Episode 029

St Pete X features business and civic leaders in St. Petersburg Florida who share their insight, expertise and love of our special city. An initiative of the St. Petersburg Group, St Pete X strives to connect and elevate the city by sharing the voices of its citizens, and to bring awareness to the opportunities offered by the great St. Petersburg renaissance.


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05/31/2017 | Episode 029 | 33:24

Mike Harting, 3 Daughters Brewing

Mike Harting talks St. Pete's evolution, his entrepreneurial endeavors, and the burgeoning arts and brewing scene.

On this episode of SPx, we throw back to last May, when Joe sat down with Mike Harting to talk through St. Pete's past, it's evolving present, and what's coming for the future. Touching on topics ranging from arts and culture, to business and development - from Central avenue's spotty history, to its smashing independent business scene - this conversation has something for everyone. This interview was originally shot on video. Head to the show notes on StPeteX.com to watch instead of listen.

Key Insights

  • Mike Harting grew up in St. Petersburg. He can tell you first hand how much it has changed in his lifetime. When he was kid, they weren't allowed to go south of 9th Avenue N because it wasn't safe. Strip clubs lined Central Avenue, and nothing resembling the restaurant boom of today existed downtown.
  • When Harting was in high school, the Vinoy was boarded up, "The high school thing was trying to sneak through, one end of the Vinoy, typically this center where they’re building the new condos, and just run all the way through it, out the back."
  • Harting is part-owner, along with our former guest, Ryan Griffin, of Souzou, an upscale Japanese restaurant on the outskirts of downtown St. Pete. Their bet? St. Pete will grow into its location, and flourish around it.
  • The city has undertaken an effort to connect the Deuces and the Warehouse arts district to Central Avenue. They've doing streetscape improvements and enhancing walkability to spur foot traffic to the historically African American district, just South of Harting's brewery, 3 Daughters.
  • Thoughts on gentrification: "I think it’s a great thing to gentrify. I think what’s happening on 4th street is awesome, I think what’s happening in the Industrial District is awesome. I think it’s organic and the city I think became very aware of it and started to support it."
  • The city play's a major part in the revitalization of these areas, especially in industrial areas: "The Industrial District is governed by statutes and city code that is nothing but built for an Industrial District. And when the city comes in and decides that we need to put in better lightning, we need to put in sidewalks that don't exist, I think that is what supports it – and they have. So I’m very excited about what is gonna happen to the street that’s in front of our building that was built just for 18-wheelers."
  • St. Pete is known for its thriving independent business, especially down the Central Avenue corridor, even large corporate entities have taken notice, "But it’s interesting that I come from the corporate world, I come from Outback Steakhouse. And Outback very decidedly wrote off downtown St. Pete. And when we looked at – and this is part of one of my areas and we looked at - there are 89 Outback’s in the state of Florida now, they’re in some small places, but they truly looked at downtown St. Pete and said, ‘We can’t compete with the locals.’"
  • There's work to do: "I think the county has some work to do on the public school system, but the private sector has really truly – I was born and raised in the military, lived all over the place and I find it very interesting that the private sector, however you define that in the school system, has looked at this and said: it’s a neat place, we need better schools. We’ll just do it on our own."
  • The waterfront parks system: "or me we start with the fact that this city was able to preserve really neat parts of its geography. Find another city in Florida that owns two miles of waterfront property. That is not unique, and that’s far beyond amazing."
  • The Pier as a way to showcase our waterfront: "The pier to me is the crown jewel. The two miles of waterfront is the meat of it."
  • The Pier Park: "what they are designing becomes much more usable, it becomes much more pedestrian, it becomes much more of a destination for the citizens of St Pete with better offerings, aside from a bait shop that it was before. But I think the ultimate value is that iconic picture that’s gonna come out of it."
  • Thoughts on Beach Drive: "I don’t think Beach Drive is done yet it. It needs to evolve, I think BellaBrava will be a part of it, Cassis will be a part of it. But there’s more to come out of Beach Drive than what it is right now."
  • Local brewers: "We have Doug at Cycle, who really is a true artist, we have Chris at Green Bench, who really is making specific beers and really getting known around the country, and then Ty at 3 Daughters. And so the self-fulfilling part is that we’re growing brewers and it’s an industry that you don’t just go and learn anywhere, you need somebody like the guys that I just mentioned, to study under."
  • Breweries as gathering points: "I think that in the United States that has really been looked at and held close in that we need to build gathering points. And so the breweries that you see today, they are – they physically look like a brewery but they feel… I think that the industry has done a great job of making them feel more like gathering points."
  • Distilling in St. Pete, "Yeah, the third distillery – American Freedom – is… well, they’re distilling and they’re just starting to do some parties and they’re right down the street from us. Really, really neat group of guys."
  • "The brewery itself has about maybe 20% of the capacity that it can do, so we have a lot of work to do there, and the cidery is really my big project. And so I think this one is gonna be a while, there’s too much fun to be had in doing this."
  • Mike's shout-out? Beth Houghton at the Free Clinic. "Free Clinic has been around since the ‘20s and has always done great work, but Beth has now grown it into a much bigger, more important part of our society in terms of taking care of those amongst us who need some help."

