If all goes as planned, Wichita will soon have a big new downtown microbrewery that's family friendly and serves top-rate burgers and "bacon crack" topped funnel cakes.
Dan and Becky Norton are almost ready to open their new Nortons Brewing Company in a 9,000-square-foot building at 125 N. St. Francis, which is right across the street from Bite Me BBQ. Their plan, which should be safe as long as city inspectors and licensors stay on schedule, is to be ready to open on Friday, April 20.
"I'm just really excited to share this place with Wichita," said Dan, who last fall left his longtime role as head brewer at River City Brewing Co. to open his own place. "We've been dreaming about it for so long, and it's really surreal that it's this close to happening."
The business, which took over a cavernous space once occupied by a boat dealership, will feature a large dining room with lots of brewery-appropriate bench seating and tall tables. It also has a long bar with lots of stools. The dining room seats 158.
Visitors will be able to order one of Dan's 12 beers brewed on-site as well as burgers, sandwiches (catfish po' boy, Monte Cristo, hot pastrami, etc.) and appetizers like fried or stuffed mushrooms, onion rings and "bacon crack," which is thick candied bacon with maple syrup, honey and brown sugar.
The menu also features funnel cakes, including one topped with the aforementioned bacon crack plus maple syrup, brown sugar and pecan drizzle.
"We're trying to focus on really, really good burgers and funnel cakes," Dan said. "We're not trying to reinvent the wheel. This is almost like if you would go eat at the State Fair."
One of the best features of the bar, the Nortons say, will be its giant outdoor beer garden, which sits just to the north of the building and will hold 350 people. The patio, which might not be ready until a couple of weeks after the brewery opens, will include lots of family friendliness, including a sandbox and games. Dogs also will be welcome.
It also will feature a large shipping container that will serve as a fence on the east side but also will be cut out and turned into an open-air lounge, complete with tables, lights and ceiling fans.
But the highlight of the beer garden will be a big 20-by-36-foot stage, where the Nortons hope to begin booking live music, including some bigger shows. They already have well-known act Reverend Horton Heat booked for an Aug. 17 show.
"Definitely a huge goal of ours is to become known as a live music venue," Dan said.
The Nortons are in talks with the city, which surprised them by turning the main parking lot directly to the building's south into a pay lot when they were halfway through construction. They think they may be able to come to an agreement, but customers need to be aware when they come to the brewery that the lots to the south and west have pay stalls. There's lots of street parking, and the Coleman lot a block and a half to the north is free, Dan said.
Dan got his 15-barrel brewery in the back finished first, and he's been working to make sure he can have all 12 of his taps full when the business opens. He describes himself as a "hop head" and said he'll have a few IPAs, dark beers and Belgian beers on tap. There will also be a few surprises.
"I don't want to open and run out of beer the first week, so we are re-brewing all 12 batches to make sure we have enough," he said. "I'm really happy with what's happening in those tanks, and I'm pretty excited to unleash it all."
Nortons Brewing Company will be open from 11 a.m to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and from 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays.