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Eli Fish Brewing Company

May 13, 2019 - 9:00am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia's best businesses, Eli Fish Brewing Company.

Here is the second episode of Batavia's Best Businesses with Nici Johnson. This time we feature The Eli Fish Brewing Co.

We are producing this series in partnership with WBTA AM/FM.  To view our first episode, Charles Men's Shop, click here.

Local business owners interested in more information: Call Lorne Way or Jim Ernst at WBTA at (585) 344-1490.

 

May 12, 2019 - 7:34pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Eli Fish Brewing Company, preservation, landmark society.

Award text:

The fourth recipient of this year’s Landmark Awards goes to Eli Fish Brewing Company for their Adaptive reuse of the building known as J. J. Newberry at 109 111 Main Street in Batavia. Matt Gray and Jon Mager are here tonight to receive the award.

I am sure most of you in the audience tonight are familiar with Eli Fish and the story of their creation of Batavia’s first brewery in many, many years. There has been lots and lots of press coverage of the project and many happy diners and beer lovers have paid a visit since their opening in March of 2018. 

Many of you have memories of what was there before- I have fond memories of Main Street Coffee and Pieces (the jewelry, frame spot, art gallery) being there in the early parts of this century. After that, Brian and Beth Kemp’s T-Shirt ETC found a home there as did The American Red Cross. Of course, the biggest memory jogger for Batavians and folks from Genesee County was the decades that the building was known as Newberry’s.

The three-story Italianate style building was constructed in 1881. The architect was George J King who designed several buildings and residences in the area. The building was built by C.H. Turner & Son Company, a prominent local furniture maker and undertaker, before the J.J. Newberry Company, a national five-and-dime store, purchased the building in 1929.

Downtown Batavia was a hopping center of commerce during those years –both sides of Main Street were lined with late 19th century 2 and 3  story buildings, filled with every kind of business needed for a county seat. Shops were on the ground level floor and offices above. On the corner of Jackson and Main the Bank of Genesee, the building stands still, next it the now long vacant Carr Building remains as well. Between Carrs and Newberry a theater once stood, but a fire devastated it in the mid-thirties and was eventually replaced with a single story addition onto Carr’s.

Following World War II, storefronts in Batavia and all across the country began to change. In an effort to embrace the sleek new look in vogue, many buildings were altered by covering up the brick facework with steel or aluminum. The Newberry building’s storefront was altered- but not to the extent that other Newberry properties experienced across the country.  In 1948 a single story building was erected to the rear of the original structure, more than doubling its length.  The

renovation included a relocated lunch counter with a curved Art Moderne hood.  Main Street Coffee incorporated into their operation and Eli Fish left a portion of it exposed in the entry area of the brewery.  The modern storefront configuration with large plate glass windows was a marvel at the time; it even warranted a full article and large picture in the paper announcing its completion.

Newberry maintained its façade between the 1920s and 50s, even to the point of utilizing hand-cut

wooden gold lettering across the signboard to advertise its presence on Main Street, which was much more

sympathetic to its Italianate Design. The use of gold-painted wood is noteworthy given the proliferation of

plastic molding techniques which have become the dominant sign making style since plastic became available en-mass in the 1940s. Indeed, the Batavia sign was reportedly done by H.H. Upham Company out of New York City, one of the city’s most distinguished sign companies.

When thousands of square feet of Batavia’s downtown meet the wrecking ball in the sixties and seventies, the Newberry Building remained. In 1996 it closed and was briefly home to another 5 and dime before it was sold to Andrew Mistler in 2003. That’s when the building was divided into two elongated spaces available for rent. Main Street Coffee and Pieces rented floor space for a period of time, then T-Shirts ETC and The Red Cross followed them.

In 2015, the building was sold to AGRV Properties with the dream of drastically overhauling the building into a Brewery, restaurant and living spaces. Matt Gray and Jon Mager consulted with the Batavia Development Corporation and arrived at the concept of Fresh Lab to bring in two start-up kitchens to supplement Eli Fish’s own operation. Shortly after purchasing the building, Gray and Mager brought in Buffalo’s Preservation Studios to start the process of listing the property on the National Park Services Register of Historic Places. That highly detailed process resulted in the J J Newberry building attaining a position on the list on September 11, 2017. It joins 23 others on the Register in Genesee County. The achievement, in addition to the historical significance, greatly enhanced the financial feasibility of the project to do a 20 percent tax credit at both the federal and state levels.

