

The beer. When we open, we will only have three beers on tap. We’re brewing a hefeweizen tonight, that should be available in two weeks, so right after we open we’ll be rolling in with more beers. We’re going to have other micro-style beers on tap, at least when we open. As more of our beers become available, we will dwindle down the other taps to one, like a guest tap. It might rotate monthly, or as inventory is depleted. Eventually, we’ll have 8-12 of our own beers, and a guest tap. We’ll carry probably five domestic or import labels in addition to our beer. We have a blonde ale right now, a pale ale, and a kölsch. We’ll have a Czech pilsner, a Scotch Ale, an Amber, and a stout we’re going to do pretty soon.

Our brewer’s name is Dean Jones. Today’s his first day. He came from the Big Rock Chophouse in Michigan. He’s won several Great American Beer medals and several World Beer Cup medals.

He won a Real Ale Festival medal as well, I believe.

I believe he did.

Is it a brewpub, or a restaurant with a brewery?

I would say it’s a brewpub. How do you do you distinguish?

A lot of it is in the mind of the owner, so if you say it’s a brewpub, it’s a brewpub.

We’re a brewpub...that came from a restaurant with a brewery in it. {Empire.} They did $6 million in sales and only 750 bbls. of beer, if you can believe that.

Why do you think Bru can make it there when Empire didn’t?

Their reasons for failure were all management-related. They were on track to do $1.8 to $2 million when they left. You should be able to make money on that, especially if you’re doing your own beer. We think we’ll open around $3-4 million gross sales the first year. They did $4 million their first year. The capacity’s 477 people here, we should have no problem getting near $4 million.

Why this, why you? There are obvious reasons, are those the reasons?

I always wanted to own a brewery. [laughs] I assume you’re familiar with my background. I always wanted to own one. I love the beer business. I was gone for three years. It’s the only thing I know anything about. Not that I know much about it...

Are you still connected to the other brewery, High Falls, at all?

No connection at all anymore.

You had two brewers lined up, but now they’re out and Dean Jones is coming in. What happened?

Jason Myers just couldn’t cut it. Greg Smith left for another opportunity.

How did you wind up with Dean Jones?

Put an ad on Pro Brewer. He has excellent credibility, great personality. He wanted to move.

When do you open?

Pretty sure it’s going to be January 27. We might do a VIP party the day before for people who’ve helped us.

Thanks, Jonathan, good luck to you.


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