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Entrepreneur invests $30 million to revive old 1800s breweries at OTR

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CINCINNATI — John Richardson climbs rickety stairs to take in city views from the Jackson Brewery, its rusting beams bent and its roof destroyed by fire in 2019. The Indian Hill resident paid $1.5 million dollars for the long-dormant property in March.

“It’s an incredibly strong building,” said Richardson, president of SugarCreek, a Washington Courthouse-based food processing company. “I think the building has been through a lot of drama and hardship, but it’s kind of – much like me – still standing. So most of the time I see potential.

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The interior walls of the Jackson Brewery are well preserved, despite an arson attack in 2019 that firefighters described as a total loss.

Hamilton County records show a SugarCreek affiliate has paid $3.8 million since last September for 40 OTR properties, including seven plots where breweries flourished in the 1800s. Richardson plans to invest more than $30 million to restore buildings and revive some of Cincinnati’s most iconic beer brands. Apart from buying real estate, Richards also bought Cincinnati Beverage Co., whose brand portfolio includes Moerlein, Little Kings, Hudepohl and Burger beers.

His investments across the Rhine are the latest in a lifetime of restoration projects for Richardson, who have breathed new life into cars, boats, furniture, buildings and businesses while growing the family business into a billion dollar business. dollars over the past 32 years.

“It’s the thrill of taking something that’s been thrown away or just thrown away or neglected and bringing it back,” Richardson said. “Especially if there is a story attached to it that is worth telling. It’s incredibly rewarding.

Richardson is bringing new momentum to the Mohawk section of Over-the-Rhine, where real estate investors have been long dreaming but strapped for money, local historian Mike Morgan said.

“SugarCreek seems to have all kinds of capital at its disposal and it always makes a difference,” said Morgan, author of “Cincinnati Beer” and “Over-the-Rhine: When Beer was King.”

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Dwayne Slavey, WCPO 9

Morgan said developers have long recognized the potential for reusing buildings that once produced 200,000 barrels of beer each year on behalf of breweries named Hamilton, Sohn, Klotter, Mohawk, Clyffside and Jackson – after chairman Andrew Jackson , which the owners of the brewery supported. .

Past ideas that lacked funding have included new breweries, hotels, bars and restaurants for iconic structures, even an aerial tramway that would connect the Mohawk site to Bellevue Hill Park. But Morgan is impressed that Richardson started his ownership by hiring Structural Systems Repair Group to stabilize the buildings.

“The fact that they start with the chimney is very encouraging,” Morgan said. “Most promoters would have looked for a demolition from the start, but they are making it difficult. They seem to do them for the love of these spaces.

Richardson works with the Drafting Department, an Oakley-based architectural firm, to develop building design concepts. It will likely include production facilities for beer and other alcoholic beverages, as well as food offerings from SugarCreek. He expects the design process to take up to nine months, followed by several construction phases.

“I can see it’s a very different place, hopefully in five years, maybe 10,” Richardson said. “I’m not looking for it to be quick and fast. It will be a process. That will take time.

While Cincinnati Beverage will operate separately from SugarCreek, the project will be managed by executives from both companies, including Richardson’s son, Michael, and daughter, Jennifer Hutcheson.

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Michael Richardson sees room for multiple businesses in the former Clyffside brewery.

Michael Richardson, chairman of CinBev and SugarCreek, expects a group of companies formed by the new venture to collectively generate around $50 million in annual revenue. Whether that comes from the brewery, restaurants, rooftop bars or hotels is far from clear at this point.

“We obviously want it to be profitable and it will be,” he said. “But we don’t want to do something just to make money if it doesn’t fit the overall vision for the space.”

CinBev currently outsources production for its Moerlein, Little Kings and Hudy Delight brands, but Michael Richardson would like to bring that production in-house while reviving other brands.

“I personally like the potential to link (the Clyffside Brewery building) to a Clyffside brand and Jackson to a Jackson brand,” he said. “But they all have something to offer.”

The aim is to stay true to the original beer recipes that made each brand famous, but that could change with taste tests and marketing reviews, he said. A team of about a dozen SugarCreek employees with brewing experience will oversee the development of new products, which may include spirits other than beer.

“The spirit of what we’re trying to accomplish is to restore what once was,” he said. “If there’s an opportunity to riff and innovate and maybe improve it, of course we’ll look at it. But we like to revitalize things. That’s the goal.

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Jennifer Hutcheson says her father was captivated by the Mohawk Brewery buildings from their first visit.

Hutcheson worked with the drawing department to learn more about the history of the buildings, the oldest of which dates back to the 1830s. The firm is known for its historic renovations, including Taft’s Ale House and the Ghost Baby nightclub, located in an underground storage tunnel under Vine Street.

“We think it’s very important to retain the essence of what these buildings are,” said Hutcheson, director of relationships for CinBev and SugarCreek. “The drawing department is very good at this.”

Jackson Brewery has two floors of storage tunnels that Hutcheson toured with his father during their first visit to the Mohawk Brewery complex last year. She’s sure they’ll be reused in some form, but doesn’t know how.

“I remember we were actually in the tunnels and he looked at me and said, ‘Wow, what an opportunity to bring this place back to life. I think it’s something we have to do,” she recalls.

John Richardson said he was drawn to Over-the-Rhine by SugarCreek employees who lived and worked in the neighborhood. He was intrigued by its historic buildings, which reminded him of the European cities he visited.

“There aren’t too many cities left that have these kinds of opportunities,” he said. “With the location, elevation and views, it’s a no-brainer. But then when you make up the story… I thought it lent itself to a whole story. And you know the story is always the fun part.

A self-described “engine chef,” Richardson said he got involved in restoration working on cars with his father, who started SugarCreek Packaging in 1966. Cars led to speedboats in wood, which led to furniture, then to houses and commercial buildings.

“I’ve done businesses, buildings, and equipment that cost between $50 million and $200 million to $300 million,” he said. “It will turn your hair white, but you don’t give up. I just have to see it through and realize it.

That approach obviously worked at SugarCreek, which was a $50 million bacon processor when Richardson took the helm but grew to $1 billion and more than 3,000 employees late last year. Among its innovations was the introduction of a European cooking process called sous vide, which expanded its offering of ready-to-eat food products for its retail and food service customers.

Sous vide cooking involves preparing and packing food under vacuum so that it can cook slowly in a circulating water bath. SugarCreek acquired a 77,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Cambridge City, Indiana 10 years ago. In 2016, it opened North America’s largest vacuum manufacturing facility on the site. New products he’s developing there and at a new Culinary Center he’s currently developing in Butler County could be showcased at his Mohawk Brewery complex and used in on-site restaurants, banquet halls and a hotel. .

“The goal is to come in and grow, to be a great partner in the community,” said Michael Richardson. “Hopefully this will be a place where we can showcase not only our drinks but also our food and make it a beloved destination for Cincinnati residents.”

John Richardson is enjoying himself enough to have doubled his Mohawk investments. Records show he paid $350,000 on June 29 for 28 hillside properties one block west of Jackson Brewery.

“So far, I’m having fun,” Richardson joked about his Mohawk investments. “He didn’t fall. So we’re having fun, you bet.

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SugarCreek President John Richardson inspects his latest restoration project: Jackson Brewery in Mohawk.



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