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Breweries, winery share resources and customers at newly opened CoLab Public House in Vista

Juan Urbina and Jess Ensign of Minneaplis check the beer menu at CoLab Public House in Vista.
Juan Urbina, center right, and Jess Ensign, both road-tripping from Minneapolis, checked out the beer selections at the Barrel & Stave Brewing booth at CoLab Public House in Vista on Thursday. CoLab opened in July in a two-story 15,000-square-foot Vista industrial building.
(John Gastaldo/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Founder/developer Joe Deutsch said the first-of-its-kind project will be replicated in cities statewide

They say beer and wine don’t mix. Joe Deutsch hopes to prove that old adage wrong.

On July 22, he opened CoLab Public House in an industrial/retail center along Highway 78 in Vista. The 15,000-square-foot, two-story venue is the first project of its kind. Three breweries and one winery are making their beverages in-house with shared equipment and serving their drinks side by side at a 100-foot-long common bar.

Tap rooms and wine bars traditionally have very different looks, sounds, vibes and customers, but Vista’s younger and more diverse population has embraced the casual, family-friendly atmosphere of CoLab. On opening day, more than 600 people showed up. And on Thursday night, many dozens of customers were there to watch the L.A. Rams-Buffalo Bills game on some of CoLab’s 18 TV sets, while enjoying beers, wine and burgers from an on-site food stand.

Among the customers on Thursday were Irvin Martinez of San Marcos and Tatyana Arciniega of Temecula, a young couple who’d come to watch the game, have a burger and a drink. Martinez was enjoying a stout beer and Arciniega, a non-beer drinker, was slowly sipping a glass of mead. It was their first visit to CoLab but it won’t be their last.

“We like the cool vibe,” Martinez said. “It would be a fun place to meet with friends.”

Tatyana Arciniega and Irvin Martinez drink mead and stout at CoLab Public House in Vista.
Tatyana Arciniega, left of Temecula and Irvin Martinez of San Marcos drink mead and stout respectively at the Breakwater Brewing booth at CoLab Public House in Vista on Thursday, Sept. 8.
(John Gastaldo/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Vista, the beer mecca

Deutsch, a longtime real estate developer who lives in Solana Beach, said he was attracted to Vista for both its customer demographics and the city’s reputation as a beermaking hub. With the addition of the three new breweries at CoLab, the city of Vista now has 24 brewers, tap rooms and brewpubs. That’s one of the highest brewery-per-capita rates in the United States.

Vista’s Economic Development Director Larry Vaupel said the seeds for Vista’s thriving beer industry were planted nearly 20 years ago. Back then, Vista was looking to fill a great deal of vacant industrial space at the same time beermakers were scrounging for affordable quarters where they could both make and serve their beer. At the time, industrial zoning rules prohibited restaurant operations, so brewers couldn’t open on-site taprooms — critical sources for building a loyal customer base and generating higher-profit income. So the city of Vista bucked the status quo, changed its zoning role and the brewers poured in.

“It took a lot of leadership and political courage from our city council to accommodate them, but we did that and they came. If you remove the obstacles, then water is going to flow the path of least resistance. Fast forward 15 or 20 years and now most communities have come around and realized what a great asset these businesses are in industrial parks.”

Susana Arellan, center, and Jesus Raygosa, right, enjoy beers at newly opened CoLab Public House in Vista.
Susana Arellan, center, and her husband Jesus Raygosa, right, enjoy beers with friends at newly opened CoLab Public House in Vista on Thursday, Sept. 8.
(John Gastaldo/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Another way North County cities like Carlsbad and Oceanside have attracted brewers in the past is through Brewery Igniter programs, where startup breweries low on cash can lease brewing equipment, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. But Brandon Hernández, the founder and executive editor of the industry website San Diego Beer News, said CoLab Vista takes the Brewery Igniter concept and gives it a fresh twist.

“While San Diego County has been home to a variety of diverse brewing-industry concepts, CoLab Public House represents something entirely new for the region,” Hernández said. “While multiple companies inhabited and worked within the same (Brewery Igniter) structure, they were separated and had their own dedicated breweries, cellars and tasting rooms. At CoLab, there is one brewing system that the craft-beer tenants share, and the tasting room is one large, shared space with a contiguous bar that is split to allow ordering from four separate entities, one of which is a winery.”

