Economic Development

Brothers Plan Self-Serve Tap Room in Downtown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Joseph Thomas was as enthusiastic Tuesday morning as a kid opening a birthday present.

“How great is that?” he said as he admired the old break whistle that once served a Youngstown Sheet & Tube mill. “It’s probably the coolest thing ever.”

Thomas wants to use the industrial artifact – which in decades past signaled to the Sheet & Tube workforce – to call out at 5 p.m. weekdays to a different, more diverse group of workers, who he hopes will stop at the new establishment he and his brother, Michael, are about to open.

Next month the brothers plan to open the Whistle & Keg, a self-service craft beer and wine taproom, in the space once occupied by Friends Roastery, 101 W. Federal St.

“We have a lot of optimism in downtown. “We see a lot of growth potential downtown,” Joe Thomas said.

The brothers and business partners, who also operate Washing Well laundromats, received approval from the city Design Review Committee Tuesday for exterior renovations to the building. They plan to remove the barn siding on the West Phelps Street face and replace it with aluminum-framed, tempered glass.

Cost of the interior and exterior renovations, including a lighted sign that the committee also approved, is in the ballpark of $150,000, Mike Thomas said.

The brothers came across the concept in South Carolina, Joe Thomas said.

Patrons will check in with the host and provide identification and credit card information. In return they are given a wristband in which a radio frequency chip is embedded that links to their payment information. They can then use the band to access any of the 44 self-service taps, he said. Whistle & Keg will charge by the ounce, permitting patrons to sample the many beverages.

Once a patron hits 30 ounces, he must return to the hostess, who will determine whether he (or she) is intoxicated before permitting them to buy more, he said.

“We wanted to bring something unique to the area that was in the entertainment industry,” Joe Thomas said. “We fell in love with the concept as patrons and we knew that it would be a great addition to downtown Youngstown. So we jumped all over it.”

The brothers gained access to the space in mid-June and began work at the beginning of July. The liquor license for the property is being transferred and the partners are seeking a variance that would allow Whistle & Keg to operate within 500 feet of other downtown establishments.

The owner of the building is William Begalla, a dentist, who acquired the break whistle from a fellow collector of Sheet & Tube artifacts. “I’m a big Sheet & Tube guy. My dad worked for Sheet & Tube for 40-some years,” he remarked.” A display window space on the east side of the building will contain other Sheet & Tube memorabilia Begalla owns.

Where the steam whistle will be placed is “still a question mark,” Joe Thomas said. The goal is to mount it on the roof, “barring any engineering issues,” and have it blow at 5 p.m. weekdays as “kind of a throwback” to the mill days. The brothers also plan to light the whistle so it can be easily seen.

Pictured (from left): Joe Thomas, William Begalla and Mike Thomas hold a break whistle that was used at the old Youngstown Sheet & Tube plant. The Thomas brothers are opening the Whistle & Keg in a downtown Youngstown building Begalla owns. 

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.