When Wedge Brewing’s owner Tim Schaller opened a 20-person bar in Asheville’s River Arts District, his friends told him that people wouldn’t “go down there.” While the area was known as a magnet for working artists and studios, in the past, it was deemed a little “sketchy” by some.
But galleries kept opening and transforming old warehouses into the area’s vibrant, thriving artistic enclave. Schaller didn’t listen to his friends’ concerns — he recruited brewmaster Carl Melissas, and opened Wedge Brewing in 2008 in the Wedge Studios building on Payne’s Way.
“People started showing up,” Schaller said. “The neighborhood was being ‘found’ more and more by visitors, craving the small brewery experience.”
Actually, the Wedge Brewing location had the smallest tasting room in Asheville in 2008. With the limited indoor space, people would get a beer and sit outside, some sitting on the outside rocks.
“We kept saying we would never expand,” Schaller said. But, he knew the small indoor space had its limitations, especially in the winter, and the brewery needed more cold storage space.
His search for more space lead him to a gritty new development in the River Arts District, the graffiti-laden 14-acre redevelopment called the Foundation. The owners of the Foundation development got approval from the City of Asheville to have recognized outdoor mural artists (a.k.a graffiti artists) paint the building exteriors, giving the Foundation area its distinctive look.
Schaller’s philosophy is that people are “hungry for something not on the beaten path.” Once he saw the Foundation buildings, he knew that if Wedge Brewing didn’t jump on the space somebody else would seize the opportunity.
And so, Wedge leased the space in the old Hans Rees Tannery — alongside the 12 Bones Smokehouse and sharing a courtyard with the iconic barbecue restaurant.
Schaller, who hails from New York, understands the importance of neighborhood bars, where patrons feel comfortable hanging out. So does his staff.
“We’re excited to be able to engage the community,” said Shelton Steele, Wedge general manager. “Wedge is a community-funded brewery, growing with the River Arts District.”
The new 7,500 square-foot space has laid-back, industrial-style aesthetic of a neighborhood bar, with reclaimed materials from the historic tannery building, giving a nod to the funky Foundation location.
The main taproom, which Schaller calls simply, “the bar,” has comfortable seating and reclaimed wood-top tables — and no television. He likes the idea of “a bar where people will come and talk.”
The main bar is decorated with a whimsical mural by artist Julie Armbruster. The taproom has capacity for 269 people, complete with a main and a back bar.
New for Wedge is an event space — the Cloud Room — painted with blue skies and clouds, accenting a comfortable room (which does have a TV, if event-goers want media capability). Schaller envisions the event space to be used Mondays – Wednesdays for “neighborhood stuff,” such as art shows, old movies, local poetry and possibly, live jazz. The Cloud Room indoor capacity is 100 (standing) or 75 (seated), but events can put up an outdoor tent in the adjoining patio, to increase the overall capacity.
The Cloud Room is already hosting events, from a motorcycle group to the Art Affair gala. Wedge at Foundation is taking bookings for wedding rehearsal dinners, too.
“Some couples are having their wedding at the (Omni) Grove Park Inn, but their rehearsal dinners at Wedge,” Schaller said.
“We chose Wedge for our rehearsal dinner because we wanted a space that reflected the spirit of Asheville — a city that my fiancé and I love,” said former Asheville resident Rachael Groffsky. “The Wedge space blends the artsy culture of Asheville, and of course, great craft beer. We thought it would give our guests a snippet of amazing Asheville.”
There is more space in the outside patio, which was constructed with “urbanite” (actually recycled chunks of concrete), stacked as pavers for seating. The back patio has stone walls and an artistic rendering of Fritz, the man who lives under the bridge in the River Arts District. Concrete tables will be added, as well as a dedicated place for food trucks.
“We thought it would be easier for people to sit on the stacked urbanite than the rocks they sit on at the Wedge Studios location,” Schaller said.
Wedge at Foundation has room to grow and experiment with a 7-barrel Specific Mechanical Systems brewhouse. While brewmaster Carl Melissas and crew will continue to make the Wedge beers people “know and love,” on the 10-barrel system at the Wedge Studios location, the new space will give brewers Ian Leightner and Andy Shepard the space and equipment to explore new brews, including some lower-gravity, sessionable beers. Check out the back exterior of the new brewery, decorated with a mural by Ian Wilkinson, featuring heavenly cherubs pouring beer and spray painting, as a nod to the legal graffiti that covers the Foundation building walls.
Schaller has no plans to distribute Wedge brews. For him, keeping the beer quality great, and offering a place for regulars to come and relax are key.
“People do like local,” Schaller said.
In fact, Schaller and crew recently celebrated the brewery’s “Wedgulars,” by treating regulars to a pre-opening party at the Foundation location.
“We loved it,” said one Wegular. “Tim appreciates his regulars. I think the space is amazing.”
Wedge at Foundation will have its grand opening Friday, March 17 — St. Patrick’s Day.
It will be an all-day celebration, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., with breakfast and coffee from HighFive Coffee; lunch from next-door neighbor, 12 Bones Smokehouse; new Wedge beer releases — Dry Irish Stout, Cold Beer Cream Ale and Nitro Pub Ale; and live music 1 – 6 p.m. from Fireside Collective.
It will be a happy St. Paddy’s Day. But, don’t expect green beer, Schaller said with a laugh.
Wedge at Foundation is at 5 Foundy St., off, Old Lyman St. in the River Arts District. Ample parking is in back of the new 12 Bones restaurant. For information on the Wedge at Foundation event space, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Call (828) 253-7152 or visit www.wedgebrewing.com.
By Carol Viau