TARPON SPRINGS — For some business owners, the prospect of opening a new venture during a pandemic would be a daunting task.
But according to Brighter Days Brewing Co. co-founder Jason Leonard, navigating the ongoing coronavirus crisis represented another hurdle he and co-founder Aron Guten needed to clear in order to have their longtime dream of opening a brewery become a reality.
“We bought the building in May 2018 and we’re just now opening,” Leonard said July 13, a week after the brewery’s Independence Day opening, noting they’d already dealt with an architectural issue that took nine months to correct in addition to the recent re-closure of bars and breweries.
“The latest round (of closures) is perplexing and puts a real stress on bars and breweries,” he added. “But we’re used to delays and we’re treating this latest setback as yet another one to overcome.”
Leonard’s relaxed attitude is reflected in his new brewery, which, in addition to being housed in a giant, bright red barn-like building at 311 N. Safford Ave., is located right on the Pinellas Trail, a fact the owners plan to use to their advantage.
“The trail is going to be the lifeblood of this place,” Leonard said, noting they’re in the process of adding a 900-square-foot patio out front so patrons “will be able to park their bikes out front, walk up to the takeout window and never have to come inside. We want to be built for speed and easy to do business.”
Leonard, a Tarpon Springs native who went to East Lake High School and graduated from Florida State University with a degree in hospitality, said it’s been his and Guten’s dream to own their own place after they began working together more than 15 years ago.
“We both come from the hospitality world and we’re big music fans,” he said, adding they got some of their early inspirations from places like the Dunedin Brewery, Hoppers, World of Beer and Seventh Sun. “I saw their unique styles and when we worked on the point-of-sale team that opened the first World of Beer in Westchase it was very eye-opening in terms of the seeing how that side of the industry worked, and that’s when the idea really came about.”
After spending two years renovating the building, installing the shiny new 3½-barrel brewing system, hiring master brewer Mark Fehrenbach and preparing for their grand opening, the world suddenly changed, and Brighter Days also had to adapt, closing the tasting room and switching to carry-out only of their new, brightly packaged cans.
“Literally, right when we were ready to go they shut us down, so we pivoted and bought bourbon barrels and began brewing light lagers, which have a little longer shelf life,” he said as he pointed to the barrels that will keep the beer safe for a few months. “We also plan to have a stout sooner rather than later, and right now we have a lager and a pilsner and a sour that should be pretty big for us. But we don’t know what our flagship beer is gonna be yet. We assume the customers will direct us to what they want. One advantage being the size that we are is we’re nimble enough to be able to adjust in a hurry.”
Leonard said the plan is to take things slowly as they enter the growing Tarpon Springs craft beer scene.
“There’s a big responsibility on all of us to brew the best beer we can because we’re a reflection of the Tarpon Springs area and the craft beer scene in general,” he said, noting they’re received a lot of support from fellow local brewers Chad Croake at Two Frogs and Bob Sylvester at St. Somewhere. “If it’s not done properly it ruins your reputation and we all owe it to the consumers to brew the best beers we possibly can. And the reason I know we can do this is I’ve got a great brewer and a great team.”
Asked the inevitable question about opening a place called Brighter Days during a national health crisis, Leonard attributed the coincidence to dumb luck.
“We registered (the name) in 2017 and never thought it would be so appropriate,” he said of the moniker, which he and Guten came up with while working in office cubicles and dreaming of brighter days ahead.
“But it’s nice to generate a positive message and hopefully we’ll be able to help bring the community back together. Right now, people are scared of each other. We want to be your excuse to get together.”