Hopping right along: Waynesville brewery expands Frog Level footprint, opens Asheville location
Grabbing the last empty picnic table behind Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville one recent afternoon, Frank Bonomo gazed along the nearby Richland Creek, only to shift his attention to the buzz of people, conversation, and live music swirling around the vast patio area.
“We’re trying to redevelop Frog Level to be a very exciting, dynamic place — where new businesses can thrive, where people can come and enjoy the area,” Bonomo said. “It’s not just a location, but a zone — friendly to the riverfront, friendly to downtown. This could be another part of Waynesville that gets utilized.”
Bonomo and his business partners in CCB Beverage, LLC — which includes his wife, Julia, and another couple, Morgan and Travis Crisp — have been making some big moves over the last few years in the Frog Level District, with many dormant buildings now finding a new lease on life.
- Julia Bonomo and Morgan Crisp, co-owners of 7 Clans Brewing, one of the only female-owned breweries of its kind in Western North Carolina. (Garret K. Woodward photo)
To bring one up to speed on everything transpiring in the district, Frog Level Brewing was sold and changed hands to CCB Beverage on March 17, 2020, the exact day of the quarantine and shut down due to the pandemic.
“We were in our lawyer’s office signing the documents to purchase the brewery just as the governor was saying everything was going to shut down,” Frank said in a humble tone. “We couldn’t even get together to have the party to celebrate the purchase.”
And although it might have seemed ominous to enter the food/beverage industry at that uncertain moment, the transition did just the opposite — it fueled not only the fire within CCB to move ahead with its plans, the large outdoor space behind the brewery became a refuge for folks looking to interact with others, all while adhering to social distancing guidelines and protocols.
“Frog Level has always been about the people — this is a community brewery, and that’s how we’ve always seen it,” Morgan said. “We wanted to create a space where people could come after work, bring their kids, this family atmosphere that welcomes everybody.”
Before Frog Level Brewing was purchased, Morgan was already at the helm of 7 Clans Brewing, one of the only female owned/operated breweries in Western North Carolina. An enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Morgan looks at craft ales as a vehicle to bring forth and share the proud heritage of her ancestors.
“Seven Clans is keeping on doing what we’re doing — we’re telling our story through craft beer, and also trying to incorporate Indigenous ingredients in our products,” Morgan said. “Agriculture is really important for Cherokee women, and it’s important for me to incorporate that into our beer-making.”
With Frog Level Brewing under the CCB banner, 7 Clans now had a home base to concoct and sell its products. The sister businesses are thriving and continually growing, with constant expansions of its brew house equipment, riverside patio, and taproom, which includes an onsite restaurant.
- Live music on the back patio of Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville (below) is a regular occurrence, with blues rockers J.J. Hipps & The Hideaway a popular returning act. (Garret K. Woodward photo)
To note, CCB has a long-term lease on the current brewery building, as well as the former thrift store and soup kitchen next door. The soup kitchen was recently renovated and reopened as The Green Room, a multi-purpose event space that’s already hosted several gatherings since it launched this past summer.
With the massive thrift store structure between the brewery and The Green Room, the wheels are in motion to turn the property into a larger multi-purpose event space — the hope to eventually bring in live music, an artisan market, and, perhaps, create another food/beverage component.
Looking down toward the corner of Commerce and Depot streets in Frog Level, CCB has also purchased a handful on buildings in the district, including the structures from the other side of the alley of The Green Room all the way to the stoplight, and the former Furniture Village building next to the railroad tracks.
“Everything is going to grow organically,” Morgan said. “It’s part of business model, to listen to what our customers tell us what they want, what they like, and what ideas we can incorporate into these properties.”
And lastly, at least for the time being, CCB recently put roots down in Buncombe County, with its new 7 Clans taproom on Sweeten Creek Road in Asheville, a picturesque property that will also serve Frog Level products. Even with everything going on from both sides of the Haywood/Buncombe line, the focus for CCB remains on the continued development of the Frog Level District.
“If you look at Asheville, it has the River Arts District. We feel like Frog Level could be just like the [RAD],” Frank said. “Everything we’re doing here is a team effort, whether it’s my business partners or our great staff — it’s a team effort that is this catalyst for change.”
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Thank goodness the commercial space has been repurposed from a blighted soup kitchen and junk store for the homeless, to something that law abiding, tax paying citizens can enjoy. Great to see a female owned business thriving.
What happened to the thrift store? That was one of the best locally.
Oh and yay for the brewery expansion.