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East Little Rock’s ‘Innovation Alley’ Drawing Grit, Funk Lovers

7 min read

Margaret McEntire has found herself in the midst of a second redevelopment wave in downtown Little Rock. A player on the River Market scene since 1999, McEntire is now hosting change instead of making it happen.

In this go-around, the founder and former owner of Candy Bouquet International is in the role of landlord to a new generation of entrepreneurs.

At her 501 Byrd St. warehouse once devoted to Candy Bouquet, McEntire is leasing 20,000 SF to a trendy tenant: Lost Forty Brewing. The company is among a growing group bringing a River Market flare east of Interstate 30.

“You take people with innovative-type ideas and you get innovative-type results,” McEntire said. “That is innovation alley over there. During the next 20 years, it is going to become the next redevelopment hot spot.”

Manufacturing meets entertainment, Lost Forty is drawing drinking and dining traffic to sample its brewery and kitchen wares.

The craft beer establishment, which opened in December 2014, is part of an early rollout of ventures bringing a reimagined vision to an industrial neighborhood dominated by conventional office-warehouse enterprises.

“We wanted a taproom for tasting and tours,” said John Beachboard, a Lost Forty partner. “We had no idea whether or not people would come down to the taproom for lunch or dinner or for beers.”

But its bar and restaurant combo has been a hit and an encouragement to others considering the possibilities of the area.

Lost Forty is one of four projects along a six-block stretch of East Sixth Street that feature a blend of work and pleasure served in an industrial setting.

The beachhead was established by Phil Brandon’s Rock Town Distillery, which opened craft liquor production and taste-testing tours in leased quarters at 1216 E. Sixth in September 2010.

Poised to make it a party of three is Rebel Kettle Brewing & Tap Room, which recently began producing batches of beer at 822 E. Sixth St. in advance of a spring opening.

Construction is expected to start this summer on the Sterling Paint redevelopment, which will become the new home of Cromwell Architects Engineers, a restaurant and loft apartments at 1300 E. Sixth St. by summer 2017.

A deal is in the works to expand the Sterling Paint redevelopment holdings, too. The 21,800-SF warehouse at 1212 E. Sixth, which houses Refurbished Office Panels and Recycled Bikes for Kids, is under contract and expected to close by the end of February.

“Our goal is to create one of the neatest streets along that stretch of Sixth and connect it with the front door of the Heifer International headquarters on Shall Street,” said Chris Moses, president of Moses Tucker Real Estate and partner in the Sterling Paint redevelopment.

(Also see: I-30 Changes Worry East Little Rock Property Owners)

Good Crazy

Walking through the brewhouse operating at her 34,000-SF warehouse, Margaret McEntire stops to appreciate the still magical transformation of space. Stainless steel tanks and fermenters yielding the end product of canned Lost Forty beverage readied for shipping present a crazy, unexpected sight.

McEntire, who sold Candy Bouquet in 2011, considers the creative twist for a moment as workers tend to the business of brewing and packing beer. “I had $2 million-$3 million worth of gourmet chocolate here that we shipped all over the country, so it’s not that crazy,” she said.

The reception of Lost Forty’s line has been crazy good. Sales projections indicated production of 5,000 barrels during its first three years. Demand was such that the brewery produced 4,750 barrels in 2015 alone.

“We added more tanks this Tuesday,” Beachboard said. “This is the second time we’ve added capacity. We thought there was a big opportunity to make beer. Everybody around the state is embracing local beer.”

Lost Forty has expanded from its Pulaski-Saline county territory, eastward to the West Memphis and Jonesboro markets. Product will be flowing southwest to Hot Springs, Arkadelphia and Texarkana. Next up are Fort Smith and northwest Arkansas.

The Lost Forty owners, who include Scott McGehee, Russ McDonough and Albert Braunfisch, were uncertain how the location would be received as a place to bend an elbow, let alone eat a meal. The wild success of Sunday brunch, introduced eight months ago, confirmed they were on to something.

“It’s been awesome,” Beach-board said. “The thing is there are not a lot of places in Little Rock where you meet people at the intersection of industrial and retail.

“We joked around that it would be a place that people would want to come have a beer or the best man cave that any of us had ever had. But people loved the industrial atmosphere and being around the brewery equipment and being able to see the canning line. They get to see the whole process. When we opened, it was like ‘Wow, this is a really cool place to have a beer.’”

The Lost Forty investors hope to be a building block in an alternative development community with its own identity and name, something like Hanger Hill Brewing District maybe.

“Somebody asked me the other day: ‘How do you guys feel about this other brewery coming in?’ Beachboard said. “If they’re anything like us, the more local craft breweries in Little Rock the better.

“We’re excited to be part of local craft beer. It would be awesome if we had four or five breweries around us.”

Mad-Scientist Stuff

A block west of Lost Forty, the crew over at Rebel Kettle is still setting up some of its brewing gear while working on a batch during a midmorning Wednesday drop-in visit.

What’s on the brewmeister’s menu? A cream stout dubbed Moon Tower in a nod to the party landmark featured in the 1993 flick “Dazed & Confused.”

Rebel Kettle Brewing & Tap Room will be a craft beer dining destination like Lost Forty but with an even bigger emphasis on entertainment. A beer garden with a deck, a stage for live music and a gaming area for bocce ball and baggo are listed on the amenity package at the redeveloped 5,562-SF office-warehouse project.

“We expect our customers to come in here and hang out,” said Matt Morgan, Rebel Kettle partner along with Jason Polk and John Lee. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The venture’s initial brews will be produced for on-site sales only, served from a 16-tap bar featuring an additional four taps dedicated to West Coast wines.

“We’ve discussed distributing, and we’ll revisit that,” Morgan said. “We’ll give it six months and see how it goes.”

The Rebel in its name is a reflection of the owners’ intention to go against the grain, to be extremely experimental with its brews and willing to produce say, a batch of mango habanero pale ale on any given day.

“We have a smaller system that we’re going to be doing mad-scientist stuff on,” Morgan said. “If it’s a hit, we’ll bring it around again. We will be constantly rotating tap handles.”

The food menu will be built on a foundation of gourmet burgers and Cajun cuisine overseen by Pat Beard of Southern Gourmasian. Morgan said the experimental nature of Rebel Kettle drinks will spill over onto the offerings delivered from its kitchen.

“There is going to be some weird, interesting appetizers and desserts,” he promised.

Grit & Funk

Once isolated, Phil Brandon now has redevelopment activity popping on either side of his 15,622-SF Rock Town Distillery location.

“People like grit, and they like funky,” Brandon said. “Lost Forty had the foresight to do something really cool.”

“We’re close enough to downtown that people are willing to make the trek over here. To me, it just seems like a natural place to grow from downtown.”

Brandon’s leased quarters are part of the Sterling Paint acquisition by the Cromwell firm and Moses Tucker group.

“We want him to keep it there,” Chris Moses said of Rock Town. “We’re working on a lease renewal.”

Moses said there’s a possibility that a second restaurant could be a part of the redevelopment at 1300 E. Sixth St. and that design documents should be finished in time to start construction in early summer.

With the Cromwell offices and restaurant space on the ground floor, the upstairs will be reconfigured to accommodate 15-20 apartments.

“Our goal is to make them all unique, like what we did with the Mann Lofts on Main Street, really cool, funky lofts,” Moses said.

A 3,150-SF building at 1400 E. Sixth St. with remediation issues likely won’t remain as part of the redeveloped property, especially with parking needs.

“We’re probably going to have to knock it down,” said Dan Fowler, chief operating officer at Cromwell Architects Engineers.

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