"For me, start with the fact that this city was able to preserve really neat parts of its geography. Find another city in Florida that owns two miles of waterfront property. That is not unique, that’s far beyond amazing."

Mike Harting – 3 Daughters Brewing from St. Pete Catalyst on Vimeo.

"St. Pete still has the small town feel to it. It’s not, but it still really has that small town feel to it. And it’s back to what we talked about with preserving the mom’s and pop’s and small entrepreneurial places and the storefronts that are owned by neighbors and that’s really, I guess, probably a big part of what’s kept us here."

Table of Contents

(0:00 – 0:33) Introduction

(0:33 – 8:02) The Evolution of Downtown St. Pete

(8:02 – 11:04) Buying Power and Education in St. Pete

(11:04 – 16:08) The St. Pete Pier

(16:08 – 18:38) Souzou and Other Beach Drive Restaurants

(18:38 – 22:30) Reasons to Live in St. Pete

(22:30 – 26:44) The Beer Scene in St. Pete

(26:44 – 29:14) What’s Next? Vision for Personal Future 

(29:14 – 31:09) Vision for St. Pete

(31:09 – 32:45) Shout-out

(32:45 – 33:24) Conclusion

Full transcript:

Mike: Believe it or not…

Joe: …our conversation.

Mike: Yeah, about hookers and…

Joe: That’s a good start.

Mike: So, hundreds of hookers? Back to that.

Joe: So, back to the hookers…

Mike: It really is amazing how quickly it came because Central Avenue was all strip joints. 

Joe: Really?

Mike: There were probably six or eight of them between Downtown and up to, say, where the brewery is.

Joe: And what year would this have been?

Mike: A sort of been, early 80s. 

Joe: ‘80s?

Mike: Yeah.

Joe: So they changed the law then, right? There’s no strip joints there essentially now, so they pushed them all up to at Largo or whatever. 

Mike: But it was – I mean I grew up here and I’m not that old and it was strip joints and hookers and… I mean, where Starbucks is, 4th and 5th, and there is a cool little lake right behind it… 

Joe: So 4th… 4th streets…

Mike: Right in there, yeah.

Joe: …ninth?

Mike: 4th and 9th – 4th and 9th or 4th and 5th, right in that whole area. If we were trying… on Fridays and Saturday nights when in high school, and you either try to sneak out to Albert Whitted and get onto the in the airfield or you try to sneak downtown. There was nothing downtown, not even Moon Under Water yet. And by the time you got to 9th if you made it that far, cops would stop you, turn you around, knowing you’re trying to sneak through Snell Isle, cops would stop you and turn you around. There was literally, there was nothing – so… Moon Under Water was truly the first, and that was ’93. But there was no place to eat dinner and so downtown was just a ghost town and that’s how far it came in such a short period of time. 

Joe: Amazing. So, the Vinoy then was fenced off, a couple of openings in it, people just went and claimed their rooms probably and stayed there. And then when you guys got in there, would you… You felt safe?

Mike: No. No, the high school thing was trying to sneak through, one end of the Vinoy, typically this center where they’re building the new condos, and just run all the way through it, out the back and…

Joe: So you never actually went into the Vinoy?

Mike: Oh no, we went in.

