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Jul. 31, 2021 | Saturday
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170 years later, the Grist carries on where Sleemans left off
Danielle and Robert Begin share an intimate laugh amid the opening day fluster of their new brewery, the Grist in St. Davids. (Evan Saunders)

The St. Davids brewing scene has grown with the long-awaited opening of the Grist Craft Kitchen and Brewery on Four Mile Creek Road.

“We’re so flustered,” owner Robert Begin said as the Grist got ready to serve its first customers on Friday. The official opening was slated for 4 p.m.

Friday morning Begin was busy with his wife Danielle preparing all the food for the breweries first day of sales, which looked a little different than the couple were expecting.

“We don’t have the benefit of the typical soft opening where you can invite people to test everything out. So, we figured we might as well do it like this,” Begin said.

The restaurant will be serving takeout food and beer only until the province allows indoor dining. Coincidental to the Grist's opening, the government announced Friday that indoor dining can begin July 16.

The restaurant is still two to three weeks away from opening its patio and takeout orders will be limited for the opening.

“We’ve got about 140 pizzas,” Begin said Friday morning.

“It’s first come, first served. We’ll work our way into full service once we get a little bit more comfortable with things.”

The brewery has four beers available for purchase.

Begin's favourite is the red cream ale.

“The thing about the red cream ale is that, with Sleeman’s having the first brewery around here, it’s kind of paying homage to them.”

The progenitor of the current Sleeman Breweries was John Sleeman, who founded the Stamford Spring Brewery in St. Davids in 1836. It closed in 1847.

“After 186 years, brewing is finally back in St. Davids,” the Grist’s website reads.

The brewery is connected to an old farm building that Begin has refurbished. Lots of material from the barn was recycled for the décor within the brewery. Old barrels, rusted siding and wooden beams adorn the interior.

Begin thought that creating a great main building was the hard part but, with opening day upon him, his attentions completely changed.

“The pressure, believe it or not, is actually in offering the proper food and service. We always thought it was the building but now that it’s done it’s almost inconsequential,” he said.

The couple have been working on opening the brewery for three-and-a-half years. COVID-19 caused delays but was strangely beneficial.

The pandemic offered somewhat of a silver lining, he said. "If we had opened up when we wanted to it really would have impacted our bottom line,” Begin said.

“All of a sudden we would have had staffing issues. We would have had payroll and food waste.”

While he is excited about the prospect of the U.S. border reopening, he stressed that the Grist is not focused on tourism only.

“I’ve always been a big supporter of making sure you take care of the locals,” he said.

“Tourism is fantastic but tourism in the middle of the winter won’t support you. So, you’ve got to make sure that you take care of those that take care of you.”

Part of that was making sure the Grist does not end up as another expensive fine dining spot in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

“We’re really trying to have a much more level price point. We want people to come three times a week, not three times a year.”

The couple used to own Garciolli’s Pizza on Mary Street in Old Town and Begin used to work opening wineries. They made the decision to invest the money from their past life in the new brewery.

“Danielle and I decided to blow every bit of our kids' inheritance” on the Grist, the website says.

“That’s not a joke,” Begin told The Lake Report.

The opening of the brewery isn’t where the business stops growing.

“Once we get this done, we’re going to start the coffee shop and Italian ice creamery,” Begin said, gesturing to a vacant building on the lot.

 

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