A stroll along Vista’s historic downtown during a recent rainy weekday afternoon led to a visit to a couple of breweries where the staff members were friendly and the patrons “hoppy.” One bartender at the Belching Beaver Tavern & Grill on E. Broadway even commented that increased foot traffic from existing breweries is spurring much-needed economic development along this quaint downtown corridor with art-lined sidewalks and buildings. Downtown isn’t the only “hoppening” place for breweries in Vista. From quaint storefronts to populated business parks, Vista - known as the center of “Hops Highway” - is home to nearly 20 craft breweries, the most per capita in any US city. There’s one brewery for every 7,000 people in Vista. In comparison, there’s one brewery for every 19,000 people in the City of San Diego.
In fact, the City of Vista recently won a CALED Award of Merit for spurring economic growth for its support of local craft breweries. The “Gamechanger” Award by the California Association for Local Economic Development (CALED), which was handed out in March, identifies an impactful economic development project that proved to be transformational to the community and local economy.
Vista's brewery strategy
Vista’s plethora of breweries did not happen by accident. For the past decade, city officials have included breweries in their economic development plan, which has paid off in a big way in terms of increased tourism, jobs and more. Vista’s cluster of breweries - which are spurring more commercial development - also draw a younger crowd and create a more vibrant community where families can plant roots and small businesses can thrive. The recent announcement by Stone Brewing Co. - one of San Diego County’s largest craft brewers - that it is moving some of its North County workforce, including its leadership team, to its national distribution center in Vista, is another testament of Vista’s brewing prowess.
Many local craft brewers cite Vista as having plenty of space, reasonable rents, and friendly and supportive city staff. In addition to helping breweries get on their feet, the city has also enacted noise and operating ordinances to keep residents happy. The city even worked with local brewery owners to create the Vista Brewers Guild, whose mission is to foster a better working relationship between the city and the growing number of local breweries.
“The City of Vista has been a contributing factor to the success of local breweries, along with (Development Director) Kevin Ham’s help,” said Daniel Love, Co-Founder of Mother Earth Brew Co. “They are able to do things that most cities struggle with; they help with numerous avenues to give small businesses a leg up. Most cities can’t see the forest through the trees and would rather build roadblocks than help small businesses.”
Mother Earth - whose name comes from years of Love’s fondness of the outdoors and nature - had its beginnings in 2008 when he got tired of his corporate job and wanted to follow his dream of opening a brewery. Since then, Mother Earth, which officially launched in 2010, has grown from a modest garage to over 70,000 square feet. Mother Earth - whose Cali Creamin’ brew is a favorite - has the brewery at 2055 Thibodo Road in Vista, a tasting room in old downtown Vista, and a production brewery located in Boise, Idaho that services 17 other states. At one time, Mother Earth was the fastest growing craft brewery in the US.
“Things have settled down now and we really put tons of focus on surviving long term as a business,” Love said.
Part of that long-term growth includes keeping the lines of communication open with the city. “The entire City of Vista has been involved in helping the breweries succeed, from Mayor Judy Ritter to John Conley and the entire planning department. We had a liaison who worked as a financial advisor with the city named Cheryl Mast who helped us with the ABC hurdles and cabaret licenses. It was truly and still is a team effort,’ said Love, who helped formed the Vista Brewers Guild.
“Vista was on the cutting edge of the craft beer revival in 2010,” he added. “All the breweries in Vista do their part to make a great product and attract lots of visitors.”
For the folks over at Iron Fist Brewing, laying down roots in Vista was a no-brainer, especially since the city is brewery and small-business friendly.
“We had originally wanted to open in (a neighboring city), but it was not friendly to breweries back then,” said Eve Sieminski, Co-founder and Partner of Iron Fist, which opened its doors in 2010. “Mind you, we were either the 32nd or 33rd brewery to open in San Diego County and now I believe there are over 180. The rents were a little on the high side, they wanted us to jump through a lot of hoops, so we decided to look elsewhere. We found a spot in Vista and the city was much more welcoming and the rents were very reasonable, so we moved forward.”
When asked about why Vista is a hub for craft breweries, Sieminski said, “In my own opinion, I believe that others saw packed tasting rooms and thought, ‘Hey I can do that’! Couple that with the welcoming open doors the city had to breweries, which made it easy to open here.”
The idea for Iron Fist started brewing in 2006 after Sieminksi and her family went on a trip to Europe (Germany, Czech Republic, Poland).
“Our boys were of legal age to drink in Europe so they had a great time and fell in love with beer,” she said. “Upon arriving home, the boys and my husband Greg started to homebrew. Fast forward a couple of years, and the economy bottomed out. I was in real estate and my husband was a contractor. Both of those industries nosedived. Our home brewing was going very well and we decided to take a leap of faith. We had a home equity line of credit so we decided to use it to open Iron Fist.”
Despite some challenges, Iron Fist - which also has a taproom in San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood and sells its beers in grocery stores and markets throughout Southern California - continues to thrive.
“We’re really excited about our line-up of new experimental brews this year and a trio of new seasonals,” Sieminksi said. “Looking forward to sharing more good times with our customers and some new collaborations in our tap rooms as we continue to grow.”
“I believe the breweries in Vista have played a large role in tourism,” she added. “But we all need our community’s support, so please do visit us!”
The many craft breweries in Vista have certainly forever changed the local economy, and it's an industry that the city plans to continue to foster.
“The craft brewing industry in San Diego County has more than a $1 billion annual economic impact, and Vista is proud to contribute to that,” said Kevin Ham, Vista’s Economic Development Director. “We want to continue to support and attract these innovative entrepreneurs to our city and region. They bring people into the business parks and more visitors to our city, who, in turn, discovery other local businesses, shops, and hotels. Breweries also create vibrant neighborhoods and serve as community centers where people can connect.”
In an effort to share Vista’s secret recipe for brewing business success, Ham, along with Vista’s Community Development Director John Conley, regularly give a presentation, “Growth on Tap: Fostering the Creation of a Craft Brew Industry” during a Brewing course at UC San Diego Extension.
“We pride ourselves on being a business-friendly city, and that includes breweries,” Ham said. “Our goal is to create diversity in our business parks, as well as tourist attractions and walkable communities, which benefit residents, visitors and the overall business community.”