Dining With Denise Neil

Longtime River City brewer opening downtown brew pub of his own

He’s been the head brewer at River City Brewing Co. for 16 years.

But now, Dan Norton is ready to strike out on his own.

He and his wife, Becky, have started construction on their own downtown brewery and restaurant that will specialize in Norton’s bold beer recipes with a side of burgers and funnel cakes.

Nortons Brewing Company is going into a 9,000 square-foot building at 125 N. St. Francis. The building sits across the street from Bite Me BBQ and was previously occupied by a boat dealership. The Nortons hope to have it open by February so they can welcome crowds in town for the NCAA basketball tournament in March.

The couple has been dreaming about opening their own business for years and spend much of their time sitting on the front porch of their house, planning out all the details. Dan Norton will brew the beer, and his wife will be the general manager of the restaurant.

Becky Norton, who grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, said she always dreamed of opening her own business. She earned a business management degree at Friend University, then the couple bought the Gambino’s pizza restaurant in Conway Springs so she could learn the restaurant business. They sold it after four years, but Becky Norton said she learned that she loved running a restaurant.

The duo originally wanted to open their brewery on the west side but saw a better opportunity downtown, Dan Norton said. One of their main goals was the find a property where they could add a giant outdoor beer garden with room for a stage, a sandbox for kids and lots of outdoor furniture. The St. Francis building was a perfect fit, they said.

“We see the rebirth and spirit of the city and the enthusiasm of all the entrepreneurs opening local businesses, and we want to be part of that,” Dan Norton said. “We want to help the city thrive. I feel like we really add a nice dimension to what’s already out there.”

The couple is working with Studium Architecture, who are their designers and builders. The couple says the firm has been key in helping them realize their dream.

They also want the brewery to be a restaurant and have settled on a menu that will focus on “greasy flattop burgers.” The couple, who has three children ages 5, 9 and 14, also loves funnel cakes and wants them to be a central part of the menu because “Who doesn’t love funnel cakes?” Becky Norton said. They’ll also serve fries, sandwiches and salads. They’ll have chicken and noodles on Sundays and put on a once-a-week steak night. Food will be served for lunch and dinner seven days a week.

The giant brew house in the back of the building will have a 15-barrel system and a canning line. Dan Norton said his plans include distributing his beer, which he describes as “thoughtfully designed but aggressively brewed,” into the local market.

The couple says that their main inspiration is their children and wanting to build something for them. The brewery will be welcoming to families – every kid will get a Popsicle when they walk in the door, and the beer garden will feature a big sandbox. They’re building a loft above their office where their kids can hang out while they work.

“This brewery will be for everybody,” Dan Norton said. “The beer nerds are going to love the cool, eccentric beers. Families will be welcome, people getting off work. It’s a brewery for everyone.”

Norton started at River City Brewing Co. 17 years ago as a server and bartender. When the head brewer needed an assistant, he polled staffers to see if anyone had home brewing experience. Norton raised his hand.

Six months later, the head brewer left for a job at Boulevard in Kansas City, and Norton was promoted. He’s been crafting the beers at the city’s original brewery ever since.

His last day at River City is this week, Dan Norton said. His longtime boss there, Chris Arnold, has been supportive of his move.

“He understands that we’re doing this for our family,” Dan Norton said.

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