A group of local homebrewers are fueling a longtime passion of craft beer and ramping up plans to open their first brewpub in winter 2015 or early 2016 along Market Street in Old Town Tomball.
"We live in Tomball, and we saw how the festivals started growing," Fire Ant Brewing Company co-owner Kurt Hohnholt said. "I think this town is ripe for [a brewpub]. They are a German town without a brewery. We said, 'If we are going to [open a brewpub], we'll do it in Tomball.' I think people are starving for it."
Kurt along with his brother, Carl, and business partner Bruce Kissinger have homebrewed beer for more than 20 years combined. About seven years ago, the trio began offering their homebrewed beers to tailgaters at Houston Texans games and quickly accrued a strong following in the community.
The Hohnholt brothers and Kissinger operated their home-based brewery without an official name for several years before stumbling on the Fire Ant Brewing Company namesake, Kurt said.
"About a year or two ago, we tried to see if [the company] was a marketable idea," Kurt said. "We were brewing beer and my brother [Carl] got into a pile of ants. He had a really bad reaction, and he had to get a Benadryl shot at the hospital. He came up with the name [for the company] after that. It just stuck so we kept it."
The new brewpub was originally expected to occupy 1,500 square feet in the 42,500-square-foot Hutson Group mixed-use property in the early stages of development along Main and Market streets, Kurt said. As plans continued to develop, the brewpub is now slated to occupy a larger space in a 3,000-square-foot facility at the 304 Market Street and 306 Market Street addresses, he said.
Fire Ant Brewing Company will offer at least five regular beers and a seasonal variety developed over the years through homebrewing as well as bar menu staples, such as hamburgers and chicken wings in the brewpub, Kurt said.
Making way for the brewpub
Presently in the Old Town Tomball mixed-use area, the distillation of liquors as well as brewpubs and breweries are not permitted. On Feb. 16, Tomball City Council discussed the possibility of granting a conditional use permit to allow Fire Ant Brewing Company to operate a brewpub in the mixed-use area and crafting an ordinance to permit other microbreweries within city limits.
"When we started talking about the brewpub going in, that was not already an eligible use for the Old Town [Tomball] mixed-use [area]," Tomball Mayor Gretchen Fagan said. "What we're looking at doing is adding that."
During the meeting, Tomball Community Development Director Craig Meyers suggested city staff develop a zoning code amendment to define microbreweries as a type of land use to be permitted in the future.
"If there's a microbrewery that wanted to come in to the Four Corners [Shopping Center] area, then we wouldn't [have to] revisit this [zoning issue] again," Meyers said.
City Council is expected to vote on the zoning change at a meeting within the next two months. If the process moves according to plan, Kissinger said the brewpub could break ground in late May or June and open in winter 2015 or early 2016.
"We're ready to get going," Kissinger said. "[The facility is] going to give us a little more capacity and room to grow in the buildings [Hutson Group] chose for us. They are expecting us to be the anchor for their development."