Converting an antique train depot into Reno’s first brewery-distillery-restaurant combo requires vision and patience
Fresh pink and black graffiti mars the front entrance to the old train depot on Fourth Street because the new owners haven’t put up a wrought-iron fence to protect the building yet. The 104-year-old historic building next to Louis’ Basque Corner blends into the background of dilapidated structures, gravel parking lots and homeless shelters that characterize this part of town. It’s hard to imagine this building as the birth place of Nevada’s first craft brewery, distillery, restaurant combo — a Craft Provisions Company, if you will.
“The place will be set up like a Willy Wonka factory,” said Brandon Wright, the talent behind the future brews and booze at The Depot Craft Provisions Co.
Brandon and his partners Chris Shanks and Justin Stafford dreamed of building a brewpub since college, but their imagination kept outgrowing the places they didn’t own yet. When the train depot went up for sale a few years ago, they jumped at the chance to build their dream here.
All of them graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno, where the idea started. After graduation, they worked parallel jobs, preparing them for this venture. Brandon started as a brewer at Silver Peak and continued his education with courses at the World Brewing Academy, UC Davis and American Distilling Institute. Brandon is the “talent” and the face of the liquor brand. Chris co-owns Louis’ Basque Corner with his family and takes care of the business operations and planning. Justin started in the restaurant business as a dishwasher at age 15 and now consults 20 to 30 restaurants a year and will run the day-to-day operation of The Depot.
“We would’ve been open by now if we stayed with the original location,” Chris said.
But now they are deep into the renovation phases of the historic three-story building. The first floor will house a bar the full width of the building looking into the brewhouse-distillery. The bar will include taps with their beer, guest beers and pre-mixed, barrel-aged cocktails. It will also host standard cocktails and their distilled spirits. A kitchen, dining area and lounge will live on the second floor and on the secret third floor, not mentioned in the Nevada Historic Preservation page or Wikipedia, will be offices and barrel storage.
Customer demand will dictate whether beer or whiskey production dominates Brandon’s time. He wants to start production eight to 10 weeks before it opens. He will start aging whiskey in small-format barrels, which accelerate the aging process — what only takes two to four months in Brandon’s barrels normally takes four to six years in a larger barrel.
Sourcing grain for spirits continues to become easier in Northern Nevada and Brandon plans to take full advantage of Winnemucca Farms and Churchill Vineyards. One thought is to approach The Depot’s investors about growing grains on their ranch property, which would allow the depot to claim estate distillery status if Brandon uses 100 percent of the grain from these ranches. Using local farms for the brewery, however, is not as easy since beer requires complex grain malting and hops by the ton — processes and ingredients not currently available in Nevada.
“I guess you could call it farm to glass,” Justin said.
The exposed brick and wooden bones of the building will remain, but it needs utilities, code updates, walls, floors and of course, a complete build out for all the craft provisions. The bewhouse-distillery room needs the most renovation, its floor covered in smashed concrete and a few misplaced toilets.
Brandon, Chris and Justin don’t let the state of the building phase them, it only invigorates their imagination. What looks like an impossible, overwhelming task, only illicits a shrug and a smile from them as they casually debate the merits of pine versus fir cross beams. They see a kitchen and customers with drinks in hand where others see rotting wood and dangerous gaping holes in the floors. They see what the depot can become instead of what it looks like now.
Their vision continues to enliven a part of town long taken over by blight. They join others in the Fourth Street area who hope to gentrify another area of Reno like Midtown. But most of all they hope to make a great place for beer, spirits and food.
Opening date: Tentatively mid-October to coincide with Nevada’s Sesquicentennial birthday.
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