DENHAM SPRINGS – A microbrewery would like to sit at the Denham Springs business table, but a city ordinance may need to be changed before that type of situation is possible.
Ron and Brett Dunham, owners of Le Chien Brewing Co. – French for “the dog” – addressed the City Council on Tuesday about coming to the city.
“We really want to be in the city,” Ron Dunham said, but “without a change in the ordinance, we can’t open here.”
The council discussed the existing ordinance that governs sales of alcohol; where a microbrewery would fit in, should the current ordinance be changed; and the impact the council does not want to see from a business selling alcohol.
“Let’s address the microbrewery first, so they know what to do,” Mayor Gerard Landry said.
City Attorney Stephanie Bond Hulett said she would need to research if the alcohol ordinance would need to be amended or if a special use permit could open the way for Le Chien.
The City Council voted 5-0 to authorize her work.
“We’re looking for a piece of property or building to convert to a brewery,” Dunham said in his presentation. “My son Brett and I have been working to do this for a dozen years."
“We started as homebrewers, Brett went to beer school in Chicago, we joined homebrew clubs,” Dunham said, “Brett worked with Gnarly Barley and Tin Roof,” two Louisiana craft beer breweries.
Dunham called himself a “fifth-generation Central-ite” who lives so close to Denham Springs, he can hear the band play at football games at Yellow Jacket Stadium on Friday nights.
“We flooded. Y’all flooded,” he added. “The dynamics of the community have changed. Denham Springs is exploding right now. We would like to be here.”
“More than a couple of cars go down the interstate every day here,” he said.
“About 130,000 cars a day,” Landry said.
“I only need 100,” Dunham replied.
Dunham said the microbrewery would brew its own beer on the premises from five barrels, which would create 150 gallons of various beers. Other commercial craft beers would be on a “guest tap,” and food would be served, he said.
Dogs also would be welcome.
The main obstacle facing Le Chien: Microbreweries don’t fit into the existing city ordinance for alcohol permits. To meet the requirements of the state office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, Dunham said they would have to be a brew pub.
“We’re not a restaurant. If our beer sales go above 70 percent, we would have to change that balance,” he said.
“We want to brew beer.”
City Council member Amber Dugas said the city ordinance prevents bars from opening and the Class A restaurant license requires a 60 percent-40 percent ratio of alcohol sales to food sales.
“This may be an opportunity to look at the whole ordinance to rewrite it,” Dugas said.
Dunham said the Hammond City Council was in a similar situation but gave a microbrewery what he called an “expanded conditional permit.” Among its stipulations were a 12 percent alcohol cap on beers and the business could not be sold to another party, he said.
“Twelve percent is rare, like a mead. That’s no fun to drink,” Dunham said.
Police Chief Shannon Womack, asked by City Council member Robert Poole for his opinion, did not say he opposed the business, but did not endorse it either.
“My primary job is the safety of the citizens of our city,” Womack said. “We kill more people on our streets with drugs and alcohol than with guns,” he said, adding, “This could open a Pandora’s box,” if not carefully regulated.
“My concern is the same,” added City Council member Jeff Wesley, who served as Denham Springs police chief before retiring and being elected to the council.
Wesley said he would want to work out a “special niche for what’s popular,” but not create an environment that would allow bars to open.
“We attract people for shopping and restaurants. I don’t want a bar on every corner,” Wesley said. Serving drinks with a high-alcohol content and the business hours are two things that Wesley said he had concerns about.
Brett Dunham, who said he worked 10 years in bars in Baton Rouge, said Le Chien was looking at closing at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. or midnight on Saturday and Sunday.
He said the microbrewery was looking for customers looking for a social drink.
“No shots or chugging beers in the parking lot,” Brett Dunham said. “We don’t want restaurants to close and people say, ‘Let’s run over to the brewery.’ ”