August 30 marks 20 years since Rick and Ron Chapman officially launched Coronado Brewing Company as a modest brewpub on Orange Avenue. Today, Coronado is a globally respected craft beer brand, named mid-size brewery of the year at the 2014 World Beer Cup. However, back in 1996, the Chapman brothers' initial focus was to get into the restaurant business. As they discussed adding house beer to the menu, founding partner Shawn DeWitt committed to learning a new craft in order to make it happen.
"I owned a coffee shop on Coronado at the time," recalls Rick Chapman, "and Shawn Dewitt was my barista." While Rick and Ron — whose background was sports marketing — figured out how to build out a full-service restaurant in their hometown, DeWitt split his his time between the coffee shop job and volunteering at a local brewery. "Shawn went to work at La Jolla Brewing Company during the day," continues Chapman, "just learning for free how to brew beer."
The brewpub opened with five beers on tap, including early versions of Mermaid's Red and Islander IPA — still a part of Coronado's core lineup. By its third year in business, the brewpub had started selling beer to local accounts, including Hotel del Coronado and one of San Diego's original craft taprooms, the recently shuttered Downtown Johnny Brown's.
The entire craft beer market struggled through the end of the 20th Century, so Coronado Brewing remained a local business selling most of its beer through the restaurant. But by 2004, it struck a distribution deal and began bottling for the first time. In 2006, Philadelphia became Coronado's first out-of-state market, but many more followed. "We started outgrowing the brewpub, so we acquired the old Mission brewing facility," Chapman recounts, "We were cranking 5000 barrels out of the brewpub, but 3000 were going to distribution."
Things have grown rapidly since, and Chapman says Coronado beers are currently distributed to 18 states and 15 countries. In 2012, the company expanded again, building a 30-barrel brewhouse in a 22,000-square-foot space in Bay Park designed to brew up to 60,000 barrels a year.
As the Chapmans reflect on the past 20 years, and growing into a larger beer brand than they ever predicted, they threw a series of parties in late July to mark the occasion. But they also began laying down the foundation for the brewery's next decade. Vice president of sales Brandon Richards and head of retail operations Kasey Chapman (Ron's son) were named dual chief operating officers. They, along with head brewer Ryan Brooks, will eventually pick up where Rick and Ron leave off, ensuring the overachieving local business builds on its success, on its own terms.
"As we continue to grow, and strive to remain independent," says Ron Chapman, "We want to be able to hand over the reins knowing we have the right team in place to keep our vision alive."