The founding owners of the Thomas Kemper Brewery plan to open a new brewpub and restaurant in Old Town at the former Hertz Equipment Rental site.
Mari and Will Kemper signed a lease for the 3,900-square-foot space on Oct. 31 and plan to open Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen at 601 W. Holly St. in April, depending on the permit process.
The Kempers, who started Thomas Kemper Brewery in 1984 on Bainbridge Island, have opened and consulted with more than 20 breweries all over the world. They said they have wanted to open a brewpub in Bellingham since the early ‘90s.
They were attracted to the Holly Street location for a number of reasons, Mari said.
“It has that industrial feel, which we wanted, and it’s right on the water and has a lot of outdoor space,” she said. “It has potential for growth, and it’s in an area that is set to take off.”
At full capacity, the brewery could produce up to 1,000 barrels of beer a year, but will start with only a third to a half of that goal. Initially, the brewery will have a staff of 20 and will only sell its beer in 12-ounce bottles from the Holly Street location. Eventually it would begin wholesaling the beer when production can be increased, Mari said.
Will, who has worked as a professor of brewing at the American Brewer’s Guild in Davis, Calif., will be the head brewer, but at this point, Mari couldn’t say what types of beer they will brew.
The Kempers consider the brewery to be a key tenant in Old Town — a neighborhood village the city is currently updating with a new sub-area plan.
“We are an anchor tenant for the Old Town neighborhood, and I think we will make a big splash,” she said.
Instead of demolishing the site’s two buildings and starting from scratch, the Kempers plan to remodel the structures.
“We are looking at using the space in a green way by recycling the structure as it stands, rather than tearing it down,” she said. “We are going to make it shine. It’s got great bones.”
Mari described the interior’s designs, which are being drawn by Bellingham-based architecture firm Arbour North, as “warm, industrial and funky.”
The larger, 27,000-square-foot building with 20- to 23-foot ceilings will house the brewery’s fermentation tanks, and passersby will be able to look at them through large windows facing Holly Street.
The second, approximately 1,200-square-foot building will house an open kitchen, the pub and restaurant with views of Whatcom Waterway and Sehome Hill, Mari said.
The restaurant will serve an eclectic menu influenced by the Kempers’ travels associated with their past brewpub locations on the East Coast, Monterrey, Mexico and Istanbul, using a Woodstone oven. They hope to host bands, live entertainment, games and speakers.
They aim to make the brewery as green as possible by using a computerized system to cut its electrical consumption by 80 percent, Mari said.
They also want to encourage pedestrian travel to and from the brewery by offering a bike rack, among other things, and hope these efforts will mitigate the city’s traffic impact fee, which Mari described as very costly.
Although she didn’t wish to disclose the total cost for the project, she said it was expensive, especially considering the recent increase in prices for stainless steel, barley and hops.
The Kempers hope to apply for permits for the project by the end of the year and do not have a contractor yet, Mari said.
City planner Tara Sundin said the Kempers have been working with city staff on developing the site’s plan and she did not foresee any major issues with it. The site’s zoning already allows for a brewery use and the upcoming sub-area plan, if adopted, would allow it as well, she said.
“I think that this is a fantastic anchor to the Old Town area,” she said. “I think it will bring a lot of people down there and it is right on the water … It’s a viewpoint most of us don’t get to see very often.”
After the Kempers left Thomas Kemper Brewing in 1989, they traveled all over the world to open and consult with brewpubs. In 1993, they moved to Bellingham with the intention of opening a brewery, but the project fell through. The two have owned a house in Bellingham ever since.
This May, after spending three years consulting with a new brewery in Istanbul, the two returned to Bellingham and began looking for a space to open Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen.