Brewpub on tap for Cedar Rapids' New Bo district

New life for 120-year-old flood-stricken building as it returns to brewing tradition

Dave DeWitte
Published: December 26 2012 | 6:00 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 3:46 am in
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The historic White Elephant building in Cedar Rapids' New Bohemia district will experience new life as a brewpub.

Quinton McClain, a former brewer at Fort Collins Brewery in Fort Collins, Colo., plans to open the White Elephant Brewing Co. by renovating and expanding what remains of the structure at 1010 Third St. SE after the 2008 flood.

McClain, who is from Cedar Rapids, recently moved back to town to pursue the project. He has become a spokesman for the brewer's art since his return, writing a column on craft beers for The Gazette's Hoopla publication.

"The goal is to make delicious beer, revitalize part of a historic district, bring the White Elephant to a new generation of Cedar Rapidians and provide another draw to the downtown," McClain wrote in an email.

The 10-barrel brewpub will be a relatively small venture, McClain added, with a small food menu. McClain said the brewpub's tap room will be modeled after his experiences in Colorado, Portland, Ore., and visits to breweries in Europe.

McClain did not have a timetable for the redevelopment of the property, which was purchased from the Thorland Co. for $68,000 on Dec. 12.

A brewpub was one of the things Cedar Rapids area residents would most like to see added to the New Bo/Czech Village Main Street District, according to an online survey conducted as part of the district's master planning process, said Jennifer Pruden, the district's executive director.

The White Elephant building is a contributing structure to the Bohemian Commercial Historic District in Cedar Rapids. The main street district had an architectural consultant for Main Street Iowa prepare renderings of what the restored building could look like, according to Pruden.

More than 120 years old, the White Elephant building is one of the last remaining storefronts in the district that is built on the front of the original business owner's residence, according to Mark Stoffer Hunter, Cedar Rapids historian. He said it was owned by the Suchy family, who later moved their jewelry business into a more modern building next door that is now Bata's restaurant.

The original building was later converted by two Cedar Rapids school teachers into a resale store called the White Elephant and operated under that name for decades.

Pruden said a brewpub will help create the concentration of retail stores needed to make New Bohemia a vibrant shopping area, and will complement businesses such as the Bata's restaurant, which opened next door to the White Elephant Building earlier this year.

McClain's family formerly operated the Corner House Gallery and Frame at 2753 First Ave. SE, which closed earlier this year to make way for a new medical office building. David Chadima of the Thorland Co. said his family and the McClain family were formerly neighbors, so he felt confident their business would also be a good neighbor in the New Bo district.

Chadima said the business will add to the list of locally made products available in Cedar Rapids and help save one of the dwindling number of historic buildings remaining after the flood.

Brewpubs tend to be smaller than microbreweries, which sell most of their production off-premises, and also tend to focus more on dining options. Cedar Rapids has one other brewpub, Third Base Brewery at 500 Blairs Ferry Road NE, as well as Granite City Food & Brewery, at 4755 First Ave. SE, which produces beer from wort prepared at a central facility.

During the renovation of the nearby Suchy Building that now houses Bata's Restaurant, David Chadima said a beer bottle labeled "Parlor City Beer" was found, denoting an earlier era of production breweries in Cedar Rapids. He said the Czech immigrants who settled in the area had a rich brewing tradition.

Iowa is undergoing its biggest brewery boom in many decades due to the rising popularity of craft beers. Backpocket Brewing Co. opened earlier this year in Coralville's Iowa River Landing in a building leased from the city of Coralville, and the Solon City Council has approved incentives for a microbrewery at 101 W. Main St., the former site of Joensy's Restaurant.

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