Kichesippi Beer Co. tapping into holiday spirit with new Sparks Street location

Paul Meek headshot
Paul Meek is the owner of Kichesippi Beer Co. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Kichesippi Beer Co. is bringing the holiday spirit – not to mention spirits of another kind – to Sparks Street as part of a new expansion.

The Ottawa-based craft brewery is opening a pop-up store at 187 Sparks St. next week. 

Owner Paul Meek describes the concept as “basically a farmer’s market with a door and a bathroom.” From Nov. 28 to Dec. 23, the temporary store will offer Kichesippi brew along with a selection of beers, wines and other products from other Ontario producers, including Ottawa’s Saunders Cider and Dunrobin Distilleries, as well as locally produced honey, locally roasted coffee and more.

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It’s the first phase of a two-stage process that will see the pop-up store shut down just before Christmas so the 1,100-square-foot space can be converted into a 20-seat taphouse and eatery, a process that’s expected to be completed by next spring.

The Kichesippi Bar and Bottle Shop will be the brewery’s second location after its flagship retail outlet in Bells Corners. Meek says its offerings will include draft beer and cider as well as cocktails, wines by the glass and small food plates. 

In addition, the business will feature “a very well-stocked liquor store” with beers, wines and spirits from Ontario and beyond.

“With the (LCBO) moving from World Exchange Plaza to 150 Elgin, the customers downtown don’t have a liquor store close by,” Meek notes.

“The plan will be to work with as many suppliers that are not on your LCBO shelves. There are lots of great beers and wines, ciders and spirits from around the world that we’d like to focus more on those that are not in your local LCBO just to give the customers more of a selection.”

Meek credits local business leaders such as Bar Robo’s Scott May and Devinder Chaudhary, the owner of Aiāna Restaurant Collective, for encouraging him to expand his taproom concept to the downtown core.

May and Chaudhary recently spearheaded the creation of a new downtown entertainment district dubbed SoPa (for South of Parliament) in an effort to lure more shoppers and diners to the downtown core in the wake of the pandemic. 

Meek hopes Kichesippi can help breathe new life into areas like Sparks Street that have been hit hard by COVID.

“It’s definitely a risk – anything new is a risk,” he says of opening a new location. “But we feel Sparks Street is only going to get better. Everybody wants to see downtown revitalized. There are multiple levels of government committed to making it work, and we feel that we can be a great part of that success for the long term.”

Since its inception more than 13 years ago, Kichesippi – which means “Great River” in the Algonquin language of the Kichesipirini people – has become a bedrock of Ottawa’s burgeoning craft beer industry.

The company now employs 22 people and produces more than 400,000 litres of beer annually, selling its products in bars and restaurants around the city as well as at LCBO and Beer Store outlets across Eastern Ontario. 

But Meek says consumer buying patterns have changed since the pandemic. He estimates that sales are down roughly 15 per cent from pre-COVID levels as Canadians cut back on alcohol consumption and dine out less frequently.

As a result, he says, operations like his have been forced to rethink their business models – whether it’s adding more non-alcoholic beverages or, in this case, taking advantage of changes to provincial liquor laws during the pandemic that allow restaurants to sell beer, wine and liquor to go. 

“I’ll be honest – if business was super great, I wouldn’t be taking any more risks right now,” Meek says. “I’d be sitting back and enjoying things. But we need to take some risks. 

“Business could be better. The industry is soft. This is an opportunity for us to take more control of our own destiny; we can’t just be a wholesaler all the time.”

The new location is more than just a means to generate more sales, Meek adds. It’s another step toward fulfilling the vision of his late wife Kelly, Meek’s longtime life and business partner who died in 2019.

“She wanted Kichesippi to be the Alexander Keith’s of Ottawa,” he says. “She wanted us to be part of the Ottawa experience. We can’t accomplish that goal if we’re just in Bells Corners. This really gives us an opportunity to strengthen our brand.

“If this goes well, maybe we open a second or third spot. But we’re going to focus on this one for now. If we really nail down this concept, then it’s definitely something that we could look at opening numerous versions of this down the road.”

Kichesippi Beer co-founder Paul Meek on a quest to become the ‘Ottawa thing’

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