In Port Moody, the number of seats for craft beer lovers along the hot destination of Brewers Row is up to 210 for each of the four breweries.
Coquitlam’s only craft brewery holds 80 guests inside and on its patio.
But in Port Coquitlam, which over the past month saw its first two breweries open their doors, the arrangement is 25 seats.
“It’s like we’ve put the welcome sign out and [the city doesn’t] want anyone to come,” said Geordie Anderson, one of three owners of Taylight Brewing Inc., the newest craft beer venture to open in the Tri-Cities.
Located across from Peace Park, in the Meridian Industrial Business Park off the Mary Hill Bypass, Taylight put out a sandwich board on the Traboulay PoCo Trail Aug. 5 to announce its opening.
“Thirsty?” the sign read, directing passersby to pop in for a cool one during the heat wave.
Co-owner and former retiree Cameron Taylor said he watched the trail as pedestrians and cyclists did a double-take and circled around to head over. Over the course of the day, the business drew some 200 customers, he said.
The next day, as word leaked out, Taylight wrote on its social media channels: “Pssst… Taylight Brewing is open!”
“We wanted to keep it relatively quiet because we didn’t want the same thing happen to us as with Northpaw,” Taylor told The Tri-City News during a tour of the facility at Coast Meridian Road and Kebet Way.
For Northpaw Brew Co., located in the River’s Edge Business Park, on Sherling Place (behind Walmart in Fremont Village), its grand opening — at 10 a.m. on July 18 — saw a line-up down the street after it put the word out on social media the night before, said co-owner Courtney Brown.
To handle the volume, its operators had to call in spouses to pour and sell the suds. They ran out of growlers and were forced to shoot over to Brewers Row to scoop up some of their jugs. And, despite the scorching temperatures, customers snapped up branded sweatshirts.
“I told this guy, ‘It’s 35 degrees out. What do you need that for?’ But they all wanted a piece of it,” Brown said.
Still, service was slow because of the seating capacity restrictions.
Two years ago, city council capped the number of lounge seats in its new liquor zoning bylaw at 25. The reason? It wanted to prevent competition with established PoCo pubs.
Council called the seat cap a “happy medium,” given it was the first time it had dealt with microbrews.
But councillors quickly got backlash.
Immediately after the policy passed, a PoCo businessman rose during question period to criticize council to setting the bar too low, saying 25 seats would be difficult to sustain a multimillion-dollar enterprise and suggested that between 35 and 40 seats would be a better start.
"Opening a craft brewery is not opening a flower shop or book stores or coffee shops," Barry Wright told council after its vote in June 2016. "There's a lot of significant up-front capital and, of course, to get that capital repaid, we all need to be able to have revenue coming in."
A request for comment from Mayor Greg Moore wasn’t returned but Coun. Brad West, who now chairs the city’s smart growth committee and is running for mayor in the Oct. 20 election, said he doesn't agree with the seat restriction.
“I felt like it was too small,” he said. “It’s not economically feasible or practical. It’s really limiting and [Taylight and Northpaw] have said it’s very difficult.”
West hopes council will revisit the policy soon to increase the occupancy.
Both Taylight, which has a 4,800-sq. ft. facility, and Northpaw, at 3,700 sq. ft., are ready.
The owners say they built their operations with room to expand, believing city council will eventually soften its stance to allow for more seating.
“We could quickly add more tables and have 60 to 70 seats inside and on the patio,” said Brown, with Taylor echoing the estimate for Taylight.
For all the seating problems, Taylor and Brown praised PoCo city staff for helping them navigate their rezoning applications and permits (Brown said Northpaw also had to unexpectedly sink more money into its infrastructure early this year to comply with upcoming seismic reinforcement regulations under the provincial liquor control board).
“We believe we’ve done our due diligence,” Taylor said. “We get that PoCo was one of the last cities in the Lower Mainland to allow microbreweries but, contrary to what council believes, we’re actually not in competition with the pubs and restaurants. They have their own markets and we have ours.”