Brews News: Zio Carlo Brewpub Struggles to Open in Fort Worth

The brewpub's frontage on Magnolia St. in Fort Worth. (Photo by Julissa Trevino)

Ace contributor Julissa Trevino sends us this report from the field. Take it away, Julissa…

At the corner of W. Magnolia Ave. and College Ave. in the Near Southside neighborhood of Fort Worth, Carlo Galotto looked tired but was still smiling as he sat on a dusty wooden bar stool in the spacious brick building that used to house Gunn’s Cleaners in mid-June.

Galotto, owner of soon-to-open Zio Carlo Magnolia Brewpub, spends 10-12 hours a day, seven days a week working on what he hopes will become a neighborhood establishment reminiscent of old Europe.

But the 52-year-old, thin Italian immigrant from Turin doesn’t have much time. Having worked on the opening since Oct. 2008, when he bought the property, Galotto had hoped open up his business in July. With less than a week go for before the end of the month, it’s looking less and less likely for the hopeful brewer.

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Brewing equipment waits at the ready. (Photo by Julissa Trevino)

Under Pressure

A slew of complications, such as fixing the roof (costing him about $70,000) and getting his building checked to meet standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, had become major hurdles he would have to overcome in order to accomplish his dream.

After all this, and having his life partner LuAnn Mancini become co-owner of the business, Galotto had temporarily put his project to rest at the end of 2009 after he couldn’t afford to pay his mortgage anymore.

Eventually, he made a deal with the previous owners, and earlier this year, he managed to sell back the building to them, who are now allowing him to buy it back at the same fixed price within years.

Galotto, who is living in the states under a E-2 visa, which allows immigrants to live in the U.S. for five years to start up a business, will have to return to Italy in 2014 if he does not open up his business in that time.

The industrial interior comes together. (Photo by Julissa Trevino)

In June, he was determined to open at some point in July in order to make the most out of the little money he has left.. “I must open by July. If I will not open, I am ruined,” he said. But now, he has no idea when he plans on opening. A number of anxious supporters have flooded the establishment’s Facebook page, asking Galotto when he plans to open, to which he can’t respond with a set date.

“I will open without my own beer because I don’t have time to brew,” he said. Galotto hopes to have his own beer ready to serve a few weeks after he opens.

It’s not entirely surprising that Galotto has faced multiple issues forcing him to push back his opening, said Jimmy Story, owner of Avoca Coffee right down the street on Magnolia. “As far as when a business starts, people put out a date, and you’re lucky if you even get close to that,” he says, mentioning that Avoca opened about a year-and-a-half after he had anticipated. “Every time you have a hurdle, it adds time.”

What remains to be seen is whether Zio Carlo can be successful once it actually opens. Galotto has made few efforts to publicize his business. He says he’s received much needed support from Fort Worth South Inc. and the Fairmount Neighborhood Association, as well as from community activists and beer lovers, and he has an active Facebook page, but the buzz around Zio Carlo has died down in the last few years.

“When I first heard about the place, everyone was really excited about it,” said Story, “but I guess that’s been a few years now.”

The Brewpub Culture

But if it opens to positive reception, the building that Carlo has put so much work into, now with exposed brick, large windows and rustic furniture, could be a landmark in the Fairmount District.

“If your neighborhood has a brewpub, it’s really something you can be proud of,” said Christopher Staten, beer editor at Draft magazine, a national publication on beer culture.

Staten marks the beginning of the traditional brewpub at 1300 or 1400 England. Brewpubs, he said, have a reputation of being neighborhood hangouts where beer drinkers can have one-on-one experiences with the people who brew the beer they’re drinking.

“For me, a huge part of craft beer revolves around consuming a product that has a story,” said Staten. “I think brewpubs are really at the root of that.”

For Galotto, his story might be the only sure thing about his brewpub. Something both Galotto and Staten would agree on is that brewpubs give consumers a connection to what they’re drinking.

“You can get lost in a bottle shop,” said Staten, “but in a brewpub, you have a really chance of meeting the brewer. It’s a safe, but intimate way of getting into more and more craft styles. That’s something you don’t get with microbreweries or regional breweries.”

With brewpubs, there’s also room for innovation. Whereas regional breweries and even some microbreweries might not have the opportunity to experiment with different kinds of beer because it can be too expensive, brewpubs are more willing to take chances, says Staten, sometimes brewing small batches of a certain kind of beer they want to try out.

Bringing Europe to Fort Worth

It’s evident, as Galotto listed off his brews, that Zio Carlo will be full of interesting, creative beers. Like any brewer, Galotto said the beer is the most important part of his business, and most, if not all, of the beers at Zio Carlo will have Italian names. (“I think the name of the beer is important for marketing reasons.”)

“My favorite is the English bitter,” he said. It’s brewed with myrtle leafs, grown in Sardinia and Corsica, he explains as he got up, walking across the room to show me a jar full of dull green leafs. “In Italy, they use berries and myrtle to make very strong liquor. But that’s not very common here, especially here in Texas. They [Americans] have never heard of using myrtle in beer.”

A wheat beer brewed with Texas peaches, Bianca Pesca, he said, is “unbelievable because you were able to smell and taste the peaches, and it gave the beer a little bit of sour.”

There will also be a dry stout called Augusta Taurinorum, which was the Roman name given to Turin, a Belgian Golden Strong Ale and a brown ale. And at least two lagers, one of which will be a bock or doppelbock.

“The guy knows what he’s doing with beer,” said Story, who remembers liking Galotto’s beers during previous years’ Arts Goggle programs, an annual arts and music festival which also showcases local businesses. “He’s really well-respected with the beer community in this area.”

Although Galotto concedes that American brewers have “had a very important role in the creating craft beer, this market,” he doesn’t want to make American-style beer.

“In this place, I want to recreate what there was in the past in European brewpub,” said Galotto. For him, the building on Magnolia and College was a no-brainer. “I was looking for a historic building,” he said of his property. “In Europe, all the buildings are old. For me, I cannot imagine a brewery or brewpub in a new building.”

Galotto touched the wooden bar table in front of him, his hands rough, and explained that he collected that wood “from the garbage” from houses in the neighborhood that had been torn-down and bought some of his furniture from garage sales. “It’s not only to save that I don’t have,” he said. “We want this place to be unique. It will be very cozy.”

His brewpub will also serve food, but it will be much different than what you expect from a bar or a restaurant. A limited choice of pizza or one or two other dishes like pasta, for lunch and dinner (food won’t be served at any other time, in other words) will bring a bit of Europe to Magnolia, he hopes.

“In Italy, we call a place like that a trattoria,” said Galotto. “It is for workers. They eat what the place provides. You will not have a full menu.”

For visitors and Near Southside residents, Story said Zio Carlo will add “another dynamic” to the area. If Galotto’s Zio Carlo can be successful, Galotto may be able to change the way people in Fort Worth, or at least in the Fairmount District, look at beer and drinking.