Whatta time, amiright!? While my full-time world selling beer at Henderson has never been busier (who knew, people just wanna drink ALL THE BEER during a pandemic!?) COVID-19 has brought a whole bunch of elements of the SOBDL to a grinding halt. It’s weird and frustrating to pause our bevies and Lady Beer Fests. You put in all this work building up events and then they’re just kinda postponed…indefinitely. You know it WILL happen, you just don’t know when. Event planning and management are all about attempting to control EVERY. LITTLE. DETAIL, so the unknown of the pandemic, the lack of control and of feeling powerless I think has created the most stress and anxiety for me (and everyone!) these days.
But since my go-to reaction is to try and think optimistically when confronted with adversity, this new unexpected chapter in the SOBDL saga has also granted me some much needed time to breathe. When you’re an entrepreneur and running something that you continue to feel challenged by, that keeps bringing you joy and that keeps growing, you are ALWAYS working. You have to! There’s just no other way. And so, for 6 years, I have been working tirelessly to move this organization forward (alongside some excellent humans). But now, I have to dial it back for a bit. And being 30 weeks preggers, it kiiiiinda couldn’t have come at a better time:)
Our online swag sales remain strong and we’re still brewing up a storm at various craft breweries. One of which I wanted to highlight today: GRANITE BREWERY. I first heard of the Granite Brewery after moving to Toronto in 2010. I had been living in Montreal for 2 years doing my masters, soaking up that magical city and discovering how much I truly loved beer. I was blown away that beer was not just limited to a just a golden or amber fizzy drink that I typically steered away from at keg parties and dive bars, but there were tons of options for flavourful, unique craft beer.
I instantly wanted to know everything about Toronto’s beer scene. Where should I go? What should I drink? And that’s when I discovered the elusive Granite, waaaay up in midtown at Eglinton and Mount Pleasant. Living just off Bloor around the Dufferin area, it seemed like a whole other city to trek up to on my fixed gear bike.
So instead, I would drink Granite wherever I could find it – which typically was quite easy at the time: The Rhino, Bar Volo, Victory Cafe, Get Well, Done Right Inn and Communist Daughter would all allow me to get my fix.
Eventually, I remember taking the TTC and walking from Eglinton station to finally go drink Granite at the source. That area was like this whole new world! It was professional and corporate and full of noise and hustle. But then all of a sudden, appears this brewpub on the ground floor of a large corporate office tower. You open the doors and it’s like the world kinda stops. It’s warm, cozy and comforting. The beers are classic and distinguished. The decor is retro and homey. The food is comforting, like a home-cooked meal. And in a big city that at times can feel hollow and lonely, Granite is this gem that makes you feel like you’re in a small town restaurant bar.
I feel that is part of what has made Granite successful 29 years later. People want to know their bartenders and servers. They want to feel at home. It’s not trying to be something it’s not, it just is. It’s nostalgic and familiar.
I wanted to learn more about the intricacies of Granite. It is a family owned and operated business, and that has always fascinated me. What’s it like to run a business with your family!? I mean, I love my family bbbbbbut. So I sat down with Sam Keefe, son of Ron Keefe who started Granite Brewpub to pick his brain a bit. Here’s what we chatted about:
1) What are some Granite ‘fun facts’? Quirky stuff about the building, staff, beers, etc.
“We opened our doors August 12, 1991. Opening a brewpub pouring English style ale was such a bizarre concept that was lost on the average Toronto consumer at the time. During our first week, a customer walked in and bet Ron $1 that the business wouldn’t last 6 months. He took the bet, and now that dollar bill hangs proudly in the brewpub. A lot of our staff have been with us for years. One cook has been with us since opening day. We have servers who are coming up to 15, 20, 25 years of being here. In an industry with really high turnover, that’s something positive!”
2) Have you always been at that location? Why was that location chosen?
“We’ve always been at this location. At the time, Ron decided to open up shop here because the neighbourhood was a perfect mix of residential and business.”
3) How did Ron get into brewing back in the late eighties?
“Ron’s brother Kevin opened the Granite Brewery in Halifax in 1985. At the time, Ron was working a corporate gig in Toronto and was really interested in the business his brother was setting up out east. He went out to Halifax to train with Kevin, then he went to Maryland to learn from Alan Pugsley, head brewer at Ringwood Brewery in the UK and a master on open fermentation.”
4) How has Granite changed over the years?
“The biggest change was when our license changed from ‘Brewpub’ to ‘Brewery & Tied House’ in 2004. This permitted us to start selling beer off site which opened up other revenue streams. Our on-site Events Program has really become a big part of the business in the past 10-15 years. We’re well known as a wedding venue in Toronto. We offer really reasonable rates for groups of 80-120 guests. Summer dates get booked up to 18 months in advance.”
5) What beer is your highest seller? Critically acclaimed?
“Ringwood is our highest seller. It’s a refreshing blonde ale that really showcases the Ringwood yeast: clear, crisp, gently-hopped and well-carbonated. Our cask-conditioned Best Bitter Special is definitely the most acclaimed. It’s been mentioned in beer books and whenever we have UK tourists in the brewpub, they tell us how it is as good as any English Bitter back home.”
6) If you weren’t working in the beer industry, what do you think you’d be doing?
“I’d like to think I would be working in film marketing and publicity. I worked in that industry for about 3 years after university before joining the family business full time. It’s been a shrinking industry in Canada for years so who knows…probably wishful thinking!”
7) Where do you see Granite in 5 years?
“Ideally we’ll have opened a production facility which will increase our capacity. Right now the majority of our capacity is supplying the restaurant and on-site beer store. We’d love to be able to expand our off-site sales to other channels across the province.”
8) How has Co-VID 19 affected Granite? How are you guys managing/coping?
“Like everyone else, we’ve been hit hard by the pandemic. We had to lay off 80% of our staff. Our brewery team is going full tilt to keep the beer packaged and our bottle shop stocked. The community support has been amazing. We’re still offering food and beer take-out 11:30am-7pm daily. It’s nice we are able to generate some revenue this way. Last week we launched home delivery which has been great and we now have our online shop up and running for Toronto delivery!”
9) Being a family owned brewpub is pretty unique and interesting. What’s it like working with your family?
“It’s honestly pretty great. We all get along well and have grown up in the place so we’re really invested in it. The only problem is when we get together for family dinners, all we talk about is work. We’re learning to check the work talk at the door when we come home. It’s for the best!”
10) If Granite won a bunch of money in say, a lottery or was given a hefty grant, what would you guys spend your money on?
“Expansion! We’d love to get that production facility up and running, and invest in sales and distribution to expand within Ontario. We’d love to open another brewpub in the city as well.”
Granite has paved the way for brewpubs in Ontario and we are proud to work with Ron’s daughter – brewmaster Mary Beth Keefe – on our latest collaboration beer- VALIANT a ‘New Equality IPA’ with a portion of sales supporting the good work of Sistering Toronto.
Grab it to-go at their bottle shop or available for home delivery