Denise Ford Sawadogo and her husband Leo Sawadogo have been brewing their plans for Montclair Brewery at the former Poor Richard’s space for several years. In the basement of their Montclair home, Leo already produces limited amounts of dozens of beers, a skill he learned from his mother in West Africa. ADAM ANIK/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

By LINDA MOSS
moss@montclairlocal.news

Montclair will soon be getting its first microbrewery, which is slated to open on the restaurant-bar mecca Walnut Street this year.

Montclair Brewery, owned by the local married couple Denise Ford Sawadogo and Leo Sawadogo, has taken a five-year lease for the former Poor Richard’s building at 101 Walnut St., which is at the corner of Walnut and North Willow Street.

The Sawadogos plan to convert the former furniture refinishing site, a one-story commercial building, into a brewery. According to papers filed with the Township Planning Department, the facility will have a brew house area, a tasting room and office space with the entrance located adjacent to the parking lot in the back of the building.

The business, in the making since 2014 when it incorporated, has appeared before the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission and is looking to open up in March, Denise Ford Sawadogo said. The lease, signed Sept. 1, also gives the Sawadogos an option to renew for another five years.

Microbreweries and brewpubs have popped up across the nation as craft beers grew in popularity with Americans. In New Jersey there are 82 production breweries, according to the website New Jersey Craft Beer. Two are in Essex County: Cricket Hill Brewing Company and Magnify Brewing Company, both in Fairfield.

Leo Sawadogo and Denise Ford Sawadogo get brewing their plans for Montclair Brewery at the former Poor Richard’s space on the southwest corner of North Willow and Walnut streets. ADAM ANIK/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

The Sawadogos said that they have put their brains, energy and money — to the tune of six figures — during the past few years into launching their brewery. Denise, who has an MBA, is a marketing specialist and Leo is a veteran TV and radio broadcaster in both his native Burkina Faso in West Africa and Canada. He had a cafe at one time when he lived in West Africa and now runs an online business, Mita Food, from the couple’s Montclair home.

“I learned to brew from my mom, because in West Africa, believe it or not – women are the brew masters,” Leo said. “They’re the ones that brew. Men only drink.”

He started producing small batches of beer and liquors such as mead when the couple lived in Jersey City before moving to Montclair 11 years ago. Now, sitting in his basement with his brewing equipment, Sawadogo proudly shows off beer bottles with the colorful labels that he has designed.

He already brews 30 to 40 different kinds of beer, and Montclair Brewery will have seven to 10 beers on tap at any time, rotating out different ones each month.

“You can change it up to make it exciting,” Denise said.

As part of their due diligence, the Sawadogos went to breweries not only in New Jersey but beyond.

“We visited so many breweries around the country and also internationally,” said Leo, including stops in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Montreal.

The Sawadogos have already received approval from the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to operate, and they have applied to the state Division of Alcohol Beverage Control for a limited brew liquor license.

With such a state license, Montclair Brewery can produce beer on-premises, sell and distribute ii and serve it at tastings. But the microbrewery must offer guided tours of its facilities, can’t serve food made on-site and can only serve the beer that it produces.

Leo Sawadogo shows off one of his homemade brews, this one flavored with raspberry, at his Montclair home. ADAM ANIK/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

Patrons, however, can bring food in with them to eat at Montclair Brewery.

“It’s like BYOF,” Denise said.

This type of liquor license is different than a liquor-consumption license that a bar or restaurant would have, which are very limited in Montclair. There are only 12 consumption licenses in the township, most recently individually valued at just over $1 million.

The Sawadogos had an application for site-plan approval that had been scheduled to be heard by the Township Planning Board on Monday night, Jan. 8. But that hearing has been postponed until Jan. 22. The couple, represented by attorney Alan Trembulak, is seeking several variances, including permission to offer less on-site parking than required under local ordinances.

Montclair Brewery plans to have 50 seats, which under local codes requires that they provide 25 on-site parking spaces. But the Sawadogos are seeking approval to only offer 12 on-site spaces on their building’s rear parking lot.

The couple has retained a parking expert to do an analysis for the planning board, and may end up approaching the Building Blocks University nursery school about leasing spaces at its parking lot for the brewery.

The Sawadogos filed a rendering of the design of their planned Montclair Brewery with the Township Planning Department. COURTESY OF MONTCLAIR TOWNSHIP

The Sawadogos had to appear before the HPC because the Walnut Street business area has been identified as a potential historic resource in the township’s master plan. At that Nov. 14 meeting Denise said that she and her husband were investing in equipment that cost in the six-figures for their startup business.

Montclair Brewery already has a logo and a Facebook page.

“Opening up a brewery is a big financial commitment,” she told the HPC.

In addition to the HPC, the Sawadogos have already appeared before the Township Development Review Committee.

Montclair Brewery would be the first fully dedicated microbrewery that produces beer on premise in the township, according to the Sawadogos.

The building is 3,300 square feet, with Leo making the brewery’s light fixtures and wooden furniture.

“Beer brings people together,” he said.

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