As a child growing up in West Africa, Leo Sawadogo would watch his mother transforming native grains, herbs, and spices into a tasty alcoholic beverage. A week-long process, the custom of home brewing is not uncommon in Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), and his mother, in his eyes, was a master brewer long before the popularity of craft brewing took hold in the US, his adopted country.

Fast-forward to today and Sawadogo, a Montclair resident for 10 years, with his wife Denise Ford Sawadogo, are now building his hobby of home brewing into a business honoring his family legacy of hospitality, community, and tasty beer. They hope to open Montclair Brewery in late March.

Leo has dreamed of opening his own brewery in Montclair for years. Last year, the entrepreneurial couple seized the opportunity to take over a building occupied by Poor Richard’s Furniture Repair, and started working on a business plan.

“I want to bring something new to my community and create a friendly, welcoming place to experience both tradtiional IPAs and Pilsners as well as my unique brews,” says Leo. It will be a place where you can stop in for a flight, fill a growler, a keg, or enjoy a pint. “A traditional tap room” in a place where brewing and bottling takes place.

Leo is enthusiastic about “beer tourism” which is sweeping the country. “I want Montclair Brewery to be a place where people can learn about beer making and craft brewing.” He plans to feature a rotating menu of about 40 brews, incorporating traditional West African teas, herbs, and spices in some specialty beers.

Leo has been a home brewer and distiller for 20 years, growing his fan base of friends and family who encouraged him to go pro. “It literally has taken over the basement,” Denise laughed. Leo attended a brewing academy to refine his skills, adding master brewer to his impressive resume of TV and radio host, trained pastry chef, and woodworker. French being his native language, he took his TV experience to a position in Montreal for a few years, then came to New York to work in the French Trade Office.

Leo and Denise are business partners whose strengths compliment each other – Leo takes over the creative half and Denise, a marketing professional, is the business counterpart. Leo has his own mail order business for specialty sauces, jams, and syrups, all artisanally made in Montclair,

Leo Sawadago may be better known around town as “Coach Leo.” Passionate about soccer, he’s been training Montclair Rec, Sparta Club, and Bloomfield Soccer Club teams. Denise is very involved in IMANI and the School Action Team at Renaissance School.

Currently, work is in progress on the interior of the building, to retrofit brewing equipment on the property. They will be requesting a variance from the town to approve the parking area which falls 13 spaces shy of the requirement.

Montclair Brewery will be located at 101 Walnut Street. Follow the progress on Facebook and visit their indie-gogo site to become a part of the dream.

11 replies on “Montclair Brewery, A New Craft Brewery, Coming to Montclair’s Walnut Street”

  1. This is fantastic news! Montclair is primed and ready for it’s first microbrewery and the Walnut St area is perfect for it. I think this will be a huge it in town. I will agree however with the town’s call for them to address the exterior of their new site. It is the old “Poor Richard’s” building on the corner of walnut and north willow and it is about as ugly a building as one can imagine. A windowless hideous brick structure with faded wood paneling along the top, which although a total eyesore, “worked” as a car repair shop, but will destroy a lot of the allure if not changed drastically for a brewery.

  2. A brewery is a good fit. The historic DNA of this neighborhood is light industrial & wholesale. If there is a design theme, it is each property has a unique ying & yang of form and function. in this case, the a landscaping buffer within the rare building setback. The landscaping should primary to the concept. Keep the 2 trees on Walnut.

    The building is not historic and I would be careful putting an undue hardship on the tenant to alter its functional roots into something it isn’t. I agree it needs an entrance on a street facing facade, but it could use the alley entrance – a la Egan’s lack of a street facing entrance – as an alternative that better fits the circumstances.

    For what it is worth, the signage design does not provide optimal impact- which make removal of the tree pointless. As the windows only rise to about 7′ from grade, they are already below the tree canopies. The applicant would be better served by highlighting the corner location with signage oriented vertically rather than horizontally.

    In short, I would not prescriber the PB leverage the requested variances in an attempt to remake a building.

    Lastly, here is another application for a substantial parking space variance from what is required. The parking study the PB shot down identified this historical trend and predicted market pressures would only ensure large, ongoing variances. The Plofker projects in the Walnut St neighborhood have been given similar relief. Down the road, Lackawanna is asking for a 258 parking space variance. The barn doors are open and the horses are going over the hill…and no solution is being discussed. Wait a little longer and it will be academic.

  3. Who needs a parking lot? Isn’t that what Forest Street is for? I’m sure a few extra blocked driveways won’t be a bother to the residents… *spoken in irritated sarcastic tone*

  4. Who needs a parking lot?

    Not me. We can either have a town, and business district that are vibrant, attractive and lively, or we can be like everywhere else in the endless sprawl, and revel in endless amounts of easy parking. There will always be a n inverse relationship between one’s ability to find easy parking, and the aesthetic appeal, demand and value or an area. The harder it is to find parking for cars…the better the place is for people. Demanding and adhering to the absurd rules of parking minimums is what ruined the value of so many of our places over the last 70 years…this town can give as many parking variances as it wants in my opinion…how about another 3 story parking deck around the Walnut Station just like the one going in on GlenRidge. Add another 300-400 spots to the walnut area…I don’t care if it’s ten stories high…just don’t have 30 space parking lots adjacent to every business!

  5. Please refer to my last line. I was being sarcastic. I and many others are endlessly frustrated with the inundation of Glen Ridge Ave patrons parking their vehicles along the residential streets. Not only are their cars parked carelessly (blocking driveways, blocking hydrants, etc.), but there’s also the reckless driving along the poorly lighted streets. Heaven help you if you’re on the road when the places start letting out. Throw a few drinks into the mix and it’s a nightmare. The clientele aren’t locals, so not a crap is given. So yes, I agree with you parkour. Erect a monolith of a parking lot in the center of one of our business dristricts and let em at it. Hell, the town may as well make some money from our visitors. What better way than to charge em for parking, eh?

  6. Agreed. Surface lots and garages are ugly. In terms of street parking, that should also be further reduced. Folks shouldn’t really be driving their own cars, uber/lyft is the correct approach 95% of the time. Download the app and use it, leave your car at home.

  7. Parkour,

    It cost money. If not for more capacity, then infrastructure & circulation upgrades, transit alternatives & incentives and just plain enforcement. Even if our parking requirements are high, that doesn’t begin to mitigate the 30-50% variances. As best as I can tell, your primary focus is to increase walkability of commercial districts while degrading the residential neighborhoods (yes, our residents) dealing with the parking spillover effects. That’s not a good strategy. Our commercial ratables don’t play the bills.

    I wish you would propose a strategy instead of just saying let’s just get rid of surface parking.

  8. Does anyone know what percentage of “clientele who aren’t locals” come from MSU? If it’s considerable, since the brewery property in question is 120 yards from the train stop, why doesn’t the train do the heavy lifting? How many accidents a year, and innocents are imperiled, because the train doesn’t service the college on the weekends and late at night? It’s an incredibly under-utilized resource! Or if the rich people in Up Montclair won’t allow a slow train to chug quietly while they slumber, why doesn’t the college run a shuttle back and forth to make travel safe for their students and alleviate some of the parking congestion in town? Of course, there’s uber/lyft. But if there are hordes of college kids migrating to the bars, than why not offer safe, reliable transport? The thing is, there are ready options to reduce the number reliance on cars. Why doesn’t the planning board focus on that vs. obsessing over parking spots? Here’s another idea: since most Montclairians revere Manhattan (or perhaps I’m just speaking for myself), put Citi bikes around town. Have any planning board members attempted to do this? Last, have you ever been to a planning board meeting? I ask because the municipal lot is JAM BACKED. Consequently, how many planning board members take alternate transportation to those meetings? If we want a better quality of life in this town, it’s a matter of emphasis.

