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Elon town council mulls whether to give Gibsonville brewer second chance to plant beer garden

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Elon’s town council has resolved to keep nursing a decision on whether to renew an arrangement with a Gibsonville-based brewer who was allowed to operate a “beer garden” on town property last fall.

The council had originally permitted Praveen Karandikar of the Toasty Kettlyst to establish this open-air watering hole off of Holt Avenue for a two-month “trial” run that was slated to wrap up on December 17. As part of this deal, Karandikar received the council’s nod to dispense his brews on a patch of public land that the town had spruced up for his benefit. In return, the Gibsonville-based brewer pledged to give the town 5 percent of the beer garden’s gross receipts, which he hoped would amount to a not-inconsiderable sum.

During a town council meeting on Tuesday, Elon’s downtown development director Jill Weston conceded that the agreement with Karandikar had proven somewhat less lucrative than she anticipated.

“It hit some definitely hard times with weather,” she added. “Due to that, we decided to conclude after our Hometown Christmas [on December 2].”

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In order to accommodate Karandikar’s venture, the council had agreed to spend some $4,000 on electrical power and portable toilets at the small “parklet” where he retailed his house brews. The council also incorporated this site into the bounds of a so-called “social district,” where patrons of local drinking establishments are allowed to move about freely with their potent potables in hand.

Yet, the upshot of these assorted concessions was a disappointingly meager return on the council’s investment. As Weston admitted on Tuesday, the town’s 5-percent cut of Karandikar’s proceeds totaled $106.40 for the entire month and a half of the trial. Even so, Weston was eager to give the microbrewer another opportunity to prove the beer garden’s worth later this year.

“The concept did not really get a chance to come through in a time of really good weather,” town’s downtown development director insisted, “which is why it’s coming back. And staff is recommending that we continue this trial period in the spring and summer with the Toasty Kettlyst.”

Praveen Karandikar of the Toasty Kettlyst in Gibsonville

Karandikar told the council that, if given a second chance to road test the beer garden, he thinks he could do a much more commendable job than he did in the fall. He argued that, with the benefit of hindsight, he would work out of a vehicle similar to a food truck, increase the beer garden’s marketing, and do cross promotions with other businesses in Elon’s downtown area.

“What we started out with was a really simplistic approach,” he added. “What we found is that…families found it as a place to sit down and have a pint but also enjoy other activities.

“This was a learning experience,” the microbrewer went on to confess, “and we did not generate the throughput we wanted to see. However…as a business owner, I’m willing to take the risk because this is long term.”

Weston’s proposal to resume the town’s arrangement with Karandikar drew some scrutiny from members of Elon’s town council. Monti Allison, Elon’s mayor pro tem, reiterated a concern that he had previously raised about the town staff’s nebulous criteria for rating the “success” of the beer garden’s trial. Meanwhile, Elon’s mayor Emily Sharpe noted that the town may be inadvertently discouraging the usage of the beer garden’s site by not offering other activities that appeal to non-drinkers.

Elon downtown development director Jill Weston

“We’re not using it to its full potential,” she declared. “Maybe we should ask the downtown advisory board…how can we meet the needs of everyone else?”

The council also heard from a couple of members of the downtown advisory board who thought that the town would have better luck if it opened up this location to other area breweries.

Mackenzie Brown, a local property owner who serves on the appointed advisory board, insisted that a wider array of vendors might be just the thing to get visitors flowing into the beer garden’s site.

“Our push is not to make this a beer garden,” she stressed. “But if that’s what it’s going to be we want a variety…What we’re proposing that we source it out a bit further than just one brewery.”

Brown added that she has already made some tentative inquiries with local microbreweries and received a particularly enthusiastic response from the Burlington Beer Works. She noted that there was also some genuine interest from the Graham’s Little Brother Brewing and Bright Penny in Mebane – any of which she said could make the beer garden an undiluted success.

“The cool thing about these other breweries is that they do this all they time,” Brown added. “They have the equipment. They have the truck, and they have the social media.”

Brown said that the town could develop a schedule that would allow these three breweries to share the town’s property with the Toasty Kettlyst on a rotating basis. She added that such an arrangement would also drum up business for other downtown establishments – a sentiment that was later echoed by Kimberly Holt of the nearby pizzeria Pandora’s Pies.

“I think it would bring in more people,” Holt told the council. “I’m just ready to see it explode – come on springtime – with more variety. And who doesn’t love variety?!”

The idea of a rotating roster of brewers nevertheless raised the eyebrows of Weston, who saw in this proposal a potentially overwhelming administrative chore for her tiny municipal department.

“I just don’t find this manageable at this point,” she insisted.

The council, for its part, ordered Weston to confer some more with the downtown advisory board on the various possibilities for the beer garden site. In the meantime, it agreed to resume its discussion of Karandikar’s request at a later date – partly so as to include input from councilmembers Stephanie Bourland and Randy Orwig, who were absent from Tuesday night’s meeting.

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