Construction began in the spring of 2017. During the construction process, the original plans for the brewery evolved from having the brewing operation on the first floor to moving it into the rear portion of the basement, necessitating the removal of portions of the floor and altering the project’s use of the interior space. The final layout occupies more restaurant space than was originally intended.

Since opening last year one of the two start-ups has left the operation but Eden ( featuring vegan fare) has been very well received as has Eli Fish’s beers and food. The operation at the brewery continues to evolve with additional soundproofing to reduce interior noise levels and adjustments to their menu to meet the demands of the clientele.

Quote from The Preservation Exchange Blog entry by Matt Shoen

“The density of our streets have decreased as companies attempt to gain their own spaces, damaging the feeling and cohesion of our cities. Simply look at images of old Batavia to see how the city's commercial district used to be dominated by three-story Italianate buildings, filled with large stores and commercial tenants on the upper levels. Much of these are gone, replaced by box stores and the downtown mall. The Newberry Building is actually a bit of an albatross, standing between buildings put up in the 1950s. The fact that the building maintained its form from 1881 to the present day is remarkable, even more so considering Newberry's company-wide remodeling plan from the 1950s that sought to sheath many of its buildings with metal siding. The Newberry Building in Batavia escaped this treatment, making it one of the few buildings in Batavia to survive relatively unscathed from the city's heyday….., reminding pedestrians of the shape of their old Main Street.”

February 12, 2019 - 3:27pm
Hops for Hope will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 17, at Eli Fish Brewing Company in Batavia. The brewery will be releasing its new Hope Lager at the event.
 
All of the proceeds from the new beer sale, along with the sale of several other items, will go to the Michael Napoleone Memorial Foundation and Gilda's Club of Rochester. Both organizations assist families undergoing the challenges of a cancer diagnosis.
 
Join us for an afternoon of “Hope” … listening to the music of Michael DiSanto, purchasing a commemorative glass that puts you in a cash drawing, participate in some games, buy some apparel and just spend a Sunday afternoon with friends.
 
Tickets are available at the door for $15 and include live music and appetizer stations provided by Eli Fish, which is located at 109 Main St.
 
Go to elifishbrewing.com for details or call 585-861-0550 or 585-423-9700 for questions.
December 28, 2018 - 6:30pm


Are you looking for something to do on New Year's Eve? Come spend the night with Eli Fish!

We will be offering a special New Year's Eve Dinner for Two menu from 4 to 8 p.m. with desserts provided by Eden Cafe.

Genesee Ted will be performing starting at 9:30, and we will bring in the New Year with a ceremonial keg drop and the tapping of a new brew -- BRUT-ally Honest IPA. Click here for more details.

May 21, 2018 - 11:30am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, news, freshLAB, Eli Fish Brewing Company.

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Victor Figueroa's empanadas recipe was a big hit with the judges in the Foodie Challenge, propelling him toward winning one of two slots inside the FreshLAB restaurant incubator inside the recently opened Eli Fish Brewing Company.

Yesterday, The Wild Rican, Figueroa's Puerto Rican-flavored food stand, officially opened.

Pictured are Michael Scribner, Michelle Figueroa, Victor Figueroa, and Cristal Nunez.

April 23, 2018 - 1:06pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in EDEN, news, batavia, downtown, business, freshLAB, Eli Fish Brewing Company.

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Eden, the new vegan food booth inside the Eli Fish Brewing Company restaurant at 111 E. Main St., Batavia, held a grand opening celebration and ribbon cutting Sunday afternoon.

Eden is one of two new food establishments opening inside Eli Fish, as part of an initiative sponsored by the Batavia Development Corp. called FreshLAB. 

Owner Judy Hysek cuts with the ribbon Jim Turcer, left, the first paid customer, Chamber of Commerce President Tom Turnbull, Chris Hysek, Judy's husband, Tracy Burgio, representing FreshLAB, and David Balonek, Judy's father.

April 8, 2018 - 6:10pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Eli Fish Brewing Company, downtown, batavia.

A reader tipped me to this video. It's an informative profile of Eli Fish Brewing Company.

March 24, 2018 - 7:02pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Eli Fish Brewing Company, downtown, batavia, news, business.

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There was another large crowd at Eli Fish Brewing Company today as Batavia's first brewery in decades -- named after a brewery of a prior century -- held its grand opening.

Previously: Eli Fish Brewing Company ready for grand opening tomorrow

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March 23, 2018 - 8:00am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Eli Fish Brewing Company, batavia, news, notify.

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There have been some nice surprises along the way in getting Eli Fish Brewing open over the past couple of weeks for owners Matt Gray and Jon Mager, not the least of which is the crush of people crowding into the large bar and dining area that was once the retail store space of J.J. Newberry.

There's also the quality of the staff they've been able to hire; how well the brewery is working out as a workspace for Mager; the quality of the New York brews and spirits they've been serving; and the overwhelmingly positive feedback they've been getting in person and on social media from customers throughout Western New York.

Now, it's time for the grand opening, which is Saturday and will highlight the launch of the first two new beers from Eli Fish. There will be a ribbon cutting at 2 p.m. with food samples served until midafternoon and $5 drafts all day long.

"Our nighttime crowds have been pretty surprising," Gray said. "Our Friday and Saturday nights have been very good. We’re serving a lot of guests and everybody seems to be happy with it."

For those visitors who get out and about often in the community, there has been a common observation as they wade through the large crowds on a Friday or Saturday night -- a lot of unfamiliar faces.  When you are out and about often enough in a small community, you get used to seeing the same people. There's a lot of new faces showing up at Eli Fish.

Gray, who also owns Alex's Place, has noticed the same thing.

"I'm noticing two different things," Gray said. "The crowd that is here that I do know and is local I don't see at Alex's, so they're not dining at that establishment. And then there are the ones I don't know at all, and there's a lot of them."

One of the goals of the City and Batavia Development Corp. has been to encourage more restaurants and bars downtown to help capture the estimated $2 million local residents spend in Rochester and Buffalo rather than Batavia. Of course, bringing people from Rochester and Buffalo and the other surrounding counties to Batavia would be a good thing, too.

Gray said one of the things they'll do with the grand opening is hold drawings, which include a registration that captures the zip code of entrants so they can get a better feel of where their new customers are coming from.

Mager said several posts on social media have indicated people are driving from the two metro areas to Batavia to visit Eli Fish.

But a common theme in the reviews is also that once people are inside the building they don't feel like they're in Batavia. They feel like they're in Rochester or Boston or somewhere else.

"That leads me to believe that there are a lot of people from Batavia who are coming and have been looking for something different, so it’s cool," Gray said.

Getting people to come into a new restaurant is one thing. Getting them to come back, especially to fill a space as large as Eli Fish, is another thing.

The positive reviews of the booze and food so far are a good indication people will come back, and there are trends in the first two weeks of the soft open that indicate people will come back. Gray noted that a number of people have come in expecting just a brewery but during the visit also learned there are menus with hearty entrees and a fully staffed and stocked kitchen. There's already a trend, he said, of people coming back for a second visit for lunch or dinner.

To help provide reasons for people to visit Eli Fish regularly, Gray and Mager installed an indoor bocce court. They plan to sponsor bocce leagues and tournaments. They are also considering euchre and bridge tournaments, as well as other games suitable to the space.

"Jon and I, right from the get-go, have looked at Eli Fish as a community space, a place where people go to meet, whether it’s family, friends, business meetings, events, and so on," Gray said. "We're very surprised at the number of calls that we’ve gotten to book larger events, 30 to 50 people. We have a lot of those already scheduled."

Another attraction for customers, of course, will be the two food stands inside the building that will be occupied by winners of the FreshLABs restaurant startup competition. EDEN Vegan has already been selected for one of the spaces and is expected to open April 22.

Mager said he's also been pleased with the brewery they built in the basement of the century-old building.

"We did a good job making it a functional space," Mager said. "We’re not too cramped. We’re not tripping over ourselves, so brewing down there is enjoyable and so far it’s gone very, very well."

While the light has shone the first two weeks on the restaurant and bar, Saturday is Mager's big day when his first two beers from the brewery make their debut.

There will be an IPA called "First Draft" and a blonde that didn't have a name as of Thursday afternoon but will be christened by Saturday.

"Saturday is going to be a pretty fun day," Mager said.

One unique feature of the bar is that all of the beers and spirits are brewed or distilled in New York. There are no mass produced brews or liquors. Everything is handcrafted.

That means some of the labels can be pretty unfamiliar to most customers when they first come in, that puts pressure on servers to have good palates, experience and knowledge of what they're serving.

"One of biggest, pleasant surprises we had was the quality of the people that applied for our serving and bartending jobs," Gray said. "They are experienced. They know their stuff and they are open about learning new things."

New customers, new beers (20 on tap) and new spirits, and new staff have meshed nicely together so far, Mager said.

"It is a learning experience on what to recommend to somebody who comes in and says 'I like Coors light, what would you recommend?' and I think everybody’s been picking it up pretty well that, yeah, it is a craft beer, but it doesn’t mean that it’s super hoppy and super alcoholic. We have light craft beers and the few that we have that fit that bill have been the highest sellers."

Both Gray and Mager have been surprised to discover just how good New York's spirits can be, as well.

"Most people don’t think that New York is going to produce like excellent world-class gin,' Mager said. "We’ve got gins back there that I would put against Beefeater and everything else all day.

"There is a vodka out of Clarence," he added, "that me and Matt sampled together. It was fantastic. It’s not like you're making a concession. It’s not like you’re settling for something less than premium."

With Gray quickly adding, "They’re premium."

Gray likes Irish whiskey, but he enjoys all whiskey and it's been an adventure sampling what New York has to offer.

"I like trying them all," he said.

"That’s pretty much my outlook on craft beer," Mager added. "I don’t like going to a bar with a specific beer in mind. I like trying them all. Sometimes they’re not my favorite but I like the adventure of trying them all."

Eli Fish is someplace not like Batavia, is the feedback, someplace that offers a bit of an adventure, someplace to bring the community together, and it seems that so far Eli Fish is off to a good start.

But it's not complicated, said Gray, who got his start in the food business a couple of decades ago with Matty's Pizzeria. The basics remain the same.

"A lot of things have changed (since Matty's) but it's all the same thing," Gray said. "There are only two people you’re trying to make happy, and that’s your guest walking in the door and your staff.

"You want to make sure everyone working with you wants to be there and is happy to be there, and then you want to make sure they are also making sure that every guest who walks in is happy with what you’re putting out and the service you’re getting. Whether it’s a round pizza or a square plate, it’s pretty much the same thing."

March 1, 2018 - 5:15pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Eli Fish Brewing Company, batavia, business, news.

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Eli Fish Brewing, the new downtown restaurant and brewery going into the former Newberry building, was adorned with its new sign on the front of the building today.

Inside, managers and more than a dozen new staff members were busy with training and setup.

The business should be open to the public within a couple of weeks.

February 5, 2018 - 12:50pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Eli Fish Brewing Company, freshLAB, batavia, news, notify.

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Eli Fish Brewing Company, in the Newberry's building downtown, might be less than a month away from opening.

Co-owner Matt Gray said construction is done. Now it's just a matter of waiting for the delivery of the rest of the furniture and kitchen wares.

Starting today, four managers are working full-time at the restaurant and brewery. Next week, there will be an open interview period for potential staff members.

Gray said his partner, Jon Mager, should be able to start brewing beer next week, which is one of the big decisions because it will take four weeks for the first batch to be ready to serve.

"Which puts us in a real bind," Gray said. "Do we open on March 1 or do we wait another three weeks so we have our own beer on tap?"

The target date for the FreshLab winners to open their food booths is April 1. The winners have not yet been announced.

There are four apartments on the second floor just about ready for occupants. The rental rates will be from $850 to $950 for the one-bedrooms and $1,250 for the two-bedroom apartment (which features a large living room and dining area and a large master suite with a dual-head shower).

There's space on the third floor for three apartments. One will be either two or three bedrooms and possibly a balcony/deck in the back of the building. The Newberry building is one of the projects under consideration for a Downtown Revitalization Initiative prize and if selected, the money will be used to finish these apartments as well as a patio/seating area at the back of the restaurant in Jackson Square.

"I'm excited," Gray said. "Jon is excited. I've just got to get it open. Not only has it been a long time and a big project, we're pushing it. Our staff is ready to go. We're ready to go. We need to start changing the flow of cash."

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August 8, 2017 - 3:07pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Newberry Building, Eli Fish Brewing Company.

Press release:

Three Batavia natives are giving a nod to the city’s past with an exciting plan they hope will be a cornerstone of Batavia’s future.

Eli Fish Brewing Company will be the official name of a microbrewery currently under construction in the former JJ Newberry Building at 109 Main Street, the brewery’s owners announced today. The name is in honor of Eli Fish, who operated Fish’s Malt House, a brewery located on the corner of Elm and Main Streets in the 1800s. The brewery, which reportedly had the capacity to produce 16,000 barrels of beer annually in 1883, burned many times during Fish’s ownership, with Fish rebuilding it each time at the same location.

Eli Fish Brewing Company is led by Batavia natives Matthew Gray, owner of Alex’s Place in Batavia, as well as Buffalo Brothers Pizza and Wing Co. in North Carolina, Jon Mager, a third-generation owner in Arctic Refrigeration in Batavia, and Matthew Boyd, a partner in both Alex’s and Buffalo Brothers Pizza and Wing Co., who oversees Buffalo Brothers’ five North Carolina locations. The owners expect to open Eli Fish Brewing Company by the end of the year.

“Eli Fish was a renaissance man who played an important role in the development and growth of early Batavia, and his entrepreneurial and rebuilding spirit really spoke to us,” Mager said of the decision to name the microbrewery. “That’s the same spirit and vision we want to bring to this project and bring people back to Main Street.”

The brewery will house 20 taps, featuring ten beers brewed in-house and ten rotating beers from around New York State. Along with New York beers, the bar will also pour craft cocktails and fine wines, all sourced from New York State wineries and distilleries. The brewery operation will be a seven-barrel system, with all brewing performed on site, using locally-sourced ingredients.

Eli Fish Brewing Company will be the cornerstone of a $2.8 million renovation of the Newberry building into a mixed-use development with a restaurant incubator, known as FreshLAB, joining the brewery on the first floor and apartments planned for the second and third floors.

“Newberry’s was a destination for generations of Batavia residents,” Gray said, recalling the store’s lunch counter and creaky wooden floors. “We want to make this building, and the Main Street corridor, a destination again. Jon, Matt and I were all born here. Our families saw the decline of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and we want to be part of Batavia’s next renaissance.”

The FreshLAB restaurant incubator will feature three commercial kitchens, with Eli Fish Brewing Company operating the largest kitchen and serving a menu of locally-sourced seasonal fare, including gourmet salads, sandwiches, soups, platters and bread. The other two kitchens will be available to start-up restaurateurs to develop and grow more dining concepts within Genesee County. The vision is to have tenants occupy the turnkey kitchens for short-term leases of approximately 18-24 months, sharing the food hall dining room during which time they can focus on unique menu offerings, sourcing local ingredients and honing their operational systems, such as ordering product and paying their bills.

“The idea is to help other restaurateurs and entrepreneurs develop their businesses without the financial burden of outfitting their own locations right off the bat,” explained Boyd. “Once they have perfected their operation and their lease matures, the vision is that they will then plant their roots and continue their operations in Genesee County, creating an opportunity for a new eatery to locate at FreshLAB.”

The incubator concept was fueled, in part, by statistics that show local residents spend more than $13 million annually on dining and nightlife outside of Genesee County.

“People want a choice,” added Gray, who labels himself a “serial restaurateur.” “Every eatery at FreshLAB should bring a fresh perspective and their own culinary vision to the kitchens. We’re looking to provide a culinary experience you can’t enjoy elsewhere in the area.”

The partners’ development vision for the Newberry building is being supported by the City of Batavia, Batavia Development Corp., Genesee County Economic Development Corporation, USDA Rural Development, National Grid and New York Main Street.

The announcement of the Eli Fish Brewing Company name comes as beer lovers from throughout the region prepare to celebrate the Beertavia craft beer festival on Saturday, August 12 from 3-6 p.m. at the corner of Bank Street and Alva Place. The event, presented by Alex’s Place, will feature offerings from more than 20 breweries and cideries, as well as live music. Information is available at www.downtownbataviany.com

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