Depot Springs Beer Company brews more than beer

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Something big is brewing in La Mesa. Something East County does not have, and likely, could not have imagined. But Aaron Dean and Phillip Soto Mares did, and a shopping mall in an otherwise stark and small shopping center in La Mesa will transform business suites into not just a beer company, but a restaurant, bakery, and amphitheater, all masterfully designed into approximately 30,000 square feet. A distillery serving spirits will be added later. Forty to 60 full-time jobs will be created as a result of the project.

Something big is brewing in La Mesa. Something East County does not have, and likely, could not have imagined. But Aaron Dean and Phillip Soto Mares did, and a shopping mall in an otherwise stark and small shopping center in La Mesa will transform business suites into not just a beer company, but a restaurant, bakery, and amphitheater, all masterfully designed into approximately 30,000 square feet. A distillery serving spirits will be added later. Forty to 60 full-time jobs will be created as a result of the project.

Think Humphrey’s by the Bay comes to Fletcher Parkway—tailored to suit diverse, modern taste. The idea of Depot Springs Beer Company (DSBC) was conceived with the community, families, and even its surrounding neighborhoods, in mind.

The restaurant will be farm-to-fork. Beer barrels-aged in the underground facility at DSBC served at the bar, where there will be at least 30 taps of DSBC and other craft brews. The amphitheater will seat up to 300 people for movie nights and up to 150 people for concerts, the lawn within it perfect for eating picnic style, under the sun or the retractable awning. Another full bar will be conveniently located beneath the outdoor stage. Above the amphitheater will be a VIP Room, accessible through a DSBC membership. Next to the amphitheater, kids will enjoy a game room.

It almost sounds too good to be true, but Dean and Mares are resolute businessmen with not only vision, but experience to make DSBC a reality. The project is fully funded through a third partner in Pennsylvania.

“What I want people to understand is that we’re really investing in the neighborhood, and investing in the people who are helping us build this. We hired consultants for sound and lighting to make sure you can have a quality experience in here without disturbing outside our walls,” said Dean. 

Aaron Dean’s grandfather purchased the land on which the shopping center sits in 1962, after emigrating here from Poland. The Dean family has been part of the La Mesa community since then. Some tenants of the shopping center have been there since the center opened. As a 10-year old, Dean used to accompany his grandfather collecting rents from the tenants.  

But according to Dean, the shopping center has been “showing it’s age.” It was only a few months ago that Dean and Mares, who co-own the cocktail brand XB and market food products, conceived the idea of a brewery. The brewery idea led to discussion about a restaurant, which led to a discussion about an event center. 

“We will be ready for anyone walking up on stage,” said Dean. “Our focus 100 percent is acoustical type events. We are a neighborhood event center. The houses will hear nothing. We’ve already met with the chief of police. It’s kid-friendly; bring local artists up, all sorts of really neat entertainment, family style. We really want to be part of the La Mesa community,” Dean said.

Wowing the people who walk through the door without disturbing the nearby residents is something Dean and Mares are emphatic about, from the moment DSBC opens it’s doors in summer 2015. 

One way Dean and Mares plan to do that is by canvasing the surrounding neighborhoods with their director of operations and general manager, introducing themselves and providing information about DSBC. The closest neighbors will receive a membership to DSBC as well as a card loaded with a $25 credit. The DSBC membership program will have different levels offering various perks—tapping a new brew sound fun? Some lucky members will be able to it. Information will become more available as opening gets closer. The plan is to break ground in December of this year.

Further demonstrating their regard for community, the name Depot Springs Beer Company honors the history of La Mesa.

 “The name embraces the city of La Mesa. La Mesa was the first train stop in San Diego County. If go you to Spring Street, you see the depot, and of course, it’s known for the springs. We’re embracing the history,” Dean said.

But the focus is today—what locals want now. Mares and Dean have a good idea, as they are both San Diego natives with families, and they’ve learned and observed what works in a restaurant and brewery, and what does not. Mares will bring knowledge from his involvement in the brewing community, which he describes as “tight” in this region. La Mesa is part of San Diego, after all, and to attract craft beer fans and keep them coming back, the brew has got to be more than just “good”, definitely exciting, and it’d be even better if there was something no one has done before. Imagine agave beer, an innovative, award-winning brew.

Mares, a distiller and Master Catador (similar to a sommelier, but for tequila rather than wine) are one of the few Master Catadors in the world. Originally from San Marcos, Mares is the former president of Academia Mexicana del Tequila. His vast knowledge of tequila gave him the idea for agave beer. Year’s back, Mares developed a relationship with Stuart Long, former brewer of Lost Abbey. They brewed the first agave beer and took it to the Spirits of Mexico festival where they won big. Mares and Dean have since brought Long to DSBC. The aspirations for DSBC beer are very high—they plan to distribute and export—but not at the cost of quality. “We won’t let the quality drop, we want to make sure that’s always at a high level as we watch our growth,” Dean and Mares explained. “We won’t just grow to grow. We’ll be in close contact with the beer aficionados in the county,” Mares added. Their unique barrel-aging program will add another level of distinction to the beer they plan to produce.

With a renowned and coveted brewer on board, plus the barrel-aging factor, the brewery aspect of DSBC is dialed.  The family element is just as important to Dean and Mares as the local beer market. DSBC will not be a sports bar or heavily marketed to the college-age demographic. With Executive Chef Cindy Pangalos (another San Diego native, who Dean recruited from the San Francisco culinary scene) and Baker Nichole Soto, the food will be “amazing but affordable,” Dean said.

“We’re a neighborhood watering hole, we want people to come here two, three times a week because the experience is always changing,” he said.

“Changing” and “different” are attributes that will be practically guaranteed—their ideas are inventive, aiming high to serendipitously quench East County’s hunger, thirst, and need for entertainment. Where else will a customer be able to say they got tequila ice cream, an impressive meal, to-go food served in picnic containers, used a separate entrance just for a quick growler fill, and heard a great local band outside, all in one place?

“Because of the way our permitting is, you can go and sit on the grass, on a blanket or a beach chair. We want you to feel like you’re going to a park. Sitting out on the lawn, enjoying what’s going on,” Dean said. 

The menu being designed will be infusion.

“If we do sliders, you’ll have four choices of protein. We’ll take it up notches. If we do pizzas, we’re making it from our own dough. We’re going to bake everything, as much as we can, from scratch. Our chef is building her dream kitchen and the baker is building her dream bakery. We’re not going to be just burgers and fries and pizza. Great fish, great meat, great salads, some great cheese boards. You should be healthy and have alternatives,” said Dean, who asserted that kid’s meals should be savvy and appealing — more than the basic, common offerings.

He also believes that parents shouldn’t have to fork over a $20 bill every time their kid finds a game room in a restaurant. The games in the game room at DSBC will be free.  

The kitchen will stay open until 10:00 p.m., wrapping up at 11. DSBC will not be last call at 2:00 a.m. place; closing time is planned for midnight. Keeping with a community-first approach, no smoking or vaping will be permitted anywhere. Incentives will be offered for Earth-friendly transportation alternatives and patron safety.

“For those clients that come by public transit, we will be giving you free dessert or half-pint. Show us your receipt, we’ll give you 50 percent off pints,” Dean said.

There will be a gratuity-only valet on property. For any issues that arise despite the customer safety and satisfaction measures Dean and Mares have planned, neighbors will have the mobile phone number for the Director of Operations.

“If you’re in the service of business, you better be accessible. We’ll be accessible, but at the same time, if my wait staff does their job, everything should end right there. If that doesn’t work, we have our general manager,” explained Dean about the chain of command.

Training for all staff members will be intense.

“We’re investing in our people now. Months before we open, we have our head brewer and head chef,” Dean said. “Customer service is one of those things that ends up getting lost at the bar level. The customer service is so important. We’re bringing something to the city of La Mesa, where we would like to be very involved.” The website for DSBC, still under construction, is www.depotspringsbeerco.com.

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