Plans Advance for East Liverpool Winery
EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio – The city should see its first winery up and running by this fall, after the go-ahead was given last week by the Design Review Board to a certificate of appropriateness for M&K Wine Co., 113 E. Sixth St.
Owners Kevin and Melissa Kerr plan to offer a full-service winery on the property that last held Dan’s Bar, Pattison’s Jewelers and other businesses that fell victim to a fire many years ago, leaving three empty lots just adjacent to Devon’s Diamond downtown.
“We will produce, bottle and sell wine on site,” Kevin Kerr said after the board approved plans for the black and gray paints for the winery’s exterior. Also approved was the pergola that will line the empty lots when they are transformed into a wine garden, patio and stage area for entertainment.
Kerr said four, 560-gallon tanks in the production area will be used to ferment juice from grapes bought from vineyards in California, Ohio and New York, with two smaller tanks on display in the front for use and customer viewing.
“The grapes will be crushed off site to get the juice that we’ll ferment on site. The building isn’t big enough to crush them,” Kerr explained.
“It’s a small winery,” he said.
The two buildings consist of 3,300 square feet, 2,000 of which for the tasting room and the rest for production, kitchen and restroom areas.
Kerr said the couple will probably start out offering seven different wines and then rely on social media to solicit ideas from the public for the wine list. Seasonal wines and wine slushies for the summer months will also be offered.
The winery will not be serving meals, per se, just charcuterie boards and the like. A food truck will be parked at the site for guests, he noted.
Kerr anticipates employing as many as 15 initially, hoping to grow the payroll to 25 employees during the first year, including bartenders, waitresses, hostesses and one or two winemakers.
The winery is actually the dream child of his wife, who “always wanted one of her own,” Kerr said.
The couple experimented with winemaking at home, fermenting small batches, and visiting wineries.
“We like it a lot, and it’s more we can do for our area,” Kerr said. “If we do enough of these wineries, and even breweries, we can bring in bus tours and bring in tourists to our city and the surrounding area. We never realized how big it was until we started going to other wineries.”
Getting to this point started last October when the city’s CIC agreed to sell Kerr the Sixth Street property as well as a vacant building behind it that contains apartments.
The CIC had invested $16,478 in acquiring the properties through sheriff’s sales and other purchases and sold it to Kerr for $16,500.
Kerr is the owner of Veterans Energy Group, a construction company that has demolished abandoned and dilapidated structures in the area.
He and his crew began by cleaning out the former tavern and jewelry store, both of which had sat empty many years.
Nine dumpsters were filled and 22 dump truck loads were sent to the landfill from the buildings before any renovation could begin. Kerr said once water issues were resolved and the buildings were dried out, roof work was completed and some windows were replaced in the upper portion of the bar, with more currently on order.
Inside the bar, three layers of ceiling were discovered and, after tearing down the first two, workers found the original ornate tin ceiling tiles which will be restored and used.
Two upstairs apartments were remodeled and will remain as such for now, possibly to be used for storage.
Work hasn’t yet begun on the former jewelry store, which Kerr said will have to be jacked up with a 20-40 ton foundation jack, dug out and a new foundation poured, which he estimates as a two-week project.
“Everything else, surprisingly, is good,” he said.
The interior decor will be typical of the loft style with exposed pipes and with as much of the historical detail left intact as possible.
“You don’t have to drink to enjoy a winery. It’s just the atmosphere,” Kerr said, referring to the attention to detail being focused on the design and decor.
Kerr estimates his investment at between $500,000 and $700,000 investment, and said it would have been half that much had the project taken place two years ago, before the pandemic and the rise in supply costs. Of the total cost, $100,000 is going toward the facade.
The apartment building behind the property will be demolished to provide additional parking for the winery.
“I love to save old buildings, but sometimes you just have to let go,” Kerr said.
The one snag in his plans is a building at the western edge of his property that housed a KFC and, before that, Yanni’s Restaurant and Hunan’s. The current owner has not decided whether to sell.
“I’d love to get that building. It would be great if (a brewery) could go in there,” said.
In the meantime, he has approached the owner about siding the building so it meshes with his renovation.
Although he would like to have the winery open in time for the East Liverpool High School All Class Reunion in July, Kerr said he realistically anticipates opening in October.
“You can still be on the patio then, and I don’t want to rush it. I want everything to be right,” he said.
No liquor license is required, but Kerr must still be approved for a wine license through the Ohio Liquor Control Board.
Mayor Greg Bricker said the winery will be “a huge addition to the downtown.” His restaurant, Bricker’s Cafe, is directly across the street from the site.
Pictured: Kevin and Melissa Kerr stand with their toddler Kallie outside the beginnings of their new East Liverpool enterprise, M&K Wine Co., slated for opening in October.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.