Eric Addison loves his adopted hometown. He moved to Benbrook from Los Angeles a year-and-a-half ago with his wife Giancarla to open a brewery. The suburb that borders southwest Fort Worth allows him to live near open fields and pastures while retaining easy access to several nearby cities. For the veteran homebrewer, Benbrook was perfect.
“Was” because this was before he tried to open a brewery.
Standing in his way was a 2003 law stating that any Benbrook business selling alcohol must earn 51 percent of revenues from food sales. The owners of these types of establishments, said Benbrook secretary Joanne King, must submit quarterly forms proving compliance. Before 2003, restaurants were not allowed to sell beer or wine.
The regulations, Addison said, all but outlaw a brewery or brewpub from opening within city limits because most breweries make the majority of sales from beer, not food. He considered opening his brewery in Fort Worth, but popular neighborhoods like the Near Southside, where zoning allows for breweries, are out of his financial reach.
I contacted Benbrook Mayor Dr. Jerry Dittrich for comment but have not heard back.
If some Benbrook city officials aren’t thrilled about the idea of a brewery opening in their midst, it wouldn’t be without reason. Fort Worth residents living near Martin House Brewing Company just northeast of downtown recently complained to the city and Fort Worth Police Department that revelers leaving Tuesday and Saturday taproom tours are often rowdy. Martin House co-owner David Wedemeier believes incidents of obnoxious behavior are rare and always promptly addressed (“Trouble Brewing in Riverside,” March 23, 2016).
Fort Worth classifies brewpubs as bars, meaning there are no restrictions on the percentage of sales that come from alcohol, according to Fort Worth planning manager Jocelyn Murphy. Progressive city zoning has allowed brewpubs to flourish in the Fort. While a place such as The Collective Brewing Project can focus on brewing beer, other establishments, such as Chimera Brewing Company, can serve food and suds. Brewpubs function like breweries under TABC law but have more limited production capacity, the option to offer food for sale, and, unlike breweries, can sell six packs, growlers, and the like for customers to take home.
To overturn the brewpub restrictions in Benbrook, Addison is collecting petition signatures from fellow Benbrook residents. King said he needs to collect 2,351 signatures by Tuesday, July 5, the last day of a 60-day window given by the city.
If he is successful, the “petition will be presented to city council to call an election on the question,” King said. “If an election is called, it will be held on November 8, 2016. If the question receives a favorable vote from the citizens of Benbrook, the city will notify TABC of the outcome of the election.”
It’s been an uphill struggle, Addison said.
After being booted from Walmart parking lots, parks, and other public and semi-public spaces, he could only start walking door to door, which he does generally between 5 and 9 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and during daylight hours on the weekends.
“A few people have slammed the door on my face,” he said. “One lady told me that ‘we church people’ don’t want a brewery in Benbrook. So far, the cops have been called on me three times.”
But not everyone is a brewpub naysayer. Addison has found that, more often than not, younger residents find the idea of a brewery opening appealing.
“It’s almost like there are two faces to Benbrook,” he said. “These are generalizations, but the majority of older folks are against the idea of a brewery. Everyone else is very much for it. People seem interested in my endeavor. My problem is getting to them.”
Like many suburbs in North Texas, Benbrook isn’t exactly a booze-friendly community. By law, bars aren’t allowed within city limits. In addition to restaurants being allowed to sell alcohol only 13 years ago, there are only a handful of retail stores that sell alcohol.
Lynette Spence, sales manager for Benbrook Chamber of Commerce, worked with volunteers to change Benbrook’s laws to allow on-premise sales of beer and wine at restaurants several years ago.
“I wanted to see sitdown restaurants come in where you could go in and have a glass of wine or beer with your pizza,” she said.
“It was a lot of work. I gave up four months of my life” in the process.
Benbrook’s population, she said, is definitely “trending” younger.
“This has always been a largely retired military community,” she said. “We’re getting a lot of new homes built, and it’s the younger people who are moving in.”
If the ordinance does change, Addison plans to offer barbecue, sandwiches, and salads.
“That’s the No. 1 complaint I hear from people when I talk about the petition,” he said. “There aren’t enough non-fast food options in the area.”
Addison said there is still a misconception among many Benbrook residents that a brewery will tarnish the town’s family-friendly feel. He does his best to explain that craft beer breweries should be thought of as community spaces, where families can gather to hear music, order food, play outdoor games like cornhole, and, of course, enjoy a high-quality brew.
“Benbrook is very family-friendly,” he said. “I just wish it was more business-friendly” to brewers.