WATERLOO — If you’re wondering how renovations are going for a new brewery opening inside the old Wonder Bread building, here’s one way to think about it: It takes Dave Morgan about eight months to put in one window.
There’s measuring each unique window cutout, getting energy-efficient plans from the window manufacturer, sending those plans to a couple of different governmental entities to make sure the windows are appropriately historic, then sending the approved plans back to the window manufacturer for changes before the windows are able to be made and shipped to Waterloo.
The SingleSpeed Brewing Co. owner also has a commitment to sustainable construction: He’s working to get his entire facility LEED certified and as energy-efficient as possible — which isn’t easy when you’re also doing a historic renovation.
“A lot of times, LEED and historical preservation are at opposite ends (in terms of their) goals,” Morgan said.
If that’s not enough hoops for him to jump through, Morgan also has floated the idea of getting his company certified as a B Corporation, a third-party standard that would require SingleSpeed to meet social sustainability and environmental standards.
It’s a lot to think about all at once. But Morgan said he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s just a process in general,” Morgan said. “We’re lucky. I had a lot of discussions early on. We were ready for what happened.”
The timeline, Morgan stressed, hasn’t changed: He’s still planning to have the beer hall portion ready to train staff on in March and ready for customers in April. A beer garden outside will open when the weather turns warm.
If Morgan’s only concern for his new SingleSpeed beer hall and distribution center in downtown Waterloo was to get it up and running and making money as quickly as possible, he surely would not have picked the asbestos-laden, termite-ridden, 90-year-old Hostess Wonder Bread plant that had been neglected since Hostess went bankrupt and closed it in 2012.
But even before the renovation began, Morgan could see beyond the cracked plaster and boarded-up windows — and he knew plenty of other people saw its potential, too.
Groups like Friends of the Waterloo Wonder Bread Building had been pressuring the city of Waterloo to save the building from being demolished since the city bought the building from Hostess in 2015. They were hoping someone like Morgan would bring the building back to its glory days, saving it from the fate of so many other historic buildings in Waterloo.
That’s a lot of added pressure on any business opening, even for a seasoned business owner like Morgan. With the potential to sit 300 at a time, and brew up to 12,000 barrels of beer per year, it’s also the biggest venture he’s undertaken.
“The closer we get to opening, the more scared I get about screwing stuff up,” Morgan said. “This is just such a big building and a big project for us.”
Even though problems have cropped up along the way — floorboards were too thin in one room, crown moulding was damaged in another, a city streetscape project meant suddenly tractor-trailers bringing supplies couldn’t get into the garage — Morgan, his contractors, architects and staff have rolled with the punches.
“There’s still a lot to do, but we’ll get there,” Morgan said. “We’ll get there.”
It’s already begun paying off: A new research and development area gives space to new kinds of beer SingleSpeed has wanted to try, like sours made with Iowa yogurt. And the increased brewing capacity has now allowed them to distribute beers to new areas — Morgan has plans to talk to people in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Davenport and Dubuque to begin introducing SingleSpeed to “most of eastern Iowa” by late spring.
“We hope we make Waterloo and Cedar Falls proud by being the beer ambassador,” Morgan said. “We’ve learned a lot in the past four years.”
Morgan noted he’s received “more support than I would have ever imagined” throughout the renovation and noted he was anxious to see the response when SingleSpeed’s downtown Waterloo location is finally up and running.
“We were received so warmly by almost everyone,” he said. “It says a lot about our community.”