Gainesville officials are looking to amend the city’s alcoholic beverage ordinance in hopes it will entice a South Hall business, which serves draft beer to go, to open on the downtown square.
Growlers on Main in Flowery Branch can be thought of as a boutique package store, serving craft beer from the country’s finest microbreweries straight from the tap and sealed in glass jars (called growlers) ready-made to take home.
Growlers have been popular on the West Coast for years, where microbreweries first took off in places like Bend, Ore., Petaluma, Calif., and Boulder, Colo. Craft beers from the likes of Deschutes, Lagunitas and Avery, with their penchant for hops, differentiated themselves from the typical American lagers brewed by Budweiser, Miller and Coors. Porters, India Pale Ales and other styles, tasting of everything from chocolate to raspberry, have captured a larger share of the American beer market over the last decade.
As the trendy craze around craft beer has grown, including the emergence of SweetWater Brewing Co. in Atlanta and Terrapin Beer Co. in Athens, the growlers concept has begun to take off in Georgia.
Evidence of this growing popularity can be seen at Moondog Growlers, which has opened locations in Marietta, Sandy Springs and Dunwoody in the last few years.
Since opening Jan. 31, Growlers on Main has reaped the rewards of being the only beer server of its kind in Hall County.
“The acceptance by the community has been overwhelming,” said owner Alan Davenport, adding that the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and local merchants have been supportive of his new business.
Customers at Growlers on Main are offered a unique experience not found in the average bar. Twenty-four taps of beer are available at all times, and patrons get a taste-test of three beers of their choosing before selecting a 32- or 64-ounce growler to take home. The growlers can be washed and then refilled during a customer’s next visit.
Davenport said the best part of the job is having the opportunity to expand the palate of the average beer drinker.
“It’s not just the big boys (of brewing) anymore,” he added. “There are microbrews producing unbelievable beers.”
Growlers on Main also serves root beer for kids, which has become one of its most popular items, and plans to expand its line of sodas.
“We want it to be a family trip,” Davenport said of the customer experience.
The immediate success of the Flowery Branch location has caught the eye of Gainesville officials, who approached Davenport about the prospect of opening a second location in the downtown square.
“It would be silly for us not to jump on that opportunity,” Davenport said. “When and if everything works out with the downtown square opportunity, we would push to make that the showpiece for Growlers on Main.”
Main Street Gainesville, an arm of the city’s tourism bureau, has offered to provide up to $1,000 in matching funds for signage would Growlers on Main to move into the square.
Regina Mansfield, manager of Main Street Gainesville, said the eclectic nature of Growlers on Main makes it a perfect fit with the other trendy, diverse businesses already operating in the square.
“It just seems like it would be a good fit for our downtown,” she said. “I’m hopeful it will all work out.”
As a show of its commitment, the city has drafted an amendment to its alcoholic beverage ordinance, defining what a growler is and laying out the parameters for the business to operate in the square.
City Marshal Debbie Jones said the amendment is currently waiting for approval to be heard by City Council at its Thursday work session. Two readings of the amendment and a vote of the council would then be needed for it to become law.
While the consensus appears to be that city officials are ready to approve the ordinance, Councilman George Wangemann said he would vote against it for two reasons: As a Mormon, he doesn’t care for alcohol, and he also believes it presents a slippery slope for the city.
“Bit by bit we see the liberalization of alcoholic beverage ordinances,” he said, “and I just feel like it will eventually lead to the ‘open bar’ situation coming before us.”
The city currently requires any business serving alcohol for consumption on premises to make at least 50 percent of its revenue from food sales. In a grab for money, Wangemann believes allowing Growlers on Main to operate in the square is a first step toward allowing bars in the city.
“Revenues are one of those things that make the eyes sparkle of elected officials when they hear about it,” Wangemann said. “It’s quite a temptation ...”
If the ordinance is approved, Davenport said he would hope to begin operating in the square by late spring or early summer.
Picking the right location in the square would then be the final hurdle. Davenport said renovating and occupying a gallery on Main Street could be ideal because it would allow the business to keep the same name. But offers have poured in from other property owners on the square, he said, and the location currently housing Atlas Pizza, which announced plans last year to move and expand into a space on Bradford Street, could also be an option.
“We’re still looking at locations,” Davenport said, adding he already has investors lined up, plus plans to eventually franchise Growlers on Main.
Opening in the downtown square would be a boon for business, Davenport said. He expects Growlers on Main to be a leading vendor for many festivals there, including the Blue Sky Concert series and First Friday events. Capitalizing on the summer festival season is critical, he added.
Despite the swift growth of his business and plans for expansion, Davenport said he wants to retain the sense of camaraderie that has developed around his small business. Growlers on Main will host an Irish Band Jam event March 15, with a portion of the proceeds going to support the Shop with a Cop Christmas charity program.
“That’s our goal — to serve good beer and be involved in the community,” Davenport said.