I am writing to you today about an issue that was brought to light late last week regarding a craft brewery called Forked River Brewing Company that operates in my riding of London-Fanshawe. They are a local business established in 2012 by three former Western University students. These entrepreneurs have made an investment in our community and have been running a successful craft brewery for over two years. They would now like to expand their business and create local jobs by opening a retail store at which to sell their product. Unfortunately, the owners of the brewery are facing a serious barrier to their ability to open a retail store; a barrier that hinges on a technicality in the policies of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. Premier, please ensure that common sense prevails, and direct the AGCO to work expeditiously with The Forked River Brewing Company to allow the opening of their store.
I have spoken to one of the owners of Forked River, and it is my understanding that in the process of planning for their business expansion, the brewery owners asked the AGCO ahead of time whether their proposed plan to build a retail store was in compliance with the AGCO guidelines. They were told only that the AGCO could not “pre-approve” a license or renovation plans; rather that they could only respond to an application after the renovations were completed.
After they had broken ground on these new renovations for a retail store, Forked River received further correspondence from the AGCO asking if all the units they occupy are located on the same parcel of land with the same municipal address. The answer was no, as Forked River Brewing occupies different municipal addresses (numbered units) within the same parcel of land: units 3,4,16 and 17 at 45 Pacific Court in London. The company has not yet formally submitted an application with regard to the retail store, but after submitting a letter from their lawyer to the AGCO, Forked River says the AGCO assured them that the brewery will be denied the license on the basis that their proposed retail space is considered to be “off-site” from the municipal address at which they brew the product, as the brewery is located in a different and non-adjacent unit at 45 Pacific Court.
Forked River Brewing Company posted information about their problem on their website and social media and according to the post, even though their retail store and the production facility are on the same “parcel of land”, they have different addresses within the same main building. The AGCO guidelines state that a brewer who wishes to open two on-site retail operations must have their brewery and retail store on the “same premises” or “site”. However, if the brewer wishes to open just one site, the guidelines state that “the store must be located on the same parcel of land as the applicant’s main production site where the full brewing process takes place.”
The question Forked River Brewing Company would like clarified is why does the AGCO seem to believe “same parcel of land” means “same municipal address”? One of the owners of the brewery told us that he attempted, without success, to obtain such a definition from the AGCO. It is my understanding that there is no information publicly available that would have clarified this issue in advance of Forked River having broken ground on its renovations. This represents a serious issue of lack of transparency for small breweries regarding the AGCO’s policies on retail outlets.
Premier, small businesses are one of the cornerstones of successful and thriving communities. They promote local products, support the local economy, and create jobs. They deserve transparency of government policies that can seriously and directly impact their ability to grow and expand their businesses in Ontario.
I am asking that you review this file for Forked River Brewing Company so that they can operate their retail store on the premises where they have already invested significant time and financial resources in renovations for this purpose.
I look forward to your timely response.
Teresa Armstrong, MPP