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The Search for The Perfect Brewery Space

How Two Montreal Breweries Overcame Landlord Hesitation and a Competitive Market
(Courtesy of Avant-Garde Artisans Brasseurs)
(Courtesy of Avant-Garde Artisans Brasseurs)

Frank Privé, one of the five co-founders of L’Espace Public, a microbrewery located in the Montreal neighborhood of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, learned at his expense that finding a facility that can be transformed into a brewery is no easy feat.

The search was especially difficult because the team wanted to stay in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, the neighborhood where they work and live, and where their pub is located. But because of the tightening industrial market, spaces were few and far between.

Privé quit his full-time job as a mechanical manager at ArcelorMittal in August 2018 to start searching for a facility in which to install a future factory.

At the time, the microbrewery already had a pub on Ontario Street, but wanted to expand its brewing potential. L’Espace Public was founded in November 2011 by Privé, Dominique Gingras, Rémi Bonneau, Pierre Lessard-Blais and Simon Livingstone.

When the team originally took over the space on Ontario Street, an old beauty salon, it was the only one that they could find. “When we opened the pub a decade ago, the bar industry had a bad reputation in the neighborhood,” said Privé. “We were bringing a new microbrewery concept, and no owner wanted to rent to a bar or to a microbrewery back then.”

To add a layer of complexity, there was a twelve-month delay to obtain the license to brew, during which L’Espace Public was brewing its beers at Le Bilboquet and Brasseurs du Monde, both in Saint-Hyacinthe.

Once they received their license, the team immediately went to work, installing small tanks in the basement of the bar – which are still being used today – while keeping a small production facility at Bilboquet.

To find the second space on Letourneux Avenue, Frank Privé knocked on every door, and even on some windows. “I was popping into factories and asking people if they had square footage to rent,” he remembered.

In June 2019, after 10 months of diligent searching, he found the space that would eventually become their primary production facility. Though its origins were quite different: it had previously been used as a tombstone factory. As luck would have it, Privé called the day that the listing was published. A week later, the lease was signed.

A Little Help from Their Friends

Compared to their counterparts from L’Espace Public, finding a facility was rather simple for Avant-Garde Artisans Brasseurs. From 2016 to 2019, the microbrewery was brewing its beers at Brasserie & Distillerie Oshlag, in the large commercial building known as Le 5600, on Hochelaga street. “The owner of Oshlag introduced us to the building’s director,” explained Shawn Duriez, who cofounded Avant-Garde with his sidekick Renaud Gouin.

“There happened to be a free space. We were lucky because it is difficult to find places to conduct that kind of business.” Since the owners of the building thought Oshlag were great tenants, they were enthusiastic about renting to another microbrewery.

The facade of Avant-Garde Artisans Brasseurs on Hochelaga street. (Courtesy of Avant-Garde Artisans Brasseurs)

Avant-Garde signed its lease in August 2018 and began its operations in March 2019. “We chose this space because it was available, but also because of its direct street access,” noted Duriez. “We are on Hochelaga street, and we wanted a production factory with a tasting room, so it was perfect; it allowed us to do both.”

Renting Rather Than Buying

Both microbreweries that LoopNet interviewed have decided to rent for financial reasons, since they had to make significant modifications to their spaces and invest in a slew of brewing equipment. They did not benefit from tenant improvement allowances, but the owners did some basic renovations.

Beer tanks at Avant-Garde. (Courtesy of Avant-Garde Artisans Brasseurs)

For L’Espace Public, the owners of the building changed the broken garage door, for instance. Otherwise, the brewery wanted to have total control over its remodel, so they hired a general contractor internally and invested about $500,000 in the space, rented on a 10-year lease, with two renewal options.

Since there were settling tanks and tools to cut granite, major renovations had to be completed, such as filling holes and demolishing mezzanine floors. “We had to reinforce the roof structure to install ventilation systems, put coating on the walls, paint the ceilings… It was a lot of work,” added Privé.

After seven months of works, brewing began in July 2020. The tasting room opened a year later, in July 2021, because other major renovations were necessary.

The tasting room at L'Espace Public on Letourneux Avenue. (Valérie Guerriat for L'Espace Public)

Other major renovations were needed in order to open the tasting room. “We did not have enough money to open both the tasting room and the factory at the same time, unfortunately. We would have loved to, but it was not in the cards,” he added.

(Courtesy of L'Espace Public)

A mezzanine was built to create a second floor, with bathrooms, additional seating, emergency exits, etc. At the time of publication, the team was working on setting up a temporary kitchen for the summer, with pop-ups by local restaurants such as Resto-Bar Le Pick-Up, and they plan to add a permanent kitchen in the fall.

(Courtesy of L'Espace Public)

From Bingo Hall to Brewery

Avant-Garde Artisans Brasseurs also signed a 10-year lease with renewal options. The brewery did not receive a tenant improvement allowance either, but the owner of the building did contribute to certain things, including heating, air conditioning, and lighting Electricity and gas fees related to operations are paid by the brewery.

(Courtesy of Avant-Garde Artisans Brasseurs)

“We had a lot of construction to do because it was a bingo hall, so essentially a large, open room,” explained Duriez.

The biggest renovations happened in the production area, according to Duriez. The team had to dig, install floor drains, partition the production area, and install brewing equipment and fermentation tanks, as well as a cooling and a heating system for beer production.

The pizza oven at Avant-Garde Artisans Brasseurs. (Courtesy of Avant-Garde Artisans Brasseurs)

The space was divided into three sections: raw materials storage at the back, the production area in the middle and the tasting room and restaurant at the front of the space. During one of the many closings due to the pandemic, Avant-Garde added a pizza oven for cooking Neapolitan-style pizzas, the main staple of the restaurant. According to Duriez, the biggest perk of having a restaurant and a tasting room is being able to foster relationships with the clientele.

(Courtesy of Avant-Garde Artisans Brasseurs)

Frank Privé agrees. “I think that the beer market in stores is saturated,” he explained. “The supply is bigger than the growth of the demand.” That’s why L’Espace Public wants to sell more beer on-site, in the tasting room and at the pub. “We don’t want to depend on anyone,” he said. “We have total control on being a local option; there is beer to drink on the premises or to take out.”

Being a local option is more than a marketing argument, it’s a lifestyle for Privé and his team. “I spend my whole life within a square kilometer,” he added. “My job, my home, the factory, and my children’s kindergarten and school.”

“We love Hochelaga and we want to be a positive agent of change in the neighborhood.”