What started as a food truck in Fort McMurray, is turning into Kelowna’s newest brewery.
Back in 2015, Kelowna’s Liam Mitchell was working on a construction site in Fort McMurray, where a women named Crystal Cain, who was also just working in the town at the time, was running a food truck called ‘The Grub Wagon’. The two met, got married, bought the food truck for themselves and moved to Mitchell’s Kelowna home while continuing to operate the food truck. ‘The Wagon’ has been a staple at the Kelowna’s Farmers Market since 2018.
On top of the food truck, Mitchell operates his own plumbing company in Kelowna but since the start of 2022, they’ve had the idea to expand and pursue their dream into opening a brewery.
“We were having to divide my time between helping operate the food truck business and my plumbing company and I was sort of falling out of love with plumbing,” said Mitchell. “I needed to start to think about a decision to make a career shift.”
Mitchell started looking at commercial real estate in Kelowna in Jan. 2022 for a place where he could have a kitchen with a small area to use as plumbing shop as well. After looking for more than six months, he had trouble finding a place because of bigger companies buying properties with knock-down clauses because they plan on building apartment buildings in the future.
“Once I saw the writing on the wall, I realized it wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought to just jump in,” said Mitchell. “I already made the decision that something was going to happen, and I kind of always had the idea that someday, maybe, I would turn the space into a brewery. I’ve been home brewing for a couple years now and it’s one of those things where I wanted to pursue my dream job.”
He ultimately decided to leave the plumbing shop area of the space behind and look for a place to build a brewery. The idea of having everyone all together in one direction was important to the family as well, instead of running between his plumbing company and the food truck.
In August, they were able to lock down their location at 105-1111 Gordon Drive. ““It was a shoebox with a bathroom in it,” said Mitchell.
The space helps extend Kelowna’s brewery district further east as it’s down the road from Railside Brewing, which opened last August.
“I think we’re pretty fortuitous that Railside opened up before us because it’s always good to have brewery neighbours,” said Mitchell. “We have good neighbours right in our building.”
Around the same time, one of the other units in the building was leased to become a plant store, which opened recently. The area is growing, as Mitchell told Capital News a tattoo shop is also opening beside the brewery.
While in the process of finding a place, they had the food truck open throughout the summer, which is entirely vegetarian and vegan, something they plan on keeping at the brewery.
“The Wagon is [vegan and vegetarian] so we’d be foolish to abandon the following that we’ve amassed with the food truck,” said Mitchell. “To my knowledge, I’ve been to a lot of breweries in the province but haven’t been to one that’s vegan or vegetarian, there’s definitely a niché market there.”
Mitchell and Cain eat mostly plant-based foods and live by the mantra ‘eat more plants’.
As for a name, ‘The Wagon’ name won’t continue. The brewery will be named Buffalo Rouge Brewing, and there’s a couple reasons behind it.
Something Mitchell and Cain have adopted in their life is the buffalo because they met in Fort McMurray, which is known as the municipality of the Wood Buffalo. Because of that, they buy each other buffalo-related gifts and art and even each have a buffalo tattoo. Then one day, one of Cain’s friends called Mitchell ‘Papa Rouge’ because of his red hair. His plumbing company was also called ‘Red Giant Mechanical’.
“We just sort of merged the two together,” said Mitchell. “Over the years of talking about a name, we decided that’s what it’s going to be. It stuck and it had a nice ring to it.”
The couple’s goal is to have the brewery open in the spring. “We’re going to keep the pedal to the medal here,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell has been homebrewing for a couple years and plans on having a little bit of everything at the establishment.
“We’re planning on having a bit of a mix of traditional craft beer offerings as well as experimental and seasonal beers that we’ll rotate,” said Mitchell, who loves making hazy IPA beers the most. “I like making beers for occasions. The seasonality of brewing is important. If there’s something big or important in our lives or coming up for the brewery or the city, we’ll have specific beers for those purposes.”
“We’re trying to live our family mom-and-pop shop fantasy,” said Mitchell. “It seems like the universe wants this to happen. It’s nice to set down roots here.”
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