Sales haven’t exactly been frothy for the Kichesippi Beer Co. over the past year as one of the Ottawa brewery’s principal revenue streams – sales to bars and restaurants – dried up in the wake of pandemic-related shutdowns.
But owner Paul Meek is hoping to tap into a new source of income – a retail outlet called Bottles and Cans Beverage Company that launched last week at Kichesippi’s Robertson Road production facility.
The new store features beers from craft breweries in other parts of the province that aren’t readily available at the LCBO.
“The feedback has been tremendous,” says Meek, who founded Kichesippi 11 years ago and now employs 20 full-time workers at the west-end brewery.
“People just love the fact there are certain products they can’t normally get in the area that they can now come into the store and pick up.”
Pickup service only
Bottles and Cans (Meek chose the name partly because its initials match those of Bells Corners, where the store is located) currently sells suds from the Toronto and Hamilton areas as well as cider from Arnprior-based Farmgate.
Meek says he plans to expand the menu to include wine from Prince Edward County’s Rosehall Run Vineyards shortly.
For now, Bottles and Cans is offering pickup service only. Meek says he’ll likely expand to online sales and home deliveries eventually, adding he plans to add beers from other parts of the country as well as foreign wines to the product list down the road.
“There are going to be some really unique offerings,” he says.
Under provincial law, alcohol not produced on-site can only be sold for takeout with food. To that end, Bottles and Cans also has a small selection of chips as well as ice cream from Carp Custom Creamery.
Meek says the new venture is a much-needed boost for his business, which recently saw much of its sales evaporate overnight when the Ontario government reinstated bans on in-person drinking and dining at bars and restaurants in a bid to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
“It’s been a massive shift for us to lose half of our revenue and try and recoup it somewhere else,” he says.
"Sometimes the beer just gets thrown out."
The province’s on-again, off-again shutdowns have made forecasting production levels a challenge, he adds. When restaurants and bars are forced to shut down with little notice, breweries with kegs ready for delivery to those establishments are left holding the bag, Meek says.
“Because it’s a perishable product, it’s a tough thing for us to work (around) for sure,” he explains. “Sometimes the beer just gets thrown out.”
When the business relocated from the Carling Avenue area two years ago, Meek opened a taproom in the 10,000-square-foot space with seating for up to 100 customers.
But between construction and permitting delays that pushed back the original opening date and the effects of the pandemic, the concept has yet to come close to realizing its full market potential.
“To be able to take that building for a spin and really maximize the reason we moved in there would be something we’re looking forward to for sure,” Meek says.
“We’re looking forward to having some normalcy in terms of having a balance of some e-commerce, some walk-in retail customers, some sit-down-on-the-patio customers and our restaurant wholesale business.”