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Double vision: Chesterfield craft brewery to open second spot in city

Siblings Brittany and Brad Cooper, co-owners of Steam Bell and Canon & Draw. (Mike Platania of Richmond Biz Sense)

RICHMOND, Va. – The Cooper family has double vision; they founded Steam Bell Beer Works in Chesterfield in 2016 and just announced plans to open craft brewery Canon & Draw later this year in the Fan District.

Brad Cooper, who opened Steam Bell after losing his mining job, said they happened along the location at 1529 Main Street, near the Virginia Commonwealth University Monroe Park Campus, during a search around the area which also included Brookland Park and South Richmond neighborhoods.

“We fell in love with it,” he said of the 5,000-square-feet building that has sat empty for years – downstairs, at least.

Blackwood Development has been slowly using historic tax credits to renovate the former Eclipse Linen Service and Laundromat. There are 16 apartments upstairs, above the commercial space.  Canon & Draw will occupy two retail spaces in the recently renovated building.  Nolen Blackwood said the renovation of the building cost around $3 million, reported RichmondBizSense. There are 16 apartments above the commercial space, ranging from 550 to 950 square feet, according to the BizSense report. 

Canon & Draw will have a partition dividing the tasting room area for private events. (Mike Platania of RichmondBizSense)

Things continue to take shape for a family who name is rooted in the craft itself. Traditionally, a cooper’s work included assembly of casks and barrels. A steam bell is used to cover a barrel and helps ply the wood into shape.

Building upon that branding, canon is French for barrel (though related more to artillery), and a drawknife is used to shape hoops for barrels. And when the soon to be released craft soda line is released, it will be called Trussing Craft Fizz, as a nod to the initiation ceremony that all cooper apprentices go through to become a journeyman.

#cooperfamilyselfie: @trussingscraftfizz launch day edition.

A post shared by Brittany Cooper (@brittanycooper) on

The sodas will be the only product sold at both places; otherwise, they will be completely separate entities. The farmhouse ale focus of Steam Bell will “hop forward” on this side of the river.

“I’m looking at doing some lagers as well,” Brad said.

“Canon & Draw is an opportunity for us to create a brand that is a perfect fit for the area,” said Brittany Cooper, who moved back to Richmond to help her brother with the marketing side of Steam Bell, and who stayed on as a partner while continuing to work remotely at her IBM gig in New York.

“It’s really a completely a different concept,” she added. “It will be higher end, with leather couches and darker wood – cool, eclectic, old Southern atmosphere.”

Canon & Draw or C/D will be open six days a week and have over 10 taps for smaller batch, experimental varieties. Cooper will use a seven-barrel brewing system, and seven-barrel fermenters.

“We are really excited and already working on pilot batches,” he said.

The opening is set for late summer or fall of this year, though the lease details are still being finalized.

The specific area is surprisingly void of any craft breweries, though plenty of bars and restaurants are nearby. Garden Grove in Carytown is over 1.5 miles away, and in the other direction, Triple Crossing is over a mile away on Foushee.

Steam Bell crew. Left to Right.
Bryan Hicks, Maggie Pearson, Jacob Morgan, Connie Cooper, Brittany Cooper, Jody Brunner, Brad Cooper, Joey Johnson, Jeff Stoker and Tom Cooper

There are close to 30 breweries in the Richmond-metro, with more opening this year, but the Coopers see room for more, and aren’t worried about the brewery boom going flat.

“I believe there is, especially with the rise of the tasting room,” Brittany said. “But with distribution, there is only so much shelf space.”

The local bottles and cans still duke it out for space against the regional and national beers in a distribution scenario, Brad pointed out.

“The distribution market is really competitive,” he said.

Brittany added that the business is “market driven” and that you’ve “got to win a customer.”

Something the Coopers seem to have accomplished in Chesterfield. Right out of the gate, Brad said he hit the goal he had proposed in his original business plan.

“I had this dream of what we would start with and then scale it up over years,” he said.

Canon & Draw is near VCU, in the 1500 block of W. Main Street.

“It’s very humbling to get that level of support from people,” his sister added.

“We were getting a lot of support, so we put our heads down — we knew what we wanted to do the next few years — and went aggressively for it,” Brittany said. “In the first six months we released 40 different beers — we never dreamed we would do that.”

In late January 2018, the Coopers will take over space next door and use the extra 3,000-square-feet as a bottling line for beer and Trussing Craft Fizz. Look for flagship flavors like mint/tea and ginger/lime, along with seasonal varieties like apple/sage and blueberry/basil.

Meanwhile, the one-year party to celebrate the success found on Oak Lake Boulevard is June 3. The anniversary beer, a Brett Rye Saison, is currently fermenting in white wine barrels and awaiting it commemorative 500ML bottles – their first bottle release.

“I still have to order the bottles,” Brad said, as he laughed.

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Canon and Draw
1529 W. Main Street, Richmond
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Steam Bell Beer Works
1717 Oak Lake Blvd, Midlothian
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Map of Richmond-metro breweries