Iconic Belmar bakery could soon become craft brewery with a Jersey Shore theme
This article originally appeared on NJ.com.
BELMAR – For more than a half century, Freedman's Bakery has been an institution on the borough's Main Street.
By next year, however, the bakery's operations at its high-profile location could cease and be replaced by a completely different business venture – the new headquarters of the East Coast Beer Co.
Representatives from the Jersey Shore-inspired craft beer company – which currently brews four beers, including the popular pilsner Beach Haus – have announced their plans to convert the roughly 30,000-square-foot Freedman's Bakery building into a brewery capable of handling their growing operations, as well as accommodating tours, tastings and a retail component.
"We're very excited about the opportunity that lies ahead for us potentially in Belmar," said Joel Brudner, a partner with the Wall-based real estate investment company MB1 Partners, which has a financial interest in the beer company. "The beer company is a Jersey Shore themed and founded beer company... and the location here in Belmar is very exciting to us and we think it is a very compatible partner for the commerce and tourism business in Belmar."
East Coast Beer Co. was founded out of a garage in 2007 by a pair of high school buddies from Brick Township, John Merklin and Brian Ciriaco. They started selling Beach Haus in Monmouth and Ocean counties in 2010, and now distribute their beers throughout New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and the Carolinas.
"I've been really happy to date that we built a company and built a product that folks really enjoy," Merklin said.
The beer company currently "contract brews," meaning they develop the recipes and then pay a separate company – in this case a larger brewery in Upstate New York – to rent the time and equipment needed to make the beer.
The decision to come to Belmar was a "very easy one," Merklin said, due to Belmar's iconic reputation on the Jersey Shore, the founders' personal connection to the borough from having visited it frequently growing up and now with their families, its accessibility from major roadways, the cost savings of brewing locally and, of course, the planned site itself.
"The bakery site is really interesting to us, simply because it's a simple conversion. The process of making beer and the process of making bakery items is very similar, so it's the least intrusive space and least intrusive location we could find," Merklin said. "And quite frankly, it's an iconic building."
However, Brudner explained that the exterior look of that building would be changed.
"We have a vision for our company and it's very important what our image is. And right now, I think everyone would agree that (the existing building) is dated, it's an eyesore. So entire façade of the would be redesigned," he said, adding the goal would be to emulate some of the atheistically pleasing characteristics of the newer buildings across the street while also creating something prominent on that corner.
Another change that would take place before the brewery opens is the removal of contaminated soil beneath the adjacent parking lot, which has been an environmental concern for several years after it was discovered that the bakery's large oil tanks leaked.
But Brudner said that this would not be an obstacle for the project to move forward, because it is part of the purchase agreement for the property that its current owners would remediate the issue. The other impacts of converting the building into a brewery would be "environmentally neutral at worst," he said.
So pending completion of the ongoing design process and all of the receipt of all necessary approvals, Brudner said the brewery could potentially be operational by next year.
And East Coast Beer Co. is eager to be a good neighbor in Belmar, Brudner said, already having met with existing local establishments to explain that the planned brewery would not be competition – because it will not be operating as a brewpub – but rather another opportunity to promote Belmar and its businesses.
In addition to the tours, which are often popular draws for other breweries, the new brewery building would also include a visitor's center that would provide visitors with information of what other things there are to enjoy in town, such as a map of establishments that carry the beers.
"We want to be as informative about the town as we are about our beer, it's equally important to us," Merklin said. "We're also that added bonus of when people are contemplating which shore town to go to today, this weekend or this week, the one with a brewery in town is kind of a neat thing."
Merklin said he thinks the Beach Haus name really fits Belmar.
"And Belmar's name is going to enjoy itself seeing itself in many other states with a product that people love and enjoy," he said.