Typical fall Saturday in this part of the world: The Longhorns creamed Baylor, it was warm enough that people were asking "Is this November?" — and a bold new business venture took a big step toward reality.
The Black Star Co-op Pub & Brewery opened its doors for tours and a beer social at the new Midtown Commons development at North Lamar and Airport boulevards, a few steps from Capital Metro's Crestview Station commuter rail stop. It was such a big deal the agency even had one of its trains stop by.
"I'd like to formally welcome you to the site of the world's first cooperatively owned brew pub," founder Steven Yarak told the crowd that turned out to tour an empty building and sample beers from five local breweries.
It's worth nothing that not one of the beers was made by Black Star brewer Jeff Young, but that's because Young only had tape lines to show where his barrels and fermenters will be when the co-op opens, tentatively in June 2010.
Like commuter rail, the cooperative brew pub has been a long time coming and subject to delays. Yarak got things rolling in January 2006 with the idea of having a beer bar owned by its regular customers. At the first meeting to propose the idea and drum up interest was Young, who had — serendipity alert — arrived in town maybe a week earlier with the aim of getting a brewing job. Young lobbied to make the bar a brew pub.
From that first meeting, attended by some 16 people, the co-op has sold more than 1,200 memberships to folks in 20 states and three countries outside the U.S. — all of those transactions made, until Saturday, on nothing more concrete than an idea.
The 4,000-square-foot space will offer a local and seasonal twist on English pub food, an on-premises-brewed portfolio of beers, some 20 guest taps and specialty beers in bottles. (But don't expect a lot of TVs tuned to the game. This won't be a sports bar.)
Young said he is especially excited about Waterloo, a wheat ale to be made with Hill Country peaches that he described as perfect for Austin's punishing summers. Architect and co-op member Matthew Nesbitt said the aim is for the space to be a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified building. And Yarak told the crowd that employees would be paid "a living wage" and gratuities would not be allowed. If that comes to pass, Black Star might be the only public space in Austin besides mortuaries without a tip jar.
The co-op now aims to double its membership by spring and raise $375,000 in member investor shares, not unlike preferred stock in the for-profit world. Once the pub turns a profit, those investors — loyal regulars, it's safe to bet — will enjoy "an annual refund on your bar tab," Yarak said.
Was there any question the idea would become reality, or at least a step closer?
"I never doubted it for a minute," Yarak said.