Joe: You went it.

Mike: I was running  right through the lobby all the way through the whole thing. And there’s two – only one of the towers was there, so just lots of open, lots of open land.

Joe: Interesting.

Mike: And that’s how far it came in a short period of time. 

Joe: And the big thing is – when you’re growing out the city, obviously Beach Drive is flourished now and the pier – and then you almost see it as dead spot that you have to conquer. So the corner of 5th Avenue North and 4th street in that area, there is a big power grid there and they’re sort of a dead spot, right?

Mike: Yes.

Joe: And then, like you said, going up 4th street, kind of a dead spot, and then you got the… the Outback came in and then Chipotle came in and they started to squeeze in there and eventually you feel like when the more developed spots come together with the more developed spots and close out the dead spots, then it really flourishes.

Mike: It needs to come together. You can clearly see, especially – so, we built a restaurant right there called Souzou and I drive back through that neighborhood, and that lake right there right behind the Banyan Tree Hotel – I don’t remember the name of it, and it’s no bigger than this building – that was one of the centers of town in the 1920s and ‘30s and it became a drug haven. And now those… whatever they call them, Florida… whatever the term is for those old houses – they’re getting back and you…

Joe: Back houses, or back barracks?

Mike: Yeah. And you can see them one by one being refurbished, and it’s just a matter of time before all that gentrifies and 4th street works its way up.

Joe: Yeah, and people are starting to buy in those… A friend of mine, Quince Northstar, who does the Tropical Smoothies around town, he’s buying space in the North, 4th street and he’s gonna put a Tropical Smoothie up there, and then that’s all connecting up to the Carolina area, which makes sense, right? Because that’s a nice area as well. So…

Mike: Yeah.

Joe: Obviously, where you’re positioned, right there in the Deuces and that sort of 20 block, I feel like Central is sort of the next logical step, I think once 4th street gets all the way developed up, then I think moving towards the beaches along Central…

Mike: That would be interesting to me, because it’s an awful long distance, but Central has already made it to the ‘20s and almost to the ‘30s and it’s just boutique restaurants so far but that’s a good way to get people to drive that far. The city’s got a really neat project where they want connect the Deuces to Central avenue and I think that’s – I don’t know if it’s funded yet, but I know it goes before…

Joe: That’s the big arts space.

Mike: Yes.

Joe: Yeah. And the rent-out studio space and…

Mike: Yeah.

Joe: Yeah. I think it is, that’s…

Mike: The whole street scape, I mean the plan is awesome and they want to connect the old rail line, Pinellas’s Trail, and make it Fifth and 22nd, that center of gravity down there.

Joe: Yeah.

Mike: But it is, and we’ve only been three years and in that three years it has changed just monumentally.

Joe: Yeah, still time to get in, I think, there’s still some land around there…

Mike: Yeah, it’s getting expensive.

Joe: It’s getting expensive.

Mike: Getting expensive quick.

Joe: So 34th will be one of those big hurdles to conquer before it really starts spreading up into the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s and stuff…

Mike: I think so, yeah. 

Joe: And they’ll probably have to go there first before it starts coming back from the beaches. So, they’ll always be down to…

Mike: Yeah. But down 4th street. The same things happened on North 4th street, so once you get past the hospital District it’s a –we’ve got folks that live down there that wouldn’t have moved down there a year ago, two years ago.

Joe: Right. Yeah, we live North of Crescent Lake and now they’ve got, David Weekly did – we bought a lot there and we’re building a house. We sold it within two days of putting it on the market before we’d even torn down the little house that was there already, so it’s just… And from that front door there’s 22 houses. David Weekly did 11, James Landers and Aspen did a bunch.

Mike: Right.

Joe: And it’s those kind of big, square, mini-McMansions-type houses, which…

Mike: Sure.

Joe: You lose a little bit of that character, but it’s in pockets, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. So, tell me, what are your thoughts on gentrification? Is there a way to do it right, is it always bad or is it nice because it’s a stabilizer in effect?

