Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Nevada bars and restaurants have turned their lights on and off amid fluctuating business restrictions mandated by the state. However, the Brasserie Saint James, a brewery and restaurant in Reno’s Midtown district, has stayed dark since COVID hit in March.
No Red Headed Stranger ale, no Daily Wages ale, and no portobello fries available for Reno-Sparks locals to pick up curbside or savor inside the historic building tucked on the corner of Center and Taylor streets.
This wasn’t the plan. Back in the spring, when bars and restaurants were given the green light to again serve food and beer, the Brasserie’s minority owners, Deane Albright and Joel Rasmus, wanted to turn the taps and grills back on.
Majority owner Art Farley, however, didn’t want to reopen, Rasmus and Albright told the NNBW.
In response, Albright and Rasmus bought out Farley for an undisclosed amount and took over as majority co-owners. Rather than promptly reopening, they decided to spend time regrouping, rebuilding and reestablishing the Brasserie as a craft beer and food destination in Reno.
“We thought about opening up again and limping along and doing the old beers, but that’s not going to go anywhere,” said Albright, who’s also Founding Partner of Reno-based CPA firm Albright & Associates, Ltd., formed in 1976. “As entrepreneurs, you’ve got to invest and take that risk. I just didn’t want to see it die away with the COVID thing. We saw the potential to hang on and overcome the adversity because we both had the means to do that.”
With that, Albright and Rasmus said they invested roughly $500,000 into the Brasserie over the past few months, buying everything from new kitchen equipment to a canning line, which can churn out 25 cans per minute, Rasmus said.
In the process, the owners also brought back many members of the original Brasserie team, including brewers Josh Watterson and Madison Gurries, manager Zak Girdis, head chef Karl Lindenberg, and group-booking hostess Ellie Girdis.
“We believed in the brand, we believed in the team that we’re able to put together and we really doubled down on it,” Rasmus said.
And so, after being closed for nine months, Brasserie Saint James is ready to turn the lights back on with six new craft beers on tap. The award-winning brewery and restaurant will launch its to-go menu on Dec. 22 and open its doors to in-person dining — while observing appropriate pandemic restrictions — at 10 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2021.
“When we originally closed for COVID, it was very unfortunate, and kind of depressing, to say the least,” Rasmus said. “We’re excited beyond words (to reopen).”
With its indoor dining area spanning roughly 6,500 square feet, the Brasserie’s occupancy will be roughly 50 customers under the current 25% capacity restrictions, the owners said. The brewpub will also eventually open its outdoor spaces, including a beer garden and rooftop patio.
Along with bringing back classic dishes like the crab skillet, the Brasserie will be firing up a new small plates menu as well as a new takeout and curbside menu.
“We’ll still have all the Brasserie dishes Reno knows and loves, but we’ll be adding a special takeout menu to showcase items that travel well, like our pizzas,” manager Zach Girdis said in a statement. “Plus, the addition of our new small plates menu will serve as a way for patrons to try more great food each time they visit.”
Not to mention, they’ll have new beers to try. Led by brewers Watterson and Gurries, Brasserie Saint James’ lineup of six new beers will include hazy IPAs, kettle-sours and lagers.
The duo are also producing a hard seltzer dubbed “Source 285,” a nod to the depth of the artesian well 285 feet beneath Brasserie Saint James’ historic building, which previously housed the Crystal Springs Ice Company from the mid-1920s to 2008.
“Most breweries actually have to strip their water, so you end up with water without any character whatsoever,” Rasmus said. “And we actually have really hard water, which has a lot of character to it.”
Rasmus said the Brasserie intends to continue innovating and test the market in 2021, with the goal of releasing at least another half-dozen new beers next year. The brewpub’s new canning line, he said, will help them align with the increasing demand for canned beer, a trend accelerated by the pandemic.
“I think the big thing is being in a package format,” Rasmus said. “And being able to sell directly to consumers from a brewery, you increase your margins drastically rather than having to go through distribution. And now the consumer has kind of educated to actually go to these breweries and pick up their to-go beer. Those are the two big trends we’ve noticed and executed on to ensure success.”
STATUS OF THE SAINT?
In their initial ownership group with Farley, Rasmus and Albright were also minority owners of The Saint, a music venue/bar in Midtown. Notably, Farley was also sole owner of Saint James Infirmary, which has remained closed since March (in September, the Reno Gazette Journal reported the business, which first opened in 2007, was for sale).
Rasmus and Albright said they had to fully shut down The Saint amid the pandemic because so much of the establishment’s business was driven by live music acts, an industry that has yet to return in the age of COVID. Rasmus noted they struck a deal with their landlord to get out of their lease.
“People saw it so much as a music venue that when there wasn’t a band or anything it was dead,” Rasmus said. “We could pack the house for a show, but then the following night there would be six people in there drinking a beer.”
Albright said closing The Saint also allowed them to put all their energy into reviving the Brasserie. He added that they donated $8,200 worth of music equipment from The Saint to the Holland Project in Midtown.
“We made a business decision to cut our losses and focus on the Brasserie, which I think was a good decision,” he said. “We’re excited to take it to the next level in 2021.”