U.S. Navy veteran Ron Gamble is wagering about $1 million that Jacksonville will drink up his new venture, the Veterans United Craft Brewery.
Gamble and his investors are converting almost 10,000 square feet of warehouse and office space in Baymeadows into a craft brewery and tap room where he intends to produce at least eight varieties at a time.
“The Jacksonville market is fantastic,” Gamble said Thursday afternoon. “People here just love local craft beer.”
The small, independent, craft brewery will focus on producing high-quality American and European-style ales.
Gamble expects to open the brewery in May at 8999 Western Way, which is off Baymeadows Road and parallel to Interstate 95. The brewery will be at the end of Western Way in the Lake Pointe South center.
Gamble, 48, has been planning the venture since 2012, after a career in the Navy followed by 12 years managing, developing and selling companies in the software and Internet industry, primarily in the Northeast.
A Naval Flight Officer, Gamble served in the Navy from 1987-95. He was stationed at Naval Air Station Cecil Field in West Jacksonville in the late 1980s and early ’90s. He flew several combat missions over Iraq in 1991.
He returned for his shore tour at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, known best as Virginia Tech, teaching Naval ROTC and earning an MBA, with a dual concentration in marketing and finance, in 1994 to accompany the Bachelor of Science degree in biology he earned there in 1987.
His taste for brewing was whetted when his wife, Sheryl, a pharmacist and former operating room nurse, gave him a home-brewing kit in 1999.
He attended The Siebel Institute of Technology and World Brewing Academy, which sent him to the Doemens Academy in Germany for hands-on lab and brewery operations training.
After completing the curriculum in 2007, he was awarded a Diploma in Brewing Technology. He also holds a certificate in brewery packaging technology from the Master Brewers Association of the Americas.
Gamble said he returned and worked as a brewer in several breweries, “learning the trade, making friends, and sharing ideas with some of the best brew- masters in the industry.” He also served as treasurer for the New England district of the brewers association.
He decided to launch his business in the relatively untapped Northeast Florida. “I saw Florida as an emerging market five or six years ago,” he said.
He has been crafting the financial plan and raising funds through a private offering. Now, he and 18 investors, many of them military veterans, are involved. Gamble is the principal owner and the brewmaster.
Retired Navy Capt. Bob Buehn is an investor and formerly served as the city’s chief of Military Affairs, Veterans and Disabled Service Division.
Buehn said he and Gamble served as shipmates on the USS Forrestal and flew together. He said he ran into Gamble about a year ago and they talked about the business.
“We got together and I tasted all the beers he is going to make, and they are all excellent,” he said. “With his support of veterans and the quality of the product, I was sold.”
As the 2014 president of the Jacksonville Council of the Navy League of the United States, Buehn said he is in a natural position to find ways to support all veterans from post 9/11 to World War II.
“We are going to find ways to support their causes. It will be modest at first, but the whole focus will be on veterans,” he said.
Buehn also said the name of the brewery “especially in Northeast Florida will be meaningful to people.”
The vubrew.com site says the brewery is owned by veterans “sharing an enthusiastic desire for producing and enjoying quality craft beer.”
“Ron’s vision is to take the same spirit, pride, and dedication of his military service and infuse this energy into a company that creates great tasting and innovative craft beers,” the site says.
The brewery, designed in a unit and a half of warehouse space, will consist of the brew house and cellaring area, as well as offices, a cold storage room for kegs, a laboratory, and a tasting room to seat at least 50 people. There is space for expansion.
Kasper Architecture and Development Inc. is the architect. A contractor is being chosen.
Gamble expects to start with about five full-time employees and a few part-time workers and to open to the public for afternoon and evening hours Wednesday-Saturday.
Gamble said he settled on the Southside site because other neighborhoods, including Riverside, San Marco and the Beaches area, already featured craft breweries and he wanted a location that could serve Baymeadows, Mandarin and South Jacksonville and also be accessible to St. Johns County because of I-95.
While the Baymeadows site wasn’t his initial choice, he considers it his best. “This location offers easy access for our customers and integrates well with the existing commercial and residential communities,” he said.
Gamble, who has a half-barrel homebrew system at his St. Johns County home, provided his product list of beers that feature Blonde, Honey Rye Wheat, Saison, Belgian Golden Strong, Nut Brown, Pumpkin, German Alt, Summer Wheat, India Pale Ale, Imperial India Pale Ale and Espresso Stout.
The Jax Beer Guy blog posted Jan. 13 that Gamble secured funds last year through Florida First Capital using its Vet Loan Advantage Program.
Gamble expects to produce 1,100 barrels the first year and 2,700 barrels the second.
He said the products will be for sale by can, pint, growler and kegs at the brewery and will be distributed locally by Champion Brands.
“This is a huge market with plenty of opportunities,” Gamble said. “I’m looking to come in and make an impact.”