Hernández said the Brewery Igniter model is used as either a way new brewers can test their product or to help them bridge a production shortfall. But the brewers are expected to move on after achieving proof of concept to make way for new tenants. But CoLab tenancy can be long-term.

The CoLab concept

Deutsch isn’t a beer drinker, but he knows something about bringing together compatible businesses. Over the past 50 years, he has developed thousands of commercial and industrial buildings in the Southwest, including some of Southern California’s first auto care center strip malls, with six or more independent car-service businesses, in the 1980s.

About four years ago, he was chatting with a local winemaker about possibly sharing a building with other tenants when his idea for CoLab was born. A year later, he found the moribund Sycamore Business Center off Sycamore Avenue in Vista. Despite its freeway visibility, the 1979-era center was rundown and filled with a mishmash of tenants like churches, a fitness gym, a flooring store and a sex toys boutique.

To attract families, CoLab Public House has an upstairs video arcade.
(John Gastaldo/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

With two investor friends from Newport Beach and the enthusiastic support of the city, Deutsch bought and renovated a 15,000-square-foot building at 2129 Industrial Court in Vista at a total cost of $4.5 million. The building has a 10-barrel brewing system with up to 60 barrels for fermentation. It also has an upstairs arcade room and seating for 330 indoors, plus up to 100 more at two soon-to-open patios.

Deutsch said the shared brewery system and winery component was initially a tough sell. He said he visited more than 100 breweries in San Diego County and a few in Orange County, who all turned the idea down because they were afraid to be the first to test the concept. Then after Laguna Beach Beer Co. signed on last November, Fullerton-based Barrel & Stave Pour House and Oceanside’s Breakwater Brewing Co. quickly joined the project, along with Baby’s Badass Burgers.

When Deutsch couldn’t find a winery willing to share a tasting room counter with breweries, his son Joe Deutsch Jr. of Carlsbad and winemaker Steve Michaeliszyn of Escondido created their own, Propaganda Wine Co. A former assistant winemaker for Carruth Cellars, Michaeliszyn said he plans to make a diverse mix of white, red and rosés, plus Champagnes and sangrias at price points ranging from $7 a glass to $100 a bottle. He’s excited by the prospect of collaborating with his neighboring beermakers.

“They say it takes a lot of great beer to make wine,” Michaeliszyn joked. “I like the idea of working with the beermakers to come up with new ideas, maybe fermenting beer in a wine barrel to create a sour or adding dry hops to a sauvignon blanc wine to give it a more floral flavor.”

Tayna Davis and Jesse Martinez drink wine at CoLab Public House in Vista.
Tayna Davis, left, grabs her glass of Propaganda Wines’ Petit Syrah next to Jesse Martinez, both of Vista, at CoLab Public House in Vista on Thursday, Sept. 8.
(John Gastaldo/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Joe Deutsch Jr. said business since Propaganda Wine opened at CoLab on Aug. 31 has been good. More than 160 members have joined the young company’s wine club, including five beermakers and many residents of the nearby Shadowridge golf club. And he said that while many CoLab visitors come in for beer, there’s a growing number of wine lovers arriving each day.

The big challenge now, he said, is getting the word out about the location and trying to spread out the business, which is now concentrated on Fridays and Saturdays. To bring in customers on the other nights of the week, CoLab is now showing NFL games three days a week, hosting trivia nights and offering happy hour specials Mondays through Thursdays.

Proof of concept

Deutsch Sr. said that getting CoLab Public House open amid a pandemic, equipment supply chain delays and the wait for the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control department to license the one-of-a-kind operation was long and brutal. But now that he and his partners have learned the ropes, they’re making plans to build more CoLabs in other cities.

Future locations are being considered in Temecula, Corona, Fullerton and South Orange County, as well as in San Diego’s South Bay. Their goal is to build one or two new CoLabs a year.

Vaupel with Vista’s Economic Development Department said he’s excited for the potential of CoLab Public House.

“Everyone is waiting to see how it works and if it is successful,” Vaupel said. “The industry is watching.”

CoLab Public House is at 2129 Industrial Court in Vista. It opens at 4 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. on weeekends. For details, visit colabpublichouse.com.


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