  9. I believe the vast majority of The patrons are not MSU students. My impression, and this is purely speculation, is that many are from surrounding towns, urban cities (Hoboken, JC) quite possibly NYC itself as well. Montclair has suddenly become a destination to dine. I’m all for it, but I think the town needs to adjust slightly. It seems that the growth is happening far more quickly than most of our residents are comfortable with.

  10. “As best as I can tell, your primary focus is to increase walkability of commercial districts while degrading the residential neighborhoods ”

    Frank, degrading the residential neighborhoods is such a sad primary focus to have. Rest assured, it is not mine. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I feel bad for all the residents of Forest st who have to deal with the spillover, my parking garage suggestion is offered in an effort to erase all spillover.

    I did offer a suggestion, structured parking structure at Walnut train station. I know the costs, but the benefits would in the long run greatly outweigh the cons in my opinion.

    I think that the 30-50% reduction in parking being requested (and granted) to recent projects is absolutely the right move and will only partially undue the nightmare that parking minimums has wrought upon the built environment of the past half century.

    There is a school of thought that people are unwilling to walk to or park a distance from their destination in a garage, but if the destination is worth it, then the data shows that people are more than happy to park in a garage and walk. Church St and Montclair Center restaurant scene and nightlife is apparently worth it as just last weekend, on a saturday night, I had to drive to the top level of the Crescent deck to find one of the final spots, and walked out to find scores of people happily walking throughout town on a night with wind chills of -15…so…that is the direction to go in.

    p.s. People should drive to and from bars/breweries anyway:)

  11. Putting the breaks on growth is not an option. Fair enough. So, how do we manage the market pressures?

    Think of parking requirements as not about parking spaces, but as a metric of growth & density of people. Our parking requirements say this establishment can handle 25 people. They want to use it for twice that amount. If we’re OK with that, the issue and cost of that increased density is a cost we are ignoring via the current variance process. Right now, the variance process essentially looks for a unquantified silver lining to justify these exceptions.

    There should be a process that includes providing spaces and a financial assessment for that 50% increase in density. Whether the Town uses the revenue collected for parking decks, mass transit, etc is a separate issue. Furthermore, if you have a property where we allow 30-50% to decrease the amount of surface parking, the space it frees up will be used for more development. More density.

    Now we are really getting into circulation. I perceive Forest St as both a parking and a circulation issue. There are roughly 300-400 “bar” seats in a 3 block area. Putting parking aside, even if people uber in and out, it is still an incease in traffic density. NJ Transit is max’d out. Christie took $330MM of their $400MM maintenance fund and they have a 100 unusable cars in the yards they now cannibalize for parts. The trains are late as much as they are on time. So, we need to stop using the train stations as excuses to justify these variances. As it is, we have already built mass transit into the actual required parking spaces and there is no more room to leverage our train stations.

    We’re doing growth and density on a prayer it will work out. That’s equivalent to removing stop signs and hoping drivers will adopt and treat intersections as all-way stops. We need a parking & circulation strategy to go with the growth we seem to want. We dropped circulation as a meaningful component of our Master Plan. We put the traffic study on the shelf. We are currently rewriting our zoning ordinances, but there is nothing in there dealing with the impact of these increased densities. We continually refer to solving this by putting housing around train stations, but 1) only 1 station downtown – and on the periphery at that, and 2) the issue is now in the Neighborhood Commercial zones like Walnut St. None of this new development involves a residential component. Outside of trains, there are few mass transit options. I’m guessing there will be 300-400 “bar seats on Walnut. Montclair might love its alcohol, but I suspect the growth in business is drawing from outside Montclair.

    So, surface lots are ugly and we say a deleterious land use. But, until we go beyond and look at the bigger density issue – and 4-wall the qualitative & quantitative balance sheet – there will be real mistakes made. Best intention’s aside, any entity that consistently deviates 30% to 50% from standards, treats each case in isolation, and relies on anecdotal and irrational data, will yield inconsistent & bad outcomes.

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