- Associated Press - Sunday, March 1, 2015

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) - Fort Smith, Arkansas, is redeveloping its downtown into a destination point, with restaurants and retail stores leading people to the scenic Arkansas River.

With several new businesses opening citywide, the downtown revitalization only helps to improve the area’s quality of life, said Tim Allen, Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce’s president and CEO.

That downtown revitalization includes a small piece of Oklahoma, with Bricktown Brewery opening in the former Varsity Sports Grill, 318 Garrison Ave. That Fort Smith restaurant is the latest location for the company that has been on expansion mode since 2011.


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Bricktown Brewery President Buck Warfield said there are plans to open three more restaurants this year, as well as a Wichita, Kansas, site. The Wichita store will open in two weeks. The other locations have not yet been determined. In 2016, the company plans to add three to five more stores, he said. All the locations will be within 400 miles of Oklahoma City, where all the brews will be made. Besides the Bricktown location, the company has restaurants in Shawnee, Owasso, Edmond and at Remington Park.

“We really prefer to go to smaller, metro areas,” he said. “We have no interest in being in Dallas or downtown Houston. We don’t want to elbow our way into areas with the big national guys.”



That growth strategy is perfectly fine with Allen, who said that the Bricktown Brewery has helped elevate downtown Fort Smith’s cool factor, The Journal Record (https://bit.ly/1EsSIK1 ) reports.

“With Bricktown’s opportunity to purchase the Varsity, the timing couldn’t be any better for us or Bricktown,” Allen said.

The company spent $500,000 to $700,000 renovating an old two-story brick building, just four blocks east of the Arkansas River. The partnership group, Waterloo Holdings, purchased the building in June 2014 and the restaurant opened in October.

Allen said the restaurant is continuously busy, and he doesn’t expect that to slow as the city develops a multipurpose trail from downtown to the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and other areas in the city.

“I think they’ll be pretty successful here,” Allen said.

Warfield agrees, and commended Fort Smith for being a pro-business community. But success isn’t guaranteed as the restaurant continues its expansion. He said one of the challenges with growth is finding the right people to operate the new locations. When Bricktown Brewery enters a market, it immediately looks for a former restaurant as its site. Warfield said this saves on construction costs, making for a better economic investment. Using former restaurants, the Bricktown Breweries range in size from 3,900 square feet to 6,800 square feet.

“So far, we’ve been tremendously lucky in assembling management for each restaurant,” he said. “The one thing that scares me the most is sort of remaining true to what I believe we are, which is a little brewery that surprises you with the quality of food and friendly service.”

While the company is expanding into new states, that doesn’t mean it will change the alcohol content of its beers. Oklahoma state law requires brew pubs to only manufacture beer that is 3.2-percent alcohol content by weight, while other states measure the alcohol content by volume. Therefore in states outside Oklahoma, the Bricktown Brewery beers are 4-percent alcohol by volume. They are qualified as session beers since they are less than 5-percent alcohol by volume.

To keep up with the beer consumption at their restaurants, Bricktown Brewery will be expanding its production capabilities this year. It will increase from a 2,000-barrel system to 4,000-barrel system. The company has room at it Bricktown site to add more equipment, Warfield said.

In the meantime, the restaurant is preparing to open its Wichita store, on the city’s west side. It will be near the Warren Theatres Imax theater. The new location will likely be a good meeting spot for after work functions, said Meg Foreman, program and marketing manager for the Young Professionals of Wichita at the chamber of commerce. Foreman moved to Wichita from Oklahoma City, and said she was excited about getting taste of the city in her new home.

“West side (of Wichita) is a little bit newer and spread out,” she said. “They’re going to have a great business.”

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