If you comb through the website of Golden Road Brewing, the largest brewery in Los Angeles, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any mention that it’s now owned by the global beer conglomerate Anheuser-Busch InBev, the company behind Budweiser.
In this age of craft beer, which emphasizes independent ownership and relatively small production, corporate investment has become a major controversy among devoted craft beer consumers. In recent years A-B InBev has scooped several prominent craft breweries, including Chicago’s Goose Island and 10 Barrel in Portland.
Locally, corporate ownership cropped up in the discussion after Golden Road Brewing announced last week it was going to open a brewpub in midtown. On Twitter, I asked folks what they thought and there was no clear consensus.
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“I didn’t know about the ownership issue,” said Chris Jarosz, owner of Broderick, the restaurant and bar just around the corner on L Street.
That’s not surprising. One component of the mega-beer strategy is to get a foothold in craft beer without letting on, says Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association.
“It is without doubt, in my mind, intentionally deceptive,” McCormick said. “They want to play in the sand box with craft brewers. They want to win market share in the craft beer segment because it has grown to where it is a large piece of the pie.”
Golden Road has yet to respond to a request for an interview. We will update this story if it does.
Some say the corporate ownership issue isn’t as important as the potential consumer experience at the brewpub.
“Yeah, I’ll go,” said Chris Tapio, a public affairs consultant and craft beer enthusiast who works in midtown. “It’s not like a Walmart moving in and wiping out small businesses. They’re competing on a much more level playing field. If they offer good beer and a good experience, I think they’re going to make it.”
If there is an upside, some say, it is that A-B InBev has tremendous resources to bring to its midtown venture.
Golden Road’s plans call for demolishing the blighted City Suds laundromat at the corner of 19th and L streets to make way for a beer garden and restaurant concept. If you’re wondering what that might be like, consider the success of Drake’s Dealership in Oakland, where the San Leandro-based Drake’s Brewing converted an old auto dealership into an indoor/outdoor restaurant and bar, including an outdoor courtyard that was created by demolishing the roof off part of the existing structure.
The difference here is the corporate ownership – Drake’s is a thriving brewery that has maintained its independence.
Part of the midtown identity is that its residents tend to support locally owned businesses. Local coffee houses, for instance, have all but pummeled Starbucks into submission on the grid. There are exceptions; Chipotle at 19th and Capitol has thrived for years.
But if you’re looking for a widespread Golden Road/Budweiser backlash, not so fast. That’s the word from some key players I contacted about the venture.
They point out that the demolition of City Suds will be a huge plus because it was a magnet for vandalism and other problems. And the increased foot traffic Golden Road is likely to attract in what’s known as the Handle District will be a boon for scores of businesses nearby.
“We do have a history of supporting local mom and pops, so it remains to be seen. But we’ve seen corporate presence here that works. Chipotle does outstanding,” said Seann Rooney, executive director of the Handle District, which encompasses a small stretch of midtown, including where Golden Road will locate.
“(19th and L) is an important corner for us,” he continued. “It’s an important corner for midtown. If (Golden Road) can use some of those (corporate) resources to make it an attractive destination corner, people should be happy.”
A block away on Capitol, Berkeley-based (and independently owned) Fieldwork Brewing has been a major success since it launched its first satellite taproom. It has since opened another in Napa and plans to open one in Monterrey in the spring of 2017.
“I wish them luck,” said Fieldwork co-owner Barry Braden. “I have nothing but respect for (Golden Road) and what they have accomplished the last few years.”
“I’d like to see everybody flourish in midtown,” said Jarosz, who also co-owns Saddle Rock Restaurant on L Street. “Maybe it will be a great concept. People can’t eat the same stuff every day. If they generate a lot of foot traffic, that will be good for my business, too.”
Jarosz added: “That building is an eyesore. You have to welcome people coming in when they want to invest money in your community and make it better.”