Business

Restaurant closure a hit to Darwin Brewing Co.

BRADENTON

One of Bradenton's craft beer breweries took a hit on the Fourth of July weekend and it wasn't from a rogue firework.

Darwin Brewing Co. lost one of its largest volume clients when Darwin's on 4th in Sarasota closed Monday.

It will be tough, said Matt Cornelius, co-owner and general manager of Darwin Brewing Co., but they'll be fine.

"They were our top account, but I would say there are 15 to 20 other accounts in terms of what they do," Cornelius said.

Darwin beer was brewed at the restaurant at 1525 Fourth St. in Sarasota until about nine months ago, Cornelius said. But logistical issues arose from brewing in two locations and eventually the restaurant's seven-barrel brewing system was moved to the brewery at 803 17th Ave. W. in Bradenton.

Although the companies are separate, Darwin's on 4th was the original birthplace of Darwin beer.

"The idea was to start using the brewing system to brew to pair with popular items there," Cornelius said. "The brews started to get attention and win awards and due to that success my family decided to open a brewery to really get behind the beers here in Bradenton and brew those same

beers that were brewed at the restaurant."

"Even though they're closely related, it really has been separate from the outset," he said.

Chef Darwin Santa Maria announced on Darwin's on 4th's Facebook page the gastropub, or a pub specializing in serving high-quality food, would officially close Monday. Darwin's opened on Fourth Street in 2012.

"Darwin Brewing Company and the Darwin's Food Truck will certainly keep the spirit of Darwin's on 4th alive," reads the end of the post.

Folks at Darwin Brewing Co. were surprised to hear the news on Friday, Cornelius said. He also said several factors, including high labor costs, caused the restaurant to close.

"I know a lot of people said the homeless population was the reason," Cornelius said. "But it wasn't the only reason. I would say that gross mismanagement of labor costs was also a significant factor in the closure."

Cornelius thinks too many people were hired to do too little and were paid too much.

"It went on for years to an extent," Cornelius said.

The closure spurred Darwin Brewing Co. to take over the Darwin's on 4th food truck. If any changes occur to what's served out of the truck, Cornelius said he isn't sure yet what they will be, but they'll likely be minimal.

"When it comes to the menu we'll stick with what has gotten us this far; providing international-class food that goes well with our beers," he said.

Homeless issue a factor

Cornelius' family owns Darwin's on 4th's parcel, and they are looking for another restaurateur or entrepreneur to take over the spot.

"Regarding that part of town, there's an issue with the homeless that's just been totally overlooked or left out to fester for one reason or another," Cornelius said. "Nobody has really taken care of it or done anything at least that we can see."

Drew Winchester, spokesman for Sarasota County, said Sarasota and Sarasota County officials have worked together on resolving the homelessness issue, but one final disagreement has stalled progress.

The city and county jointly hired Robert Marbut, a specialist in helping communities address homelessness, who developed a plan to address Sarasota's homelessness downtown and in the county.

The final step of Marbut's plan was to build a come-as-you-are shelter, but a lack of concord about the shelter's final location stopped the process.

Sarasota held a city commission meeting on Monday to address the homelessness issue.

"While there is a problem with the chronic homeless, it is being addressed," said city spokesperson Jan Thornburg. The city has hired two employees within the last month to address the problem.

Multiple members of the public were signed up to speak at Monday's meeting about the homeless issue. The meeting was expected to go late into the night.

Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter @jayohday.

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