The property at 2505 Manatee Ave. E. has been a revolving door of restaurants and bars over the past decade. One Sarasota family hopes to break the status quo by making it into a family-friendly brewery called 3 Keys Brewing & Eatery.
Jeff and Cathy Douglas, who both have a military background, moved to Sarasota in 1996 after they met in college in Lexington, Ky. Both worked as bartenders, waiters and kitchen staff in Logan’s Roadhouse, Applebee’s and Macaroni Grill during college, where they discovered a love for the restaurant industry. Jeff Douglas already had a passion for craft beer, as he grew up in Michigan close to Dark Horse Brewing Co. and Bell’s Brewery.
The decision to open a brewery and restaurant came after the Douglases set out on a travel adventure-turned beer expedition. After spending more than a decade as foster parents, adopting three children with special needs and raising three of their own children, the Douglases rented out their Sarasota home for two years and packed their lives up for a cross-country U.S. excursion in an RV.
Last week, the Douglases signed a three-year lease at 2505 Manatee Ave. E. Though the 7,400-square-foot property has hosted several failed restaurants and bars over the past decade, including Snook River Grill, Canadian chain Firkins & Fox and Grizzly’s Den, Jeff Douglas sees it as nothing but an open opportunity.
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“We love the trees out front and the huge patio,” he said, referring to the roughly 2,000-square-foot deck. “We think being on Manatee Avenue will work out really well with all that’s going back and forth to Lakewood Ranch. We didn't want to be in a strip mall. We liked the free-standing building.” The urban commercial corridor-zoned property is owned by Nicholas and Hale LLC, the former owners of Snook River Grill, who bought the property in March 2005 for $888,500. According to the Sarasota Commercial Realty LLC online listing, it is now for sale for $695,000.
“If it gets sold at this point, it's an investment property, so the lease would still be in place,” said Rico Boeras, leasing agent, broker and owner of Sarasota Commercial Realty. “It wouldn't affect the tenant that is there.” Representatives from Nicholas and Hale LLC could not be reached for comment.
Boeras said the property is overall in good condition. It was vacant for about a year after Firkins & Fox vacated until Grizzly’s Den moved in. Though Grizzly’s Den closed up shop a couple years ago, Boeras said area food trucks have used the kitchen portion of the space for food preparation. The Douglases don’t plan on kicking the food-preneurs out.
“We don't need a huge kitchen,” Jeff Douglas said. “It's a 2,000-square-foot kitchen. We're only doing soups, salads and sandwiches. In the mornings the food trucks prep food, and by lunch and in the evenings they're gone.”
Four different food trucks use the kitchen space, including JJ’s Barbecue and Angry Mike’s. No fried food will come out of the 3 Keys kitchen. Jeff Douglas said he and his wife are not health nuts, “but we think you shouldn't eat food that's going to kill you.”
It’s not far from the other two breweries so people like to visit one place and try one beer and then go to the next. A little healthy competition might be a good thing.
Chris Gratz, development services and zoning manager for the City of Bradenton
The Douglases’ renovation plans for the building include installing two new air-conditioning units, renovating the bar area, upgrading the front awning, resurfacing the patio, putting in new flooring and decorating the place as they see fit. Jeff Douglas estimates they’ll put more than $100,000 into the project, including the Colorado Brewing Systems brewing equipment. They hope to open in October.
But they also have to secure approval from the federal Alcohol and Tobacco and Tax Trade Bureau. Michael Wagner is working on an East Manatee brewery project, Little Giant, and he’s been in the process for years. On Friday, he told the Herald he’s waiting for federal permitting to open up at 301 Seventh St. E.
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“They're kind of on a backlog of breweries opening up and applications,” Wagner said. He’s finishing the tasting room, finalizing plans for the brewery and production side brewing beer at Little Giant. He hopes to open in September and will be happy to be neighbors with 3 Keys Brewing.
“I've looked at that property for years and said, ‘That should be a brewpub,’” Wagner said.
Bradenton will see yet another beer-lover’s spot, Naughty Monk Brewery, open in Lakewood Ranch, also planned for later this year. Eric Keller, Naughty Monk’s CFO, said the 2505 Manatee Ave. E. spot wasn’t considered by him or the other four partners involved in Naughty Monk.
“We didn't even look at it,” Keller said. “That place has flipped places like five times. And they (3 Keys) may do well. They're going to serve food. I think it’s a tough place to have a business.”
The difference with 3 Keys Brewing & Eatery and the rest of Bradenton’s breweries, established or planned, is distribution. The 3 Keys brews will only be available at 2505 Manatee Ave. E. and the brewery will have a four-barrel system, a small operation compared to Darwin Brewing Co.’s 15-barrel facility and Motorworks’ brewery with 30 barrels. Chris Gratz, development services and zoning manager for the City of Bradenton, helped the Douglases with floor plans and said if they do decide to go the distribution route, the City of Bradenton will support them.
In 2015, Florida had 151 craft breweries that produced 1.2 million barrels of beer per year, according to the nonprofit Brewers Association.
See how beer is made at Bradenton’s Darwin Brewing Co.: