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Craft beer and Community come together at Gateway City Brewery

It just started with a passion for craft beer and thinking we should do this. We should create jobs.

“Rooted” is all about the people and places that make us proud to call our community home.

To take that leap of faith and start up your own company is not something everyone has the guts to do. But if you know your market and know your community, it can make the process a little easier to not only start but become a success. The folks at Gateway City Brewery have followed those steps to a tee.

“We started the business for two reasons; one is that we have a passion for craft beer and then also we have a passion for community,” says Sully Sullivan, one of the three co-founders of the company, located on Gormanville Road.

“Jeff Hodge, Mike Perrault and I, although we're not all born here, we all consider North Bay our hometown.  We grew up here, or our most influential and inspiring years were here, so it is our home.”

Sullivan says they all moved away from the Gateway City at some point in their life but returned around the same time in 2012. He says the three friends knew they wanted to put together something that was unique for the city and reflected North Bay itself and that’s when the ideas started to flow.

“It just started with a passion for craft beer and thinking we should do this. We should create jobs. Then the next year, we were talking about the same thing and then finally said 'we’re putting our money where our mouth is' kind of thing and had decided to jump right in.”

They already had some business acumen within the group.

“Mikes family ran Music City, one of the longest-running music stores in town and so he has a business sense and a passion for community as well.”

However, it was actually making the product they loved so much where they were going to need some assistance.

“We just knew we needed a Brew Master, since none of us were skilled in that. We loved what we did, and we researched it and stuff but we're not good at brewing and so we ended up hiring John Palko through, I believe, it was LinkedIn.

"We reached out to him there and started the conversations via email first, and after just chatting through a phone call. We eventually ended up bringing him up for three or four days and then we just all hung out together and showed him what we're interested in, he showed us his pitch and we gave our pitch to him and after a brief conversation once he left, we decided to offer him the job.”

A move north can be a big deal, but Sullivan says Palko got somewhat of a blessing from his dad to trek up Highway 11.

“A big proponent of that too is, his dad really loved North Bay. He’s originally from the Niagara Falls area and his dad liked North Bay so he was like ‘you’ve got to move there because I'd like to go retire there so if you're there it gives me a reason to go’ so he fell in love with the city and we decided we could all get along together and then he end up moving up here.”

With the right people in place, it was then a matter of marketing and branding themselves as a genuine North Bay business. That meant giving their products a special hometown touch.

“Through the naming of our beers we were trying to promote a little bit of local North Bay history or folklore. Somehow all the names are tied to North Bay in some way.

"We recently released our Klock Ave. Beer and that is the original name for Algonquin Avenue. It would change back in the 1940s after the war to honor the Algonquin regiment when they came back from wartime.”

Sullivan adds, “Most people didn't know it had a different name at some point and the house at the corner of Commercial and Algonquin there is an old street sign that's on the building itself and it actually still says Klock Ave on it.”

“That's another thing that we do that's trying to be community-based and we put that out via social media where, when we launch a beer, we also give the reason why we named it so there's that aspect of community as well,” says Sullivan.

Then they wanted to show off what North Bay was all about with some promotional videos on their website. The videos detail their story and why they are proud to run their business from this city.

“We have many other passions and one of those happens to be in music and the arts and so social media is a combination of marketing, promotion, and also the arts,” Sullivan explains.

 “So, we've decided to create some of these little videos using North Bay musicians and trying to promote North Bay and with our ties to the music community as being musicians ourselves now, we thought we would explore both ideas and hopefully put both out there.”

The group took that idea a step further and didn’t just want their place of business to be a spot where they make and sell beer but a space that people could gather and have fun. That led them to having a room where musicians can come and play to not only the patrons in the building, but also use the space to shoot their own videos.

 “We do have our ‘From the Brewery Floor Series’ as well that's on YouTube,” says Sullivan. “We have some criteria there but if you're a local musician or artist and you are either, one; releasing a new album or EP shortly or two, embarking on a multi-date tour with it whether it's provincially or nationally we want to get you in here to kind of do a live video to help give you some content. As well we're going to pay for all the sound and the video kind of stuff and then those artists get the video to help promote their album or whatever is coming up.”

And when there isn’t live music or videos being shot, patrons can indulge in the nostalgic atmosphere they have provided with several arcade games and pinball machines.

“That’s all part of the whole craft beer scene,” says Sullivan.  “Craft beer isn't just about the beverage it's about community and lifestyle and that's hopefully what we're trying to do with the brewery here as well. Not just create great craft beer but also create a sense of community and a lifestyle kind of brand.”

The craft beer market has been a growing trend over the last decade or so and there are micro-breweries popping up in almost every city. So how does this group take that knowledge and stand out within that crowd? Sullivan says it's all about trying to be unique and provide something completely different.

“The craft beer industry is obviously in a boom period,” says Sullivan. “People are wanting it and it allows you to get a little bit more experimental in certain ways and just try different things so we can we only have our four beers that we run and everything else we run into a seasonal or a 'one-off' at that time.”  

“I think for people, it’s just that, that appeals to them right now and have a variety.  We're entering an age where people get bored pretty quickly.  We can see that with music, movies, all that kind of stuff as well where people move on pretty quick. I just think people want to try different things all the time so craft beer gives people that flexibility for them to do that, and as far as oversaturation there may come a point where that happens, but as of right now it hasn’t come to that yet.”  

Sullivan says from day one they have felt supported and that hasn’t changed even with the current global situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. He says one thing that has become apparent during this outbreak is that people really want to see their local businesses survive.

“We can obviously see what supporting local really means and I think people have really jumped onto that in North Bay,” he says.

 “I think they've always kind of been a big proponent of that with a lot of local restaurants and establishments, it seems people here are pretty loyal to North Bay and so I think we're doing pretty good and as friends with New Ontario too, they seem to be doing just as well.”

If you have a story suggestion for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at [email protected]

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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