Historic West Tampa will get its first craft brewery in a few months, a telltale sign that an emerging neighborhood is about to experience transformational change.
Bay Cannon Beer Co. plans to open in May in a renovated, red brick former theater that has stood at 2106 W. Main St. since 1900. Right now, a cluster of stainless steel fermenter tanks are already in place and work crews are busy with the interior build-out of the tasting room.
With the brewery opening still a few months away, Bay Cannon is already working to establish a presence in the local craft scene. They were among the Tampa breweries who poured samples during a special preview event for the Tampa Bay History Center’s “History by the Pint: Beer and Brewing in Tampa Bay” exhibit.
Since the West Tampa site is not up and running, the Brut IPA and petit tart mango green tea saison that Bay Cannon featured that night were brewed in Gainesville, where lead brewer Joe Simmons previously worked for established names Swamp Head Brewery and First Magnitude Brewing. Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Matthew Juaire was previously sales manager at 612Brew in Minneapolis.
Juaire says family ties drew him to Florida. He settled in Tampa because it offered a close drive to relatives and the opportunity of a booming craft beer town that still had unmet demand in some neighborhoods.
“I knew Tampa was a fantastic beer town and the demand existed,” Juaire says. “I also knew it was nowhere near a point where growth would be slowing. There’s a lot of room for growth for different smaller models that produce fresh beer.”
The decision to locate in West Tampa, an area where Bay Cannon saw unmet demand, came later.
“Not being from Tampa, we were very unbiased as to what neighborhoods we went into, so we looked everywhere,” Juaire says. “It just looked like there was the most soul in West Tampa.”
In the past, West Tampa was once a booming Cuban cigar factory district and later a bustling black community. More recently, closed businesses and shuttered buildings stretched along West Main Street. In 2015, the City of Tampa determined the 964-acre historic neighborhood was “physically, economically and aesthetically distressed” and established a Community Redevelopment Area to work on revitalization efforts.
Juaire says the area has the feel of a city with its red brick former cigar factories, historic neighborhoods, and industrial district. He sees the wave of redevelopment already underway with artist lofts and studios in renovated cigar factories and expects more businesses to follow.
“It’s pretty typical of what you see in blighted neighborhoods,” he says. “Artists are looking for space as cheap as possible. Beer and coffee follow and more folks follow after that.”
Juaire says there’s already signs of a resurgent business district along West Main Street, thanks to businesses like Maduro Marauders Cigar Lounge and Main Course Tampa, and developers with retail renovation plans. He says he would like Bay Cannon to be an anchor tenant that helps propel the area forward.
“We know the draw a brewery has,” he says. “We understand that and we hope to shepherd folks in, bring some new customer faces to West Tampa and maybe lead some other people to come in and do something cool with these other old buildings.”
While planning to be a part of the West Tampa’s future, the brewery will also celebrate its past. The name Bay Cannon is for the two cannons in front of Plant Hall on the University of Tampa campus. Those once stood at Fort Brooke, the military post that predated Tampa. Henry B. Plant salvaged them to put in front of his Tampa Bay Hotel, which is now Plant Hall.
Juaire says Bay Cannon plans to decorate its tasting room with photographs of historic West Tampa and he is in the process of working to acquire collections.
As for the beer itself, Juaire says they will do everything from mixed fermentation to sour beers and old world brews to new world beers. He says Bay Cannon will have a chef and kitchen, and focus on “more of a flavor experience” that pairs beers with dishes.
“Really in many cases what the craft experience is missing is a purposeful integration with food,” Juaire says. “We want to retrain palates and continue to evolve palates.”
He says they will also push the creative envelope with some bold flavors similar to what Cigar City has done with Hunahpu and other brews and Hidden Springs Ale Works has done with its Berliner Weisse offerings.