Augusta’s craft brewery count at the moment is zero.
But by this time next year, the small town with a quaint but up-and-coming downtown area will be home to two craft breweries operating on the same street.
The first one slated to open will be co-owned by Shane Scott, best known for his Sugar Shane’s Cafe at 430 State St. Scott is partnering with the owners of Walnut River Brewing Company in El Dorado and Pour House in Wichita and with Augusta businessman and craft beer aficionado Jeff Brown.
That brewery will operate at 418 State St. in Augusta and will be called Red Bud Brewery. The two-story brick building it will take over is directly on the other side of Sugar Shane’s patio and will share its usage.
Walnut River’s brewers will make new beers specifically for Red Bud, Scott said. The owners hope to have it open by the first quarter of 2024.
Then, by summer of 2024, craft brewer Adam Kraft and his wife, Julie, plan to open their own brewery just two doors down from Red Bud — in the one-story historic building at 414 State Street. The Krafts will call their business Park Bench Brewing Company, and it will be a tap room specializing in old world European-style beers, especially German Pilsners, Hefeweizens and Oktoberfests.
Adam Kraft, a Greensburg native who has spent his adult life in Wichita as well as in Florida and Texas, decided to return to Kansas to be closer to family, and after a quarter century working in law enforcement, he said, he wanted to be his own boss.
He has experience assisting with beer production at several breweries around the country and has taken classes on the topic. An avid home brewer, he decided to move to Augusta and invest in its up-and-coming downtown, he said.
Neither brewery will have a kitchen, the owners said. At Red Bud, people will be able to order food from Sugar Shane’s next door or are welcome to bring in food from any other restaurant around downtown — or really from anywhere.
“You can bring your own bologna sandwich from home,” Scott said. “We don’t care.”
Park Bench Brewing will likely serve finger foods, Kraft said, but it won’t have its own kitchen, either. If another entrepreneur wants to come in with a pizza oven, for example, and set up a side food business inside the brewery, Kraft would be open to that, he said.
“I just don’t want to go into the food part of it,” he said.
Raise a glass to Augusta
The fact that the two breweries are opening just one building apart is a coincidence, the owners all say. But it’s a happy one.
The arrival of the breweries signals another step forward in Augusta’s big plan to revitalize its downtown, a project that Scott is a longtime proponent of. He’s one of several members of an informal group of Augusta business owners who teamed up with Downtown Augusta Inc. to develop a plan that would add restaurants, entertainment venues and shopping destinations in an effort to draw people in from out of town. Plans to build up the “Red Brick District” have been underway for nearly five years.
The impending arrival of the two breweries show that the plan is working, Scott said. So do the arrivals of The Holiday Bowl — a retro bowling alley that’s about to open at 310 State St. — a new restaurant called Lettuce Express that’s doing well at 502 State St., and a new coffee shop called M&J’s Coffeehouse, which will open next month at 529 State St.
“The way I put it is that downtown Augusta is open for business,” he said. “We are already a destination district, and we want to improve on that.”
Kraft said he’s also happy to hear that another brewery will be his neighbor. He compares it to a small Tampa suburb he visited when he lived there that had seven breweries operating within walking distance. The town was always bustling with business.
If a small town has one interesting brewery, people will visit, Kraft said.
“But if there are two breweries in town, people will go out of their way to visit.”
Both breweries’ interiors are getting renovations, though all owners involved plan to maintain their respective buildings’ brick walls and other historic touches.
“It’s going to look nice,” Scott said of Red Bud. “It’s going to be something Augusta will be proud of.”
Red Bud will operate on the ground floor of its space, and the owners hope to turn the upper floors into high-end vacation rentals.
Scott said that a brewery was on his list of desired businesses for downtown Augusta, so he put out feelers. Brown heard about the plan and raised his hand, then the Walnut River owners also heard about the project and expressed interest.
Scott’s next focus, he said, will be finding operators who want to open an Italian restaurant and a breakfast spot in downtown Augusta.
“We are still taking strides and still making progress on our destination downtown,” he said. “It’s really coming to life before our eyes.”