Mike: So, I think it’s a great thing to gentrify. I think what’s happening on 4th street is awesome, I think what’s happening in the Industrial District is awesome. I think it’s organic and the city I think became very aware of it and started to support it. The Arts project that’s going on was a great vision from the city in terms of: look what is happening! If we don t support this, it’s gonna die. And it would! The Industrial District is governed by statutes and city code that is nothing but built for an Industrial District. And when the city comes in and decides that we need to put in better lightning, we need to put in sidewalks that don’t exist, I think that is what supports it – and they have. So I’m very excited about what is gonna happen to the street that’s in front of our building that was built just for 18-wheelers.

Joe: And now they’re talking about the independent business corridor as well, where they want certain blocks of Central to be only locally, non-franchise or local franchise and…

Mike: Yeah. Again, I give credit to the two, or the small business entrepreneurs. But it’s interesting that I come from the corporate world, I come from Outback Steakhouse. And Outback very decidedly wrote off downtown St. Pete. And when we looked at – and this is part of one of my areas and we looked at  – there are 89 Outback’s in the state of Florida now, they’re in some small places, but they truly looked at downtown St. Pete and said, ‘We can’t compete with the locals.’ And now the city comes along and says, ‘You know what? It’s pretty neat that that developed – let’s preserve that.’

Joe: Yeah, so you kind of got lucky.

Mike: Yeah, well… You could say that or you could just say that there is an entrepreneurial spirit and the city looked at it and said, ‘We should be a part of this’. So these are things to me that make St Pete unique.

Joe: So, how do you feel the balances right now with… Obviously we have some great restaurants, you’re a part of some of those restaurants, we’ve got some great housing that’s being built, the Hermitage right across the street from where we’re filming. Obviously, Beach and then all up and through 3rd and 4th South and North, so some high-rent we’ll call it, or more upper scale accommodation.

Mike: Right. 

Joe: Where do you feel the money is gonna come from to be able to afford those rents and afford those nice meals – do you think we have that here already or do you think – obviously from economic development standpoints do you think we have some work to do on…?

Mike: I think we have some work to do. I think truly for me, I think the school system is probably the most important and it is very interesting that we had this explosion in the past decade of small schools, both parochial and secular, and so there is a really good network of smaller private schools that are not really expensive. I think the county has some work to do on the public school system, but the private sector has really truly – I was born and raised in the military, lived all over the place and I find it very interesting that the private sector, however you define that in the school system, has looked at this and said: it’s a neat place, we need better schools. We’ll just do it on our own.

Joe: Yeah, and so our kids go to a Montessori School down in the South side and we loved it…

Mike: Fantastic!

Joe: And we already got up in the second grade and it’s been a fantastic experience. Kind of the same logic goes with the real estate gap closing those with opportunity. Do you think that we need to do that with education? Because even though those, schools which are still as far as total population wise only servicing a very tiny fraction of the people, kids and mostly those who can afford it – obviously to close that gap we have to do some of that work in public schools as well.

Mike: Yes! Yeah, we have, I think we start with – for me we start with the fact that this city was able to preserve really neat parts of its geography. Find another city in Florida that owns two miles of waterfront property. That is not unique, and that’s far beyond amazing. So, okay, now look at how many city parks that this city has and how much the city over time was able to preserve. And then you couple that with the infrastructure it was able to bring in, like USF St. Pete. USF St. Pete was, when I went to college back in the stone age, it was nothing more than a place that you could pick up some summer credits.

Joe: Right. 

Mike: Now it’s a real honest part of the university system. It’s its own real school. And St. Pete College has grown in the same way. So the public infrastructure I think has grown tremendously in the past 15 years and made it very inviting to folks… wanting to move into the area, opening businesses in the area.

Joe: What are your thoughts on the place that the pier plays in St. Pete?

Mike: So… Alright, the Pier. The pier to me is the crown jewel. The two miles waterfront is the meat of it. Am I for or against the pier? I grew up with it. I’ve known it for 40 years. I really think that in the beginning I was a little bit leery until I saw what it could be. My family is at the pool, at the dog beach, I like to go sit and work and watch the planes take off down at Albert Whitted. I mean, we used that two miles more than I thought we would and I think that pier will really add to the essence of what that area is.

Joe: So why were you leery? Let’s talk about what were your reservations just in general, about that dispend or…?

Mike: That’s what it really was, is… if we’re gonna spend that much public money, how wide of a swath of our own population is really gonna use it?

