SPRINGFIELD - The buzz was there long before the beer.
Plank Town Brewing Co., the much anticipated new Main Street restaurant and pub, opened last week with a partial menu and plans to expand this week and then open for lunch within the next few weeks.
The buzz has been generated in large part by the outsize role Plank Town is expected to play in the ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown Springfield. This includes providing what business and community leaders call "a nice place" to go at night, the expectation that it will attract people to downtown Springfield from neighboring communities, and the role that owner Bart Carideo has played in the resurgence of other neighborhoods, including as a partner in Sam Bond's Garage in Eugene's Whiteaker area.
"The hype around this place just dwarfs the hype around Sam Bond's Garage," said Caridio, who also is a co-founder of The Axe & Fiddle in downtown Cottage Grove. "Everybody is just so excited."
The on-site brewing part of Plank Town will have to wait, but 18 beers are flowing to celebrate the opening of what many in Springfield consider to be not just a brewpub, but a symbol of the better times ahead as this former mill town works to redefine and revitalize itself.
That enthusiasm has been expressed by city officials and the nonprofit Neighborhood Economic Development Corp., who have helped Caridio and his crew at virtually every step along the way, by other Main Street business owners popping in and welcoming the new business, and by the pub amassing almost 900 fans on Facebook before even opening its doors.
One customer on a recent busy night, Nate Bell, 42, said Sam Bond's Garage and Sweet Life Patisserie catalyzed investment in Whiteaker and he believes Plank Town will do something similar for its neighborhood.
"I think this place offers a lot of opportunity for spurring development," Bell said.
His friend, Michael Scheu, 40, added, "It's a nice touch to add to Springfield. The Brick House wasn't cutting it for me."
The Brick House gentlemen's club, just to the north of Plank Town, is the only remaining strip club in downtown after an effort on the part of land owners, concerned citizens and city officials to change the tone downtown.
The current mixture of retail, service businesses, restaurants, a museum, a school and a performance venue fits into the vision the city has for itself, Mayor Christine Lundberg said.
Lundberg recently brought a delegation from the University of Oregon's entrepreneur club to Plank Town to talk about ways to get more young people into downtown Springfield.
With easy access to the area from the UO via the EmX bus line, students who live near the UO are one group Plank Town hopes to attract.
"We've been looking for a business that is a little bit larger downtown ... that will draw people from a larger area and will put Springfield on the map," Lundberg said. "I just think we're completely on the right track about what we are accomplishing."
The mayor was among those who worked to clean up the downtown and change its reputation as a home for seedy bars and strip clubs.
"It's very much different than just a bar," Lundberg said of Plank Town.
Monthly art walks, performances at Wildish Community Theater and other sporadic events have drawn crowds downtown in the evenings, but having a larger business that's designed as a gathering place and open seven days a week will help the public know there is always a place to go downtown and possibly help attract even more investment, she said.
"People have been wanting to have a nightlife," Lundberg said.
Though part of Caridio's business reputation has been built on live music, the new place will focus on being a beer-lover's playground, meeting place and restaurant with unexpected pub fare, like trout over creamed spinach with polenta from the nearby farmers' market.
It will be all-ages, all the time, which Caridio said is another reason it won't focus on music, due to Oregon liquor regulations.
"We have a bigger diversity of people than maybe one would know to begin with," Lundberg said. "Our diversity is showing up a little bit more in who makes up the community and what the community wants for itself. We recognize locally grown, and we promote people sharing things that are from local producers."
The restaurant buys freshly made buns from Laura & Daisy's Mexican Bakery, also on Main Street. They are customers of Benedetti's Meat Market & Deli and the Sprout! farmers' market as well.
Plank Town held a couple of informal openings during Second Friday art walks, and people crammed in to socialize and snack on General Manager and Executive Chef Andy Steinmeyer's original creations. In its first week open for dinner, Caridio said, the tables were full most of the time with short waits during the busiest times.
Plank Town's neighbor across the street is Haven, a home, garden and gift shop. Owner Karen Hageman said she has had a front-row seat to all of the action, and it has been thrilling to watch.
"It was really cool today because they got the brewing vats delivered," Hageman said last week. The massive equipment required that traffic be stopped for a time; people gathered around and snapped photos.
Hageman said when she goes into Plank Town it's a who's who of local movers and shakers. She is a member of two committees focused on revitalizing downtown and Plank Town, she said, is nothing but good news to anyone who has been working to revamp the town's economy and help people get to know downtown Springfield again.
Hageman, who previously owned the Washburne Cafe in downtown Springfield, said she and many in her circle have wanted something in the neighborhood that would function as an after-hours hub. The cafe, which she sold before opening her home and garden shop, quickly became a popular meeting and lunch place, and continues to be, Hageman said. But the pub offers something different than what the area had before.
"What happens is this whole synergy thing," Hageman said. "Businesses beget businesses. The more we have, the better it is for everyone."
Those in the craft brewing community said they feel the same way; More brew pubs do not threaten their businesses, but add to the growing culture. When Falling Sky Brewery opened about a year ago, folks from Ninkasi, Oakshire and Hop Valley were some of the first customers.
Similarly, Jonas Kungys, 37, a partner in Springfield's other brew pub, Hop Valley, said he cannot wait to check out Plank Town. He said there is room for Lane County to grow when it comes to craft breweries.
Like Portland and Bend, Eugene and now Springfield are becoming part of what is a hop-heavy tourist draw to the area, he said. "There are more and more people drinking craft beer," he said.
Nationally, craft beers have less than 6 percent of the market share for beer, according to the Colorado-based Brewers Association. But Kungys said he believes that figure is much higher in Oregon - closer to 30 percent - because people around here care about quality, locally sourced brews.
"Oregon is an anomaly," he said. "I don't think (craft brewing) is a trend. It's a growing segment and I don't think it's going to vanish. ... It comes down to the brewers. There are a lot of good brewers around. When we put an ad out for a brewer, we get resumes from all over the U.S."
Brandt Weaver, president of the Cascade Brewers Society in Eugene, said his group plans to meet at Plank Town for its third Friday happy hour gathering this month. Home brewers are always excited when a new brewery opens, and Weaver said the craft brewing culture is very much about supporting others who are trying to further the cause of perpetuating tastier, unique brews.
"All the brewers seem to be pretty good friends with each other," Weaver, 54, of Elmira, said. "There's not a lot of competition. They're all finding their own niche. ... Springfield was just screaming for a place people could go to closer by."
Plank Town's head brewer, Steve van Rossem, is currently at Block 15 in Corvallis and has made some beers for Plank Town on a contract basis. Caridio said he is not sure what his spot will specialize in, but plans to let customer preferences drive that.
He said he wants to do some beers that take longer to be ready, aged in bourbon barrels, but first he wants to get the brewery set up. Of the 6,800 square foot space, 2,800 square feet will be dedicated to the brewery.
Plank Town is leasing the space, which formerly housed Ruthie B's antique shop, from the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, whose headquarters is above the restaurant.
Caridio said the Odd Fellows helped financially with some of the renovations and gave him a break on rent while he got the space ready. He estimated he has spent $400,000 so far, and that will be closer to $500,000 once the brewery side is up and running. It would have been significantly more if his general contractor hadn't had the contacts to find reclaimed woods and other materials for a fraction of what they otherwise would have cost, Caridio said.
Caridio, whose wife Erica and daughter Brianna are also a big part of the business, has five silent partners who will be vested partial owners after five years, and has arrangements with his four managers to also become part owners after five years. If the business fails, the investors lose their money, said Caridio.
His decision to locate on Main Street in Springfield came down to "business sense," Caridio said. Just like at Sam Bond's, he was attracted to the low rents and potential to be a part of the change.
He likes the idea of urban renewal, but moving into an area that's already on its way up before the cost of doing business gets too high is a no-brainer, he said.
PLANK TOWN BREWING CO.
Where: 346 Main St. in Springfield
Open: 4 p.m. to close daily, for lunch soon
Offering: Dinner menu with entrees in $15 to $20 range, appetizers, craft beers, wines, full bar
Online: planktownbrewing.com, has a link to Facebook from home page