A longtime St. Louis craft-brewing professional says he will open his own brewpub in the city's Shaw neighborhood.
Dr. John Witte plans to have Shaw Garden Brewery pouring housemade Belgian-, British-, German- and American-style beers along with "upscale-casual" food by spring 2014 at 4066 Russell Boulevard.
"After helping so many others get started, I figured, at 46 years of age, it's time to give it a shot myself," Witte says.
A former veterinarian, Witte practiced in Springfield, Mo., for a few years after graduating from Mizzou before leaving medicine in 1994 to be the inaugural brewmaster at Trailhead Brewing Co.
Witte has served as brewmaster at Square One Brewery & Distillery since the Lafayette Square brewpub opened in 2006, a position he intends to keep until he can find and train a suitable replacement.
"Steve (Neukomm, Square One's owner) has treated me extremely well for the past seven years. My hope is to create a sense of community in Shaw that he's done in Lafayette Square," Witte says. "He's super excited for me, and with the amount of lead time I have on this project, I can make sure the person who takes over for me is well-trained."
Along the way, Witte has had his hands in a number of local brewery projects, consulting for places like Ferguson Brewing Co. and mentoring young, up-and-coming brewers.
At Shaw Garden Brewery, Witte says he'll follow Square One's model of not bottling or kegging beer for distribution. Instead, everything he brews from Shaw Garden's 5-barrel system will be available only on draft from one of the brewpub's eight taps.
On the food side, Witte has tapped John Stuhlman, formerly executive chef of Eclipse restaurant in the Moonrise Hotel, to lead Shaw Garden's kitchen.
"We've known each other for 17 years," Witte says. "Early on in his career, he put together all of the smoker recipes that we used at Trailhead."
Stuhlman's menu for Shaw Garden is still a work in progress, but Witte says to expect flatbread pizzas, sandwiches, salads — "American upscale-casual ... good, consistent food that brings people back."
Witte says neighborhood residents as well as the Shaw Neighborhood Improvement Association and Alderman Stephen Conway are on board with the idea of a brewpub.
The city owns the 4066 Russell property, a former gas station, and declared it a blighted area in 1994. A call for development proposals went out last June, which is around the time Witte took notice.
The 2,100-square-foot space at the southeast corner of Russell Boulevard and Thurman Avenue includes room outside for about 15 parking spaces as well as a 100-seat beer garden.
And how does Witte feel about being his own boss for the first time in his professional brewing career?
"Nervous," he says with a laugh. "It's a scary thing, but exciting.
"You get to a point where you see an opportunity like this and you say, 'Why not me? Why not right now?' And you go for it."