Joe: Right.

Mike: I had a restaurant right on the corner of Beach and 2nd, and so people would ask me all the  time and my question back to them would be, ‘Tell me the last time you went to the pier.’ And I didn’t get a lot of positive answers, and I started to think – and so to me the pier itself is less useful than that massive parking lot that is probably the most prime piece of real estate in all of Pinellas County.

Joe: Oh, yeah.

Mike: So the fact that something is being done with that and that point sticking up to the South – I forgot it has a name – that’s where the value is to me.

Joe: Alright, cool. Well, and then – obviously tourists, right? So most major cities have some focal point that is sort of a thing that people go see and so that drives people down to Beach Drive, and they come into town and sort of, ‘Let’s go downtown, let’s go walk Beach Drive.’ And of course with the plans, assuming that things go well with the Rowdies then that corridor will be expanded, so it will be a nice walking path – I believe it’s the plan to go right past the stadium, all the way through the Dali that connect all of those.

Mike: Yeah.

Joe: And I think you’re right, I think that does round out the total package.

Mike: The best footage that I have ever seen selling St. Pete is from the blimp for the race. When you see that, the blimp just a couple of hundred yards offshore, and you see the shoreline and you see the pools on top of the high rises down there – and you clearly see the park system and you see these cars coming around an airport that’s right on the water, that to me sells us.

Joe: So actually, one final question about the Pier. So you talked about… Is there value to having this – obviously a value to having it, but how much value? What are the ingredients? What are the usability factors of the pier that will – you feel are critical to making it worth having.

Mike: To me the value of the pier is the iconic nature of it. So if that’s one of the parts that makes us stand out in your mind when you’re deciding on where to take your family for a vacation that’s more usable… But when you think of Orlando, you think of Disney – that s it – what else does Orlando…? But you can clearly, you think of Orlando and you see this picture. So you think I’m going to go to the beach or I’m gonna take my family and head to a place in the water, that picture of the Pier pops – I think that’s the biggest value to us. It is, and what they are designing becomes much more usable, it becomes much more pedestrian, it becomes much more of a destination for the citizens of St Pete with better offerings, aside from a bait shop that it was before. But I think the ultimate value is that iconic picture that’s gonna come out of it.

Joe: As long as they keep the terrifying pelicans that scare the kids then will be okay. [laughing]

Mike: Right. Sure.

Joe: So along those lines then do you feel like we might have gone too usable…? We think about something like St. Louis Arch, or the Space Needle in Seattle, or some of those things a city is known for. Do you think we need more of that potentially, to make it iconic? Or do you think just the usability and the big sloping…?

Mike: No, I don’t. I think that what we’ve done is more than enough. I think we approached the edge of what we really need to do to make that piece of us iconic. We’re not surrounded by a waterpark, we’re far enough away from that Disney element, but we have… this great hotel system that works its way all the way down to these really cool boutique hotels and I think that’s the kind of thing they’re coming down for. So I don’t think that – to me it says Florida it doesn’t say what Orlando is selling, nothing wrong with it, but that doesn’t seem like what we are going for. I think I’m pretty happy with the design now.

Joe: Good hotel room, lot of beds, lot of nice restaurants, good reasons to come down…

Mike: Yeah.

Joe: The good triple threat to get the tourists to fill the place. So, let’s talk a little bit about Souzou. You work in it, there’s – I know Ryan is…

Mike: Ryan Griffin.

Joe: …is involved.

Mike: Yeah, Pat Marston.

Joe: Pat Marston… 

Mike: Souzou is… one of our partner’s, Pat Marston, it’s his dream. And we really looked at it and said, ‘St. Pete will expand.’ It’s not there yet, back to the idea of gentrification… So it’s really on the edge of what is downtown Saint Pete and it’s a next generation restaurant, it’s high end sushi and Japanese cuisine, so it doesn’t fit the absolute mainstream but it’s a really, really unique experience.

Joe: About a year ago a gift certificate landed on my desk, and I went and checked it out and I’ve been back many times since, it’s a fantastic place, so…

Mike: Thank you very much. It’s getting there.

Joe: It’s good, yeah. Cool. And then yeah, obviously, a little other semi-successful restaurant called BellaBrava, has blown a little off things right now…

Mike: Yeah, they have… So we, Ty and I, have been – Ty is our brewer and our chef – we’ve been going now for about three years but they have continued the path and it’s gotten bigger and busier and better and my opinion, and really a credit to the folks that took it over and run it now, but also a credit to the city and what Beach Drive has been able to become. I don’t think Beach Drive is done yet it. It needs to evolve, I think BellaBrava will be a part of it, Cassis will be a part of it. But there’s more to come out of Beach Drive than what it is right now.

Joe: You will be maybe interested, you know that I actually… our consulting group, it’s called St Petersburg Group, it’s a group of local executives and this is one of the projects that we’re working on, but we actually just signed a partnership with the Chamber and Visit St. Pete Clearwater to brand Beach Drive, and so we’re gonna be launching beachdrive.com…

Mike: Really? Very cool.

Joe: …beachdrive.com in probably about a month.

Mike: That’s awesome.

Joe: Yeah. Just because no one has really put an overarching online destination to just know what’s going on there and get to know the restaurants, we’re hoping to put a live cam up so you always have a live view of Beach Drive. Obviously, involve all the establishments there to have a profile page with links to their menus and to their websites and that sort of thing, so we’re pretty excited…

Mike: That’s awesome.

Joe: …for that as well.

Mike: Beach Drive’s just awesome.

Joe: And then we’ll have that pier project coming after that too, which may end up where pier stuff comes up.

Mike: Very cool, it’s about time.

Joe: Why are you not packing up and leaving St. Pete? Why are you continuing opening businesses here?

Mike: So my family, from my parents to my wife and my kids – we have been here or I have been here now on and off for 40 years and I’ve enjoyed watching St. Pete become what it is today and it’s really in my opinion all happened in the past ten years. And when you look at – go back 15 years and my wife and I were just getting started and my job allowed me to live anywhere in the state of Florida, and initially we did live somewhere else, we lived in Brandon – and when you come back and you drive around, there is too much to offer, it is – I enjoy driving through Snell Isle, I enjoy going and hanging out by Albert Whitted, I enjoy – there is – I can keep going and keep going. And St. Pete still has the small town feel to it. It’s not, but it still really has that small town feel to it. And it’s back to what we talked about with preserving the mom’s and pop’s and small entrepreneurial places and the storefronts that are owned by neighbors and that’s really, I guess, probably a big part of what’s kept us here.

Joe: So, one little known fact, and since you have three daughters, I guess you… Once you get over the 22nd Ave North bridge on the Snell Isle you can follow that, it’s almost five miles of uninterrupted road which, when we had our babies, we put them in car and drive them and we were stopping to stops lights and stop signs we’d always try to wake them up a little bit and you could go a solid nice cruise in pace 10-15 minutes before you’d hit anywhere you had to stop which is actually rarer than you would think in St. Pete.

Mike: Now that I think about it, it really is.

Joe: You can make it all the way up to the road, it stops, you turn right to get to the finger streets that have the state names on them…

Mike: Yeah.

Joe: So you can make it all the way up there without stopping.

Mike: That’s pretty interesting.

Joe: Yeah. So, I would challenge anyone to find a longer… maybe the road that goes and rounds up by Weedon, that’s what? Three miles maybe, but yeah, especially for nice views and seeing  the nice houses and so… 

Mike: I’ve thought about that. And my oldest is about to start driving.

Joe: So she can, yeah… Might be useful soon when they have the few years hopefully, when they have a…

Mike: …a place where they can – yeah. A place where she can hit a couple of curbs maybe.

Joe: Yeah [laughing]. So, families – why is St. Pete the place to raise a family?

Mike: So for me it is still that small town feel, it’s still that fact that we have suburbs in the middle of urban areas that you can still have that quiet family street that you live on where the kids can play outside and you’re not that far from X, and that everything that you need. But downtown to me has burgeoned into what is a downtown and what is a traditional… It reminds me of being in small town North Carolina except it’s on the water. So these are the elements that to me make that experience something that I want my kids to be a part of. All the basics are taken care of in St. Pete. We feel safe, we feel secure, we feel sound. We feel like the city is run more than well enough, that all of our needs are met. And then there is that element of – St. Pete has defining elements to it, St Pete has in addition to… the two miles of waterfront probably that we talked about, in addition to Beach Drive, it has big elements that make it its own, like Duncan McClellan and Chihuly Museum and it has its own soccer team, and it has its own baseball team – all the way down to when I want something for my anniversary or birthday it’s very easy to go find unique things because we have this giant artist district that is entrepreneurial in nature. And so those are the defining things that keep us here.

Joe: So, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the pier scene in St. Pete. We have a site called the Brewery Bay in which… we have a lot of beer lovers here, and obviously there’s been a ton of them that have… it’s blossomed, I should say.

Mike: Right. 

Joe: So what do you feel? Like it’s calm, where is it going? Just wax about that.

Mike: Sure. So, the brewery scene in the state of Florida is young, it is one of the last states to really blossom. But to me what makes unique is there’s been this trend in the dining industry for fresh caught, farm raised, local, keep going as far as you want. And the truth is that really that’s hard to do and there’s not a lot of that. Cows, there are no cows living in the city of St. Petersburg and truthfully we don’t grow rhubarb anywhere around here and we don’t make vodka – we do now… But brewing became really to me, coming from the restaurant business one of the first parts of the human consumption food chain I was really able to say it’s sourced local, it’s made local. And then the state of Florida, it really took off in Tampa, more so than any other place, and that germination happened in St. Petersburg as well. So we currently have a little over 200 breweries in the state of Florida, 205 or so, of those more than a quarter are in the greater Tampa Bay area and in St. Pete alone we have about ten now. And that becomes its own self-fulfilling prophecy, which is really cool. We have Doug at Cycle, who really is a true artist, we have Chris at Green Bench, who really is making specific beers and really getting known around the country, and then Ty at 3 Daughters. And so the self-fulfilling part is that we’re growing brewers and it’s an industry that you don’t just go and learn anywhere, you need somebody like the guys that I just mentioned, to study under.

Joe: Yeah.

Mike: So now over the next X amount of time, and that X amount of time isn’t a lot, these brewers will decide they’re entrepreneurial and some of them will do it on their own. So I think that the age, the time of building big breweries is done but the more boutique micro-breweries – I think that… I will not be surprised when the city of St. Pete has 25 of them.

Joe: So you think there’s plenty of room to support that.

Mike: Absolutely. 

Joe: This wouldn’t be a bad thing if St. Pete wasn’t known for that.

Mike: Yes, I think so, I absolutely think so. It’s artistry. It’s nothing more than what’s happening in the Warehouse Arts District.

Joe: And what’s new in this, and maybe it’s just new for me and I know in other cities it isn’t, but actually it’s a family affair, you guys have all the great things to do and Green Bench has the grassy space, and people are bringing their families and hanging out for the afternoon.

Mike: It is interesting to me how things get recycled over time, like parachute pants will come back eventually, yes. Or mullets. But in days of old it was churches and breweries, those were the gathering points. And I think that in the United States that has really been looked at and held close in that we need to build gathering points. And so the breweries that you see today, they are – they physically look like a brewery but they feel… I think that the industry has done a great job of making them feel more like gathering points.

Joe: Right. And what do you think about…? It looks like there are starting to be some roots growing for spirits as well.

Mike: Absolutely! Yeah, the third distillery – American Freedom – is… well, they’re distilling and they’re just starting to do some parties and they’re right down the street from us. Really, really neat group of guys.

Joe: Are they in the Tesla building? There’s one in there, right?

Mike: Yeah, that’s them. So, now we have three in the state of… our three in downtown St. Pete, and that’s a much harder industry, much harder to learn how to do, but the fact that we have three, I would bet you there are less than ten in the state of Florida right now, we have three of them in a rock’s throw distance. So I think that’s pretty neat.

Joe: Any vision for the future for what’s next for you? You’ve gone through – obviously in the food space moved into craft beer, and you seem to have a… build ’em and turn ’em over and move on to something else.

Mike: So, the cidery has got a ways there, the breweries got their ways to go. We have built the cidery, it’s in its infancy. The tasting room, over the next year and a half I really wanna work in the tasting room, I think it can be much bigger. The brewery itself has about maybe 20% of the capacity that it can do, so we have a lot of work to do there, and the cidery is really my big project. And so I think this one is gonna be a while, there’s too much fun to be had in doing this, but the… We’ve reached the state of Florida, I think we’re gonna make it into the islands, we’ve made it in there, Costa Rica, we’ve made it into Brazil… in just small footprints. But this is… I think this is the pinnacle of my hospitality career. Will there be something next? I don’t know yet. This one has – the vision for what this was going to be five years ago when we started is completely different now, and there’s a lot more to conquer than I originally thought there would be.

Joe: So, it’s inevitable that as you grow, and just congratulations on the expansion and reach, that you’re getting distribution, you’re gonna start getting some calls from some deep-pocketed people that… We saw that happen to a couple of breweries in Tampa and that may happen here.

Mike: It will. We’ve received a few calls already.

Joe: Yeah.

Mike: So our investors are all friends and family and the vast majority of them were here in the neighborhood. My wife and I thoroughly enjoy what we do and we make more than enough money for supporting our lifestyle and we have a really good time doing this. So for us we are probably… I can’t think of anything that I would wanna do over the next five years, but we’ll look for… Will we look for more growth? Yes. Will we need some more investment? Yes. If somebody came along and offered us a billion dollars I think we’d seriously consider it. Short of that, we really enjoy what we’re doing and have no intention of doing anything else.

Joe: That’s great to hear. Alright, so finish up – what would you love to see St. Pete bring in? And just something you’ve said, whether it would be in events, whether it would be an industry, whether it would be something you think that would round out St. Petersburg and that jumps out of you that it would be cool to see more of here?

Mike: That’s interesting. I think a lot about water tourism. I would like to see, now that this is starting to grow, this downtown area, and more hotels are looking at coming in. I don’t think that we’re a cruise ship port by any means, but there aren’t a lot of destinations for folks with boats anywhere from 20 feet to however big, 80 feet. And I think that with what the pier will end up looking like and downtown St. Pete is growing into, I think there’s room for water tourism. I’m extremely interested to see what happens with the 80 acres that the Rays are built on right now and… I think that St. Pete will grow into more of just an arts’ district and more of an arts’ destination, so with Chihuly being closer to the arts district and with what Duncan McClellan is growing into and with what Mark Ailing is building down there, I really think that and it seems like the city is more focused on growing with that arts’ districts into something that is more than the place that you and I go to look for wedding gifts and anniversary presents into that’s part of our vacation when we go. So I’m very interested in how the arts’ district grows.

Joe: So, arts, great beer, great food, great waterfront, not a bad place to…

Mike: No.

Joe: Not a place to…

Mike: Yes, absolutely. 

Joe: Awesome. So, final question, since you have deep roots in the community, anybody that’s doing some work in St. Pete now that has a new business, has a new restaurant, has a new effort that you’d love to give some exposure to, or even just show some appreciation for.

Mike: If I had to pick somebody who is changing the landscape and the fabric of St. Petersburg, today I would probably pick Beth Houghton. Beth runs the Free Clinic, the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, and for me, when you look at, it’s not incredibly hard comparatively – stick with me on the point – it’s not incredibly hard to raise money to build a pier, to make things that are iconic or to support what’s growing. But to me it is how do you make sure the infrastructure for what happens behind all this keeps pace? And the Free Clinic has been around since the ‘20s and has always done great work, but Beth has now grown it into a much bigger, more important part of our society in terms of taking care of those amongst us who need some help. And it has branched off into medical, it has branched off into food in terms of pack-a-sack lunches, it has just gotten – it has now weaved vines into a lot of different areas, of how do we take care of a small town that is really a big city? So my shout-out would be to Beth Houghton.

Joe: Cool. Alright, I think that’s good. I appreciate it.

Mike: Thank you.

Joe: Alright.

Mike: That was awesome.

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About the host

Joe Hamilton is the CEO of Big Sea and a founding Insight Board member at the St. Petersburg Group.  Joe brings a strong acumen for strategy and positioning businesses. He serves on several local boards, including TEDx Tampa Bay, which grew his desire to build a platform where the area’s thought leaders could share their valuable insight with the community at large.


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