New Berlin Brewing in North Canton to specialize in German food, local history
NORTH CANTON – About four years ago, Mike Leckie-Ewing was mulling over a dream of opening a restaurant and brewery.
He had become skilled at home brewing. The North Canton native also enjoyed cooking. But following through with his plans would involve considerable financial risk.
"At one point, I said, 'Honey, what do you think?,'" Leckie-Ewing recalled of a conversation with his wife, Gretchen. "I think we both came to the conclusion that if we're going to do something like this, it was now or never."
So the husband was referred to a brewery operator in Denver for advice.
"He was in the middle of grinding his grain to be mashed in to make a brew," Leckie-Ewing said of the phone call.
More: Commentary: Ohio craft brewers focused on growing, protecting industry
More: Business roundup: Couple opens craft winery aiming for craft brewery atmosphere
So the Colorado brewer took a break and discussed the trade. An hour later, the entrepreneur summarized the keys to running a successful brewpub.
"Build a business that people are attracted to and enjoy yourself in doing so, and if you've done well, people will come because of the atmosphere and because you have good food and good beer," Leckie-Ewing recalled.
Now Leckie-Ewing is attempting to make that vision a reality when he opens the New Berlin Brewing Co. at 1664 N Main St. this summer.
June is the tentative opening date, he said. The site is next to Marc's in the New Berlin Commons plaza.
The 1987 Hoover High School graduate said he's self-financing a significant portion of the project.
Authentic German food and high-quality craft beer will be New Berlin's specialty, Leckie-Ewing said.
A brewer and chef have been hired.
New Berlin will join an already vibrant craft brewing scene in Stark County, which is home to more than 10 breweries. Ohio has nearly 400 craft breweries, with 48 of them opening just last year.
Beer with a story
North Canton's past will be woven into the brewery. New Berlin was the original name of the community that would be renamed North Canton in 1918 during World War I.
Beer names will reference North Canton's history, including a former baseball team and locations where it played.
"We are going to name our beers (after) characters from the growth and development of this area," Leckie-Ewing said.
QR Codes will be scanned to learn about the history, Leckie-Ewing explained.
A bear is the brewery mascot.
"The Berlin Bear is a common symbol found throughout the German metropolis," the brewery website says. "As we reclaim a morsel of North Canton's German heritage, we found (the bear to be) an apt mascot for the enterprise."
With the help of the North Canton Heritage Society, Leckie-Ewing discovered intriguing facts about the city. Books written by Ruth Happold Basner also provide details about the North Canton of yore, he noted.
North Canton memorabilia and artifacts will be displayed at the brewery and restaurant.
"I think it's recognizing the importance of place," Leckie-Ewing said. "I think we are connected as human beings, especially to where our formative years were spent."
"I grew up here," he said of North Canton. "It has deep meaning to me. I met my wife (at Hoover High School)."
Kölsch, bock, lager, IPAs on tap
Leckie-Ewing describes making beer as a "dash of art with a whole lot of science."
At New Berlin Brewing, customers will find "a delicious blend of traditional styles along with several experimental brews," he said.
A seven-barrel brewing system has been purchased, Leckie-Ewing said.
Early discussions about beer varieties have included lager, hefeweizen, kellerbier, bock and the German-style kölsch, as well as several India pale ales.
"We'll round out our initial offerings during our trip to Germany in March," Leckie-Ewing said of he and the brewer.
Brews will be sold only at the pub and eatery at first. The plan is to "get good at it" while establishing standards before considering next steps, Leckie-Ewing explained.
"I will be able to offer carryout as well," the proprietor said, noting he's not certain whether growlers or Crowlers will be used.
A state brewing license is being sought.
North Canton voters in precinct 2-D also will determine if New Berlin Brewing Co. can serve alcohol on Sundays and if it can serve alcohol other than what is produced on site, Leckie-Ewing.
Signatures were gathered on petitions and recently submitted to the Stark County Board of Elections. Leckie-Ewing said he expects the issues to be on the May ballot.
Leckie-Ewing said he became especially fond of German food after he and his wife hosted an exchange student from Germany in 2010 and 2011.
Leckie-Ewing acknowledged he doesn't have past experience in the restaurant or brewing industry. The Ohio State University graduate worked in various departments at Wayne Homes for about 24 years, including information technology, sales, construction and most recently instructing employees on customer service.
Standing out in a competitive industry is the goal, he said of the New Berlin venture.
New Berlin chef Anthony Rodrigues, who formerly owned a restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, has visited Germany to study the country's cuisine, Leckie-Ewing said.
Leckie-Ewing oozed enthusiasm while discussing German food, citing its evolution following World War II.
After more immigrants moved into Germany, "foods were tweaked and modified by these other cultures," he said. "You might have ... gyro meat on a spit shaved off ... and then it has red cabbage and other Germanic ingredients.
"The flavors are very attractive to at least my American palate, and then everyone who gets a taste of some of these things says, 'Wow, where have these things been all my life?'"
"We think of German food as schnitzel and a Reuben, but there's so much more than that."
Flammkuchen, German pizza, is another dish the restaurant plans to serve. Leckie-Ewing described it as a crispy flatbread with crème fraiche, nutmeg and black pepper.
Traditional toppings include chunks of bacon and "sweated down onions," he said.
"It was a dish that as I was sitting there ... (I thought), 'Wouldn't that be great with a cold beer.'"
"Modern German street fare" fits both a brewpub and contemporary restaurant, Leckie-Ewing said.
"Those flavors are comfort food, melt-in-your mouth delicious," he said.
Love for North Canton
After living in Chicago in the 1990s, Leckie-Ewing said he and his wife returned to Ohio to raise their children.
"We came back to North Canton, Ohio ... and it's been a great place," he said. "It's affordable and it's fun, and particularly North Canton, I think it's primed for something like this (where) you can have a beer and enjoy yourself and socialize with your neighbors."
Leckie-Ewing's twin sons, Evan and Graham, will be working at the brewery.
"I think there will be deep connections that can be made and will be made," he said. "And I'm excited to provide a space where we can do that. ... We're so disconnected with each other because of the pandemic.
"Coming out of it, we're going to need spaces where we're comfortable gathering," Leckie-Ewing added. "Where we can let down our guard and care about the other person again."
Reach Ed at 330-580-8315 and firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter @ebalintREP
This article originally appeared on The Repository: New Berlin Brewing in North Canton to serve craft beer, German food