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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Burgaw’s first brewery opens in renovated mid-century building

Burgaw Brewing opens its doors Friday at 11 a.m. to the public. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

BURGAW — It’s been a four-year process bringing Burgaw Brewing to life. As of 11 a.m. Friday, customers will file into the newly restored 79-year-old brick building between Burgaw Antiqueplace and Ideal Barbershop. 

It’s been the blood, sweat and tears of operator and brewmaster Kevin Kozak and his wife, Emmaline. Over the last two months, as opening day nears, Kozak said he wrestled with sound sleep — expected of any restaurateur looking to launch his first operation.

READ MORE: Blueberry Festival offers sneak peek of Burgaw’s first brewpub, slated to open by fall

“We have to turn off our Facebook notifications after 7 p.m., so me and my wife could turn our brains off,” he said Wednesday, among a cacophony of drills and vacuums operating in preparation for the brewery’s weekend debut. “Else the phone just dings and dings, with people asking for reservations, which we don’t do, what the first beer will be, what our hours are.”

Burgaw Brewing will operate seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and to start will have guest beers on tap until the 10-barrel system is fully operational. It will likely be two to four more weeks before its first brew is complete.

Nine of the 12 Burgaw Brewing taps will serve beers from Salty Turtle — Pender County’s first brewery — Edward Teach, Mad Mole, Panacea and others in the interim.

Wednesday, Kozak was rolling in kegs stamped “FSB,” from his former employer, Front Street Brewery. He was head brewmaster at the downtown Wilmington location for more than a decade.

“The new Front Street brewer, Christopher McGarvey, called a while back and said, ‘Hey, man, we found this binder and we think it’s old recipes, but we don’t think it’s from here,’” Kozak said.

It dated back to 2005. The book came from Kozak’s first brewing job in Virginia at Thoroughbreds. He said his new system at Burgaw Brewing and the one up north are remarkably similar.

“All the efficiencies [the extract recovered in the wort compared to the amount of extract available in the malt] are going to be pretty much dialed in the same,” he said.

Burgaw Brewing houses a 10-barrel brewing system created by Canada-based Specific Mechanical Systems. Owner Kevin Kozak will create 12 beers for Burgaw Brewing’s taps. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver) 

Burgaw Brewing’s flagship, 103 Lager, is a German helles derivative of Kozak’s former recipes. 

“I just fell in love with that style because it was my shift beer,” he said, referring to the sipper he got after work ended. “It’s lighter, golden, but full-bodied with good flavor.”

It will take roughly six weeks to brew after the equipment is running. Burgaw Brewing’s beers will be rotated in as they’re ready.

Kozak said he will turn out an IPA first, projecting it takes two weeks to brew. Partial to traditional West Coast styles, Kozak anticipates its flavor profile will be citrusy with grapefruit, pine and bitter hops.

“The recipes I come out with first are probably going to change two or three times before I’m really happy with them,” he said.

By summer, Kozak will brew a new draft in time for Burgaw’s Blueberry Festival. Naturally, it will include blueberries plus honey.

Burgaw Brewing gave a first look to customers last year during the annual June festival, with the goal to be open by fall 2022. However, delays were caused due to pandemic-related effects in construction, supplies, installation of equipment, and infrastructure, such as electricity, plumbing and drainage.

“Spectrum will be showing up tomorrow for the POS system,” Kozak said, cutting it close to the chase. “I was fully prepared to run the restaurant old-school, diner-style with hand-written tickets if we had to.”

Mark Relyea is the chef at Burgaw Brewing and dresses a burger with his homemade sauce, punched up a notch by the vinegar he said. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

His chef, Mark Relyea, did a run-through Wednesday with some of the kitchen crew. To start, the restaurant is churning out a limited menu of burgers, fries and wings for the first two weeks.

Sizzles from the grill and pops of grease from the fryer turned the pristine line of new kitchen equipment into an assembly of workmanship. 

“These kids are on it,” Kozak said.

Relyea led the dance, aligning thick cuts of bacon beside quarter-pound patties. He has worked at South Beach Grill in Wrightsville, Porters Neck Country Club in Wilmington and Beach Shop and Grill in Topsail. Relyea chose to work in Burgaw because of its quaint family-friendly atmosphere, he said.

“I wanted to create more homestyle, down-to-earth food, nothing too fancy,” he added.

The menu features more than a dozen appetizers, including a country ham dip mixed with cheese and chopped pecans and cheese pierogies served with smoked onions  and sour cream. Sandwiches and classic dishes, as well as five salads and sides, also are included.

