Neenah’s Lion’s Tail Brewing is working to purchase the former Wisconsin Garden & Pet Supply, 8520 W. North Ave., in Wauwatosa, and hopes to open a brewery and taproom in the two buildings on the site.
Wisconsin Garden & Pet Supply operated for 68 years in Wauwatosa until it closed on July 31. Lion’s Tail entered into a contract for the property in early June and hopes to close the deal in September. Conditional approval from the Wauwatosa Plan Commission is a condition of the sale.
According to Lion’s Tail Operations and Marketing Manager Nick Leak, the brewery had been investigating the former Pabst Pilot House, 1037 W. Juneau Ave. that ultimately went to another central Wisconsin brewery.
According to Leak, the two buildings on the new property would be connected with a space that will expand the outdoor seating and add bathrooms.
“Milwaukee is our fastest-growing market,” says Leak. “We've been selling to the Milwaukee area for four years, but in 2020 we were able to add double-digit off-premise accounts when COVID led to the transition to in-home beer consumption. Prior to that we were primarily focused on keg sales.
“Post the initial COVID-driven change to more in-home consumption, we've seen those retail accounts continue to grow in sales. And as more on-premise accounts began to welcome back customers for draught consumption, we saw keg sales not just return to, but grow from prior year levels as well. We feel like we've built a strong customer-base in the Milwaukee area that will be excited to continue supporting Lion's Tail in a new way.”
Wauwatosa’s Galbraith Carnahan Architects are designing the project, which would be built by Duffek Construction, which built the Eagle Park brewery, distillery and taproom in Muskego last year.
The former pet store building (above) will house a brew system that will help expand capacity for Lion’s Tail, whose brewhouse in Neenah is packed full of equipment with no room to grow.
Meanwhile, the former garden center (below) will become a taproom and the space out front beneath the pergola will be a patio.
Lion’s Tail plans to invite food trucks to the site to serve food.
The property is actually four parcels, including land behind the buildings, and Lion’s Tail plans to create as many as 20 parking spaces there.
“Tthe potential for the Garden & Pet Center jumped out to all of us the moment we walked the space,” says Leak. “Wauwatosa, and in particular Midtown, is screaming for a venue to offer outdoor seating in an integrated beer-garden-type format, which is what we plan to offer by utilizing the existing outdoor structure on the garden side to create a covered, outdoor beer-garden patio.”
Leak says the project goes to the City of Wauwatosa's Plan Commission for approval on Sept. 13.
No opening date has yet been projected.
“We've been working hard behind the scenes with the teams from Galbraith Carnahan Architects and Duffek Construction to prepare plans so that if we get conditional approval in September and are then able to close on the property in September, as well, we'd move forward with initiating construction as quickly as possible,” says Leak.
“As for completion of construction and grand opening of the taproom, it will be 2022. We don't yet have a fully defined construction schedule given we're awaiting the formal conditional approval. We won't rush anything; we know the value in doing things the right way.”
Lion’s Tail, founded by Alex and Kristin Wenzel (pictured above), opened in a 1909 building (pictured below) constructed for the Equitable Fraternal Union – a non-profit insurance company and social group – in Neenah in 2015.
It has the capacity to brew up to about 2,200 barrels on its current 10-barrel system.
“Our intent is to put in a very similar size system to what we utilize in Neenah today, just with fewer fermenters to start,” says Leak. “We'll practice a similar model to Neenah and add more tanks as needed.”
Beer from both breweries would be served at both taprooms and would be kegged and canned for retail customers.
“We self-distribute beer around the state from Wausau / Stevens Point to Green Bay to Door County to Madison and of course the Fox Valley and Milwaukee,” says Leak. “Our distribution grew substantially in 2020 and is on pace for another record year in 2021, which allowed us to purchase a delivery vehicle and bring on a full-time delivery driver.
“One part of the appeal of a second location is the ability to add more production space to keep up with increased demand, taking into account the spacial limitations making expansion in our current Neenah brewery difficult.”
The brewery’s most popular beer is Juice Cloud, a New England IPA.
Leak says that Lion’s Tail did investigate other properties in the Milwaukee area. It’s interest in the Pabst site was due to the fact that it had an existing brew system in place and a move-in-ready taproom.
“We made a point to explore multiple neighborhoods within Milwaukee city limits and some of the surrounding suburbs to see what felt the most like our environment in Neenah, where we've had great success,” Leak says.
Wauwatosa fits the bill, he adds.
“Wauwatosa has such a great balance of history and established residents with a younger generation of families moving in,” Leak says. “It's also a city that is investing heavily in growth and bringing in new businesses and development. From both of those standpoints it's very similar to Neenah.
“We love that in Neenah we are surrounded by nearby homes and try to create a ‘neighborhood pub’ atmosphere to take advantage of a customer base that can fairly easily venture to the taproom. Wauwatosa, and in particular this location in the Midtown District, has that exact same feel.”
Leak says that Lion’s Tail has had discussions with neighbors and feels that the project has local support.
“We want to be somewhere that when you walk in you feel welcome, and even if it's your first visit, you feel like you're a regular,” he says. “We strive to be family-friendly, inviting, and always want to highlight the natural character/history of a building/location, which is something the Garden Center definitely has to offer.
“We feel like the fit in Wauwatosa for both the present customer base, and the future shift that seems to be in process, fit the beers we make, the type of brewery we want to be, and the experience we hope to offer.”
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.