Three vacant churches in Clinton will be resurrected by Great Revivalist Brew Lab (GRB) of Geneseo, to create Clinton’s first craft brewery.
Owner Richard Schwab will renovate the building at 238 4th Avenue South (former Bethel AME Church) for the brewery, 311 S. 3rd Street would be used for a conference area/event space, and the exterior of 303-307 S. 3rd Street would be restored and the inside would provide storage. Schwab has said if they could obtain the alleyway, the brewery would have an entire compound.
He told the City Council the new brewery would offer a dog patio, and an elevated deck above the brewery. Schwab stated he wanted to restore the main church to its full glory.
Schwab told the city (40 miles north of Geneseo) that the Geneseo location has generated $1.2 million per year in sales.
The former Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church at 303-307 S. 3rd Street will be repaired and rehabilitated and will be used for storage. Schwab was drawn to the former church on 4th Avenue South due to its historical and cultural significance. He will be preserving the stained-glass windows and the original copy of an Italian tile fresco, as well as repurposing wood from the pews to make tables, according to the city.
The church at 303-307 S. 3rd Street was the first African-American church in Clinton, built in 1884. Elizabeth Fairfax, a former slave and mother of 11 children, helped raise the $600 needed for the construction of the church by selling books. Duke Slator’s father was one of the pastors of the Bethel AME Church (at that time the African Methodist Episcopal Church).
The church at 4th Avenue South was originally St. John’s Episcopal Church, with construction starting in 1898. Bethel AME operations transitioned to that church in 2007. Unfortunately, operations were not able to resume after the COVID-19 pandemic, the city said Tuesday.
Negotiations are still underway with the property owner for 311 S. 3rd St., and is not sold at this time, according to the city.
“The vision of Richard Schwab and Great Revivalist Brewery (GRB) fits amazingly well into the transformation that has been ongoing in the city of Clinton,” city administrator Matt Brooke said Tuesday. “GRB is a top-tier producer of soda and ale but also provides top-notch lunch and dinner seven days a week. GRB is respected in their field and will create an exceptional destination point in the city and for all of eastern Iowa.”
“We have been looking around for a while on expanding,” Scott Lehnert, master brewer at GRB, said recently. “We knew we wanted a production facility, and this granted us the space. The city has been so welcoming to us.”
They chose Clinton because it doesn’t have a local brewery and the QC area has been crowded with them, he noted.
“You all take each other’s business and I don’t understand why Clinton hasn’t had one,” he said. “They have a great population, not only in their town, but the surrounding areas. I’m just so excited – it’s such a cool area to do this.”
“We’re definitely looking forward to bringing our love of the beer life to Clinton,” GRB general manager Rachel Heise said. “We provide a very unique experience, and we want to spread that out. Why not in a church? What more unique experience could you get than having a brewery in a church? We’re ready to put our spin on it and bring our love of beer to Clinton.”
A mutual friend made Great Revivalist aware of the space in Clinton, Lehnert said, noting they lease their current space (1225 S. Oakwood Avenue) in the Geneseo strip mall. “We wanted a space we could own and have enough space for us to do things efficiently and correctly.”
Andy Sokolovich, president & CEO of Grow Clinton, said Tuesday that when considering common factors leading to economic growth, “there is no doubt that the existence of a brewery ranks in the top 10.”
“The attraction of Great Revivalist Brew Lab to Clinton is a slam dunk for all involved!” he said by email. “Creating jobs and added tax revenue is always the goal when recruiting a new company to our community, but this project injects an atmosphere that speaks to the increased well-being and quality of life associated with living in an exciting river town. I look forward to celebrating with the entire Great Revivalist Bew Lab team.”
Starting with COVID
GRB took over the Geneseo building formerly occupied by Lionstone Brewing, and owner Richard Schwab had previously planned to revive the former Great River Brewery, 332 E. 2nd St., Davenport, as Great Revivalist Brewery, but Lehnert (who worked at Great River) said those plans have been scrapped.
Great River never reopened following the record-breaking flood in downtown Davenport, which broke the levee April 30, 2019.
Great Revivalist opened in Geneseo in early March 2020 and was soon shut down temporarily due to the COVID pandemic. Heise had started with Lionstone in 2016.
“It’s been an amazing transformation since I’ve been here,” she said of GRB. “We had no outdoor areas, no game room. We have our dog patio here; we have a 25-by-60 deck at the back of the building, with a grain silo. Now we have a game room, and that’s been such a huge draw for us. That’s so nice to have on busy days, where we can overflow – of course 21 and older.”
“There’s something for everyone here; that’s what is neat,” Lehnert said. In Clinton, “we have so many ideas of what we want to do there.”
“We want to be a place where you can bring the whole family and everybody has something to do,” Heise said. “We have soda, coffee. We’re a full restaurant. We have a wood-fired oven. We make our own pizza dough. We have a little bit of everything.”
They work to have an environment where everyone feels comfortable.
The pivot during COVID was survival mode, focusing on outdoor dining and service, Lehnert said. “Some of those ideas actually helped. When you didn’t have to stay outdoors, then people wanted to be outdoors. It really helped to expand our outdoor seating.”
The game room (at the far end of the space) opened last November. “It’s changed our life having the extra space,” Heise said. Since they opened, they have tripled the food production, with the same size kitchen (behind the game room).
“They can pump out some food like you wouldn’t believe in that little baby kitchen,” she said. “I’ve worked in a lot of kitchens, and this is probably the smallest one for the largest restaurant.”
GRB prides itself on producing handcrafted everything, including sauces, dough, side dishes, and sausage. “Same with our cocktails,” Heise said. “This day and age, COVID has changed a lot of people. People are very particular and you gotta go the extra mile sometimes to make them want to come back.”
“We are unique here. We just love providing an environment you don’t get all over,” she said. “we’re not a chain; we’re not cookie cutter. We’re crazy people and we try to have a good time. It’s lifestyle for us. You gotta love what you do to do this.”
In addition to the unique beers, hard seltzers, sodas, ciders and coffees, Great Revivalist is a full restaurant (with an outdoor patio and deck), including favorites such as woodfire pizza, mango-heat poutine, and mahi tacos.
Plans to can beers
Lehnert plans to can their beers – as they have done for their ciders and sodas, which are sold at area Hy-Vee and Fareway stores.
“To do it and do it right takes more space than we’re afforded here,” he said. “We’re capped at the space here, and there we can have our own space.”
“I’m just excited we’re going to be going to Clinton. It’s such a cool old town, a lot of great history,” he said. “I love being able to riff off the names and things that we can do. There’s such history in that town. And they have a flood wall.”
Great Revivalist loves the Geneseo location, right off I-80, which brings in lots of traffic.
“We have a lot of extremely loyal local customers,” Heise said. “We have families three, four, five times a week. We have so many repeat customers. And through COVID, they supported us so much. They came in and made sure we got tips.”
“The community of Geneseo has been extremely supportive, and Clinton has already been the same to us,” she said. “They have opened their arms to us; they are ready for us to come there. They’re ready for an experience like us.”
“Word of mouth is great. Especially this summer with being dog-friendly, we get a lot of calls, saying our friend came through months ago and you guys have dogs outside,” Heise said. “Being dog-friendly has been a huge advantage for us.”
There are a few regular truck drivers who come in, she noted. “Having great word of mouth is so much, that networking,” Heise said.
GRB has stayed open seven days a week during COVID. “We’re one of the few places in this town, where it’s a full-service restaurant seven days a week,” Lehnert said.
They want to focus on getting its beers into grocery stores and convenience stores, he said. In stores, they now have six varieties of sodas, tonic water and an energy drink.
“One of the neat things about this place, we have constant one-offs, something new,” Lehnert said of making craft beers. “It’s hard to sell beer like that in cans. We’ve talked with our wholesaler partners and now it’s up to us to actually do that and see what we can come up with.”
Customers have their own favorite beers, from milk stout every day, to the blonde ales. GRB has so much variety on its daily board, “if you can’t find something you like, you’re pretty picky,” Heise said. “Between the sodas and beers, we make our own coffee too, and seltzers. We have everything.”
“We do our best to appeal to every person possible,” she said.
Planning to open Clinton by December
For Clinton, they’re hoping to open the new operation by the end of 2022.
“We want to at least have brewery operations going,” Lehnert said. “It’s dependent upon the general contractors. They’re started the demolition; we’re approved for our financing on that location. We have the cooperation of the city. We’re ready to go. It just depends on all the things we find.”
They don’t have architectural renderings done for the new space. “We have to see what is possible,” he said. “There’s plenty of space, not only within but outside. That was something that was important to us.”
“There are so many hidden-away spaces, we’re just so visual, we have to get rid of all of that to realize what we’re working with,” Lehnert said.
They have to demolish certain parts of the buildings, and plan to restore them to some of their historical grandeur, Heise said.
“The stained-glass windows will stay; there’s a 1902 fresco that’s gorgeous,” she said of where the main brewery and restaurant will be. “It is a large, large space.”
The Clinton business will have the same quality as Geneseo, but its own unique spin, he said. “I can’t wait to brew in there. The stained glass that’s in there…they’re just absolutely gorgeous.”
GRB has a staff of about 20 full-time, and more than 25 over the summer with students. They’re not sure how many employees Clinton will have.
“We want to make sure we do everything right,” Lehnert said. The Geneseo restaurant seats about 150 people. Clinton also will include a wood-fired pizza oven and a full-service restaurant.
GRB has aged some of their beers in Mississippi River Distilling barrels. MRDC uses the GRB ginger beer in their cocktails, Lehnert said.
“I really appreciate that and they sell our ginger beer there, too,” he said.
The Clinton site is three blocks from the river. “There’s no issue with flooding there,” Lehnert said.
Mayor is excited
Clinton Mayor Scott Maddasion said Tuesday he can’t wait to welcome GRB to his city.
“I would like to thank Great Revivalist and our Downtown team for working quickly and diligently to bring this project to fruition,” he said by email. “The remodel and revitalization of 3 historic churches in our community to house their business will not only add value to our downtown but help to preserve the history we hold so dear in Clinton.
“Our community has been eager to add a brewery in town and this partnership truly is a match made in heaven,” Maddasion said. “We look forward to this location as a destination not only for our citizens but for those all around the area.”
The new location also will be on the QC Ale Trail, promoted by Visit Quad Cities.
“That’s really neat for our area,” Lehnert said of the variety of 18-plus local breweries. “The Ale Trail is great, from local economic development and tourism, and all the shared events that we do, social media, marketing.”
To learn more about Great Revivalist, click HERE.