Burgers line up on the grill Wednesday, as the kitchen crew did a first run before opening. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

Relyea is most excited about some of the smoked items, including the chicken Philly, made with smoked chicken thighs. A smoked pork loin sandwich comes topped with smoked onion, lettuce, cheddar and Carolina Gold sauce. 

“Everyone does pulled pork,” he said, “so I wanted something a bit different, more upscale bar food.”

The burgers eventually will be ground in house, a mix of chuck and short rib, the latter which is used to make chili. There is also a short rib hoagie, topped with Granny apple slaw, jalapeños and pickles. 

The burgers, offered as single, double, triple or quadruple patties, come with lettuce, tomato and onion, topped with Burgaw Brewing’s special sauce. Relyea said the spread has one standout ingredient: vinegar.

“It’s sweet, has lots of flavor with a little bite from the pepper,” he said

Fry guy Justin Edge dunked thick breaded wings into a vat of fresh oil Wednesday. He tossed them, after cooked golden and crisp, in the flaming red Buffalo sauce — one of six sauces, including Cheerwine BBQ. Edge grew up in Burgaw and has worked in the restaurant industry all his life. 

Justin Edge tosses wings in Buffalo sauce. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

When surmising what he thought the new brewery would bring to the town, Edge kept it simple: “happy people.”

“So far I have around seven kitchen hires,” Relyea said, with a goal to staff 15. The restaurant overall will employ 30, including front-of-the-house servers and bartenders, managed by Emmaline. 

Kozak said the restaurant had a solid turnout in applications. “We didn’t know what to expect with the industry shortage,” he added.

Burgaw Brewing is the second restaurant to open under Burgaw Now, an initiative started by Richard Johnson. 

Johnson moved to the area in 2016 and owns a 500-acre tree farm. Originally from the tech industry, the founder sold his company to Yahoo at the turn of the 21st century for more than $400 million. When he moved to Pender County, he fell in love with Burgaw — population of 3,071.

As businesses were shuttering in downtown proper, Johnson decided in 2018 to revive the 143-year-old historic town square and restore its charm. He purchased seven buildings to rent out to entrepreneurs and create an economic driver of independent business and commerce. He started Burgaw Now to promote the town’s preservation and future development. 

Wings come in six various flavors at Burgaw Brewing (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

In 2020, he helped bring Fat Daddy’s, a New York-style pizzeria owned by Jay Kranchalk, to life at 103 W. Fremont St. Burgaw Brewing, located a block away, is the second restaurant Johnson has been involved in, investing $1 million to restore the building. 

In 2022, Johnson launched Own Your Own, a nationwide competition for a third restaurateur to open a business in the area. OYO gives entrepreneurs an opportunity to test their business models, which will be voted on by area chefs and restaurateurs. The winner will receive $1 million to design and build an eatery of their dreams.

OYO has received more than 400 applications in 25 states, with even more expected to come in as the March 31 deadline approaches. The group will dwindle down the applicants to 24 finalists.

“It’s been great working with Richard on Burgaw Brewing,” Kozak said. “He’s been nothing but helpful and supportive in what we’re trying to do.”

Finishing touches were being completed Wednesday on the brewery’s metal and wood shelving, mounted against exposed brick walls and weathered wood finishes. Clark Hipp Architecture, Cahill Design and Build and Frank Lewis Builders all were a part of transforming the former 1940s building with its original tin ceiling and reclaimed wood from tobacco barns.

Exposed brick, leather and wood create a cozy vibe in the brewery, which opens Friday. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

The 4,000-square-foot restaurant, with cozy nooks of green leather chairs and brown leather couches, as well as bar tables and stools, seats more than 100 people. The outdoor beer garden will be open for the grand launch, likely set up with cornhole. Kozak eventually sees live music out back, too.

Townsfolk seemingly have welcomed the new business with open arms. Wednesday, while Kozak sat on a bench outdoors, a person honked her horn while driving past the brewery, a dog accompanying her in the passenger seat.

“That’s my mom,” Kozak said. “We moved her down here from Hampstead last year — too much traffic.”

The Kozaks, both having grown up in small towns, moved to Burgaw over the last few years into a home located mere blocks away from the brewery. The walkability and convenience appeals to them.

“It’s perfect here,” Kozak said. “I should go flag mom down to tell her to eat one of these burgers.”

Burgaw Brewing is located at 103 Wright St. Menu prices are $3 to $16.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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