Jean-Claude Tetreault, Co-founder and Co-owner, Trillium Brewing

Last Call by | Sep 2013 | Issue #80

While Jean-Claude Tetreault and his wife, Esther, were expanding their “homebrew brand” with labels, more sophisticated equipment and eventually, homebrew at their wedding, the phrases “zoning variance” and “public hearings” meant little to them. Then they decided to go pro. Almost a year later—perhaps dazed from property-hunting fatigue—the couple signed a lease on a space in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood. They were in slight company; since 1986, Boston has hosted only three production breweries (Harpoon, Samuel Adams and Tremont Brewery, now closed). And with its 10-barrel brewhouse, Trillium is dwarfed by its two neighbors. “A brewery really seems to bring a sense of place and pride, whether that’s in a city or small town,” Tetreault says. But if the Tetreaults’ experience—waiting 14 months before even being able to start demolition—is any indication, the brewery landscape of Boston proper won’t be changing any time soon.

Wasn’t it daunting that no other small brewery had set up shop within Boston city limits?
We actually didn’t set out to open a brewery in Boston. … Boston’s inventory was effectively non-existent, and we were actually very close to signing leases at one then another location in Everett. Our real estate agent couldn’t have been more diligent and patient with me, as he would routinely agree to meet me at 6am to look at maybe 30 different locations across the region. The night after we were dropped at a location in Everett for a tenant willing to take the entire footprint instead of just the portion we could afford, we went to see the property [on] Congress Street. It was in really, really rough shape. We took about four months before we signed the lease to have some discussions with various departments in the city about what it would take to open a production brewery. I had read plenty of chatter on blogs and social media from small breweries, so I was vaguely familiar with processes like “zoning variance” and “public hearings,” but I was certainly not well prepared for just how protracted our experience might be.

How do you think cities can make it easier for startup breweries to open?
Cities like Boston don’t need to create a special facilitated process for breweries. The process of obtaining a building permit should apply evenly as they might to a bakery, bike shop or restaurant. But any startup entity could certainly benefit by having unnecessary barriers removed. There were plenty of discussions with folks in the city that revealed an internal recognition of how inefficient everything is, but there’s just no overarching mechanism to give things an operational overhaul and simplification. In the case of our “mom and pop” shop, it was getting very close to us having to call it quits before we got up and running.

Generally speaking, the Boston metro region doesn’t really have huge tracts of vacant, defunct manufacturing districts that need a sort of jumpstart that a craft brewery could provide. The region seems to be focused on competing on a national and international scale to attract large pharmaceutical, biotech, financial and tech companies. We had a 14-month period before we could even start demolition/construction, but we had some people in the city tell us that they were surprised that we got it that fast. For a bit of perspective, that’s almost twice as long as it took us to actually build the brewery. Now that we’ve been open for three-and-a-half months, it can sometimes be hard not to look back to see [how] massive the opportunity cost of that lost time [was], but we have been generally very good at not getting further bogged down by all that. We’ve got far more important stuff to focus on.