Sandusky is well known throughout Ohio and much of the U.S. as being a family destination for all things amusement related. Home of the second oldest amusement park in the country, Cedar Point, its also become an indoor and outdoor water park destination, with Great Wolf Lodge, Kalahari Resorts, Maui Sands, and Castaway Bay all in the area. The area is one of Ohio’s biggest tourist destination, but until recently, was well behind the rest of Ohio in another kind of tourism: Beer tourism.
Several area businesses are looking to change that. Recently, East 55th Restaurants LLC, which owns Cleveland’s Goldhorn Brewery, opened The Leaking Boot. It started as a restaurant serving Goldhorn brews, but has recently began cranking out its own brews under the Leaking Boot Beer Company name. Bait House Brewing is also in planning, and Amusement Ales and Brewing has been in planning since 2015. For an area which draws so many people from other parts of the state, as well as neighboring states, it would seem a brewery or two would have been a no brainer years ago. But progress has been slow.
The city of Sandusky finalized the $70,000 sale of a city owned property to Cindy and Shad Gunderson, in fall 2015. According to the Sandusky Register, they purchased four connected parcels — one large building, one small structure and two parking lots — on East Market Street inside the Graefe Building, with the intention of turning it into a production brewery and taproom. The building formerly housed restaurant equipment supply business The San-Bay Co, and had sat vacant for years. But since that 2015 purchase, updates on the progress have been few and far between, and their Facebook page has not had an update since May of this year. We reached out to Amusement (whose name is an obvious homage to the city’s Amusement Park history), to find out why two years after the purchase they still haven’t opened their doors, and if the plans to open were still on track.
Owner Cindy Gunderson immediately responded to our inquiries. We asked if any of the delays were bureaucratic, since it seemed like progress on all three planned breweries was slow going compared to other similar size locales with multiple breweries in planning such as Newark and Barberton.
“[To the contrary], The City of Sandusky has been incredibly helpful and supportive of all of the potential breweries in Sandusky,” Gunderson said. “In fact, we bought our building from the city, and the Leaking Boot was given loans, and I believe a grant for their original project. They have done everything they can for all of us, and continue to be helpful.”
Mrs. Gunderson indicated they had been approved for both their TTB beer and winemaking licenses, but she did say the Federal application process took an exceptionally long time, as the agency is understaffed and unable to quickly turn around the large number of applications currently in progress due to the recent craft beverage boom.
More than the Federal process though, she said it’s their own desire to take the “slow path versus rushing into it as we did on our last brewery project”.
“The building [we purchased]”, she went on to say, “Is very large and needs a lot of renovations primarily in the form of infrastructure.” The Gunderson’s are putting up $2 million of their own money to renovate the building.
She also cited changes in the craft beer industry which have caused them to retool and re-evaluate their place in an ever crowding marketplace.
“Five years ago we had every hope of being a decent sized production. Now the trend is changing to better support how the marketplace can handle choice. So like any business, you retool and figure out what can work both fiscally and intelligently, in addition to [putting] out exceptional products. We are past the days where mediocre beer will go much further than your own front door.”
With regards to their silence on social media, she admits it’s more about not wanting to over promise and under deliver on both an opening date, and the quality of the product.
“That being said, we are still focused on opening in the late winter or spring of 2018,” she said. “We can’t emphasize how greatly we appreciate all of the support that the beer community gives us. Because of that, it’s our obligation to create quality beer and alcoholic beverages.”