Ska Brewing Co. spent 18 years scrupulously avoiding getting into the restaurant business. Now, Durango’s largest brewery is in the restaurant business.
Ska opened The Container in August. The Container takes the form of two industrial shipping containers attached to the south side of Ska’s brewery, 225 Girard St. in Bodo Industrial Park. The bottom container serves as the kitchen and walk-in cooler, with one side open to the indoor tasting room and the other facing the outdoor beer garden. The top container, equivalent to the brewery’s second floor, provides seating exposed to the elements.
Ska has hired chef Jeremy Storm and given him free rein to run the restaurant, which has nine employees.
“Matt, Bill and I don’t understand the food industry,” said Dave Thibodeau, Ska’s president and co-owner of the brewery along with Matt Vincent and Bill Graham. “No clue, and to be honest, no interest. We did know that we needed food out here.”
Storm’s menu highlights pizza, sandwiches and salads. Many use local ingredients, including beef from local cows that are fed Ska’s spent grain. Menu items nod to ska music’s geographic ties.
Storm plans to change the menu for fall and winter.
“They’ve given me really a blank canvas to play with,” Storm said. “Our philosophies match up well.”
The Container is the most expansive food option Ska – a production brewery focused on distribution – has offered to date. Zia Taqueria served out of a trailer parked at Ska beginning in 2008, but the Zia operation closed in winter. The Container will remain open year-round.
Tim Turner, owner of Zia Taqueria, opened a second restaurant nearby at 400 South Camino del Rio.
“All along we knew Zia was eventually going to have another brick-and-mortar place out this direction,” Thibodeau said. “We were in on it from the beginning.”
After Zia’s presence, Ska customers grew accustomed to eating at the brewery,
“People got used to that last summer,” Thibodeau said. “People expected there to be food out here, and we felt it was more responsible to have food if you’re drinking beer.”
The Container represents a change for Ska, which had resisted opening a restaurant for nearly two decades. That partly stemmed from sensitivity to Ska’s relationships with Durango restaurants that carry its beer, and partly to an admitted lack of expertise in the food industry.
“What we know is beer,” Thibodeau said.
Ska’s move to open the restaurant was underpinned by continued growth. The brewery produced 26,700 barrels of beer in 2012, up from 21,500 in 2011. Ska is projected to brew about 31,000 barrels this year, Thibodeau said.
Ska has seen strong growth within Colorado, as well as in Chicago and, most recently, Sweden.
Thibodeau said new developments in south Durango, including Mercury’s under-construction Mercury Village and a Homewood Suites by Hilton hotel in Bodo Industrial Park, gave Ska confidence the restaurant would attract enough traffic.
The idea to build a restaurant from a 40-foot shipping container follows an emerging trend of converting shipping containers into restaurants, homes and even Starbucks cafes.
Vincent, who helped design Ska’s brewery, had long wanted to cut up a shipping container into something cool.
“I like the concept of building blocks,” he said. “I played with a lot of Legos as a kid.”
Ska purchased the containers in early spring from Zircon Container Co. and went to work.
As Thibodeau explained, “We’re into building stuff and doing cool stuff.”
The Container was sure to be busy Saturday for Ska’s 18th anniversary party. About 1,000 people were expected to attend, including ticket-holders and brewers.
“The timing was perfect for everything,” Thibodeau said.