Just before the closing of Falls Church’s Mad Fox brewpub last month, founder/brewer Bill Madden was kind enough to agree, after wrapping up the closing and taking some time to collect his thoughts, to answering some questions I’d sent him.
Early this week, Madden responded and we’ve had a back-and-forth covering a range of topics, focusing on the challenges facing not only brewpubs like Mad Fox, but for restaurant/retail in our area in general.
In his statement announcing Mad Fox’s closing, Madden cited competition becoming “fierce since our opening in 2010 with… an overwhelming number of choices for the local population,” such that staying open was “no longer sustainable.”
Digging into that a bit more, Madden emphasized the intensity of that competition as we see an increase in “restaurant options that are hot for a few years and then fizzle out,” “(w)ine and beer shops opening restaurants,” and supermarkets “with buffets and bars and more prepared foods to take home or just eat there like a restaurant.”
Factor in meal-prep services like Blue Apron, and you have a lot of businesses trying to cover higher rents on smaller pieces of the pie.
Mad Fox faced unique challenges nearly from the start. “When we opened the only way to sell a pint of beer to a consumer on site was to have a food component in Virginia,” Madden said. “That changed in 2012 with SB 604,” the law allowing brewery taprooms to serve full pours on-site.
604 was instrumental in the proliferation of new breweries in Virginia, but for a large brewpub in a high-rent district like Mad Fox, it made things just that much more difficult. “If we opened with a smaller footprint in a lower rent location and had gone into canning our product we would be in a much different position,” Madden told me.
I brought up my hunch that most taprooms will become brewpubs of sorts over the next few years; Madden responded that “the food component needs to be addressed, consumers need food with their beer, period,” and that he could see brewpubs in “high rent, suburban, urban locations,” albeit “in a much smaller space.”
Even those smaller spaces might be hard to find, however. Madden sounds downright prophetic.
“Rents either need to go down or there will be blight… I see plenty of shuttered spaces and I would ask anyone in Real Estate the question ‘where is the hot area to be in like a Reston Town Center or Arlington used to be?’ They all say they have not a clue.”
Reflecting on the legacy of Mad Fox, Madden says he’s most proud of how they supported the area’s beer scene, “promoting what were then new breweries with our festivals and events when many were just starting out.”
He recently attended the opening of Old Ox’s new Middleburg location and visited Quattro Goombas Brewery in Aldie, and while his future plans aren’t yet known, he says he plans to stay in the beer business in some capacity. Hopefully he’s not out of it for long; we’re missing something without him.
Upcoming Tasting Events at Arrowine:
Friday, August 16 (hey, that’s today!), 5-7 p.m. — Rafael Mendoza of Hardywood Brewing Company
Friday, August 23, 5-7 p.m. — David Hartogs of Rocket Frog Brewing Company
Saturday, August 24, 3-6 p.m. — Frankie Quinton of Atlas Brewing Company
Friday, August 30, 5-7 p.m. — Stephanie Boles from Old Ox Brewing
Friday, September 13, 5-7 p.m. — Tom Blanch of Sierra Nevada
Saturday, September 14, 1-4 p.m. — Joe Kasper of 3 Stars
Saturday, September 21, 1-4 p.m. — Devon Callan of Reason Beer Company
Friday, Novermber 8, 5-7 p.m. — Jesse Ploeg of Potter’s Craft Cider