CINCINNATI. John Richardson climbs a rickety staircase to take in views of the city from the Jackson Brewery, its rusty beams bent and its roof destroyed by fire in 2019. In March, an Indian Hill resident paid $1.5 million for a long-dormant property.
“This is an incredibly durable building,” said Richardson, chairman of SugarCreek, a food processing company based in the Washington DC courthouse. “I think the building has gone through a lot of drama and hardship, but sort of – unlike me – is still standing. So basically I see the potential.”
Hamilton County records show SugarCreek’s corporate affiliate has paid $3.8 million since last September for 40 OTR properties, including seven sites where breweries flourished in the 1800s. Richardson plans to invest more than $30 million to restore buildings and revive some of Cincinnati’s most iconic beer brands. In addition to buying real estate, Richards also bought Cincinnati Beverage Co., whose portfolio of brands includes Moerlein beer, Little Kings, Hudepohl and Burger.
His overseas investments are the last of Richardson’s restoration projects of his lifetime, which have breathed new life into cars, boats, furniture, buildings and companies, and over the past 32 years have turned the family business into a billion-dollar enterprise.
“It’s the thrill of taking something that’s been tossed, discarded, or ignored and bringing it back,” Richardson said. “Especially if it has a story that needs to be told. It’s incredibly helpful.”
According to local historian Mike Morgan, Richardson brings a new dynamic to the Mohawk area of Zarein, where real estate investors have long dreamed of but are short on cash.
“SugarCreek seems to have all kinds of capital at its disposal, and that always matters,” said Morgan, author of Cincinnati Beer and Beyond the Rhine: When Beer Was King.
Morgan said developers have long recognized the potential of reusing buildings that once produced 200,000 barrels of beer a year on behalf of Hamilton, Sohn, Klotter, Mohawk, Clyffside and Jackson breweries – in honor of President Andrew Jackson, who was supported by the brewery owners. .
Past ideas that lacked funding included new breweries, hotels, bars and restaurants for iconic structures, even a cable car that would link Mohawk territory to Bellevue Hill Park. But Morgan is impressed that Richardson got his start by hiring Structural Systems Repair Group to stabilize the buildings.
“The fact that they start with a smokestack is very encouraging,” Morgan said. “Most developers would like to demolish a house right away, but they do complex things. They seem to make them out of love for these spaces.”
Richardson works with the drawing department of the Oakley-based architecture firm to develop building design concepts. It will most likely include production facilities for the production of beer and other alcoholic beverages, as well as food products from SugarCreek. He expects the design process to take up to nine months, followed by several construction phases.
“I see it as a very different place, hopefully in five years, maybe 10,” Richardson said. “I’m not looking for it to be fast and fast. It will be a process. It will take some time”.
Although Cincinnati Beverage will operate separately from SugarCreek, the project will be managed by executives from both companies, including Richardson’s son Michael and daughter Jennifer Hutcheson.
Michael Richardson, president of CinBev and SugarCreek, expects the cluster of businesses formed by the new venture to collectively generate about $50 million in annual revenue. It’s far from clear at this point whether it comes from breweries, restaurants, rooftop bars, or hotels.
“We want it to be profitable, and that’s the way it will be,” he said. “But we don’t want to do something just for the sake of making money if it doesn’t fit into the overall vision of the space.”
CinBev is currently outsourcing production for its brands Moerlein, Little Kings and Hudy Delight, but Michael Richardson would like to take over production while resurrecting other brands.
“Personally, I love being able to associate (the Clyffside Brewery building) with the Clyffside brand and Jackson with the Jackson brand,” he said. “But they all have something to offer.”
The goal, he says, is to stay true to the original beer recipes that made each brand famous, but which are subject to change after tasting and marketing evaluations. A team of about a dozen SugarCreek employees with brewing experience will oversee the development of new products, which may include spirits other than beer.
“The essence of what we are trying to achieve is to restore what once was,” he said. “If there is an opportunity to riff, innovate and maybe improve it, of course we will consider it. But we like to bring things to life. That’s the goal.”
Hutcheson worked with the drawing department to learn about the history of the buildings, the oldest of which dates back to the 1830s. The firm is known for historic redevelopments, including the Taft’s Ale House restaurant and the Ghost Baby nightclub, located in an underground warehouse tunnel under Vine Street.
“We think it’s very important to understand the essence of these buildings,” said Hutcheson, general communications manager for CinBev and SugarCreek. “The drawing department does a great job of it.”
The Jackson Brewery has two floors of lager tunnels that Hutcheson visited with her father on their first visit to the Mohawk brewery complex last year. She is sure they will be repurposed in one form or another, but doesn’t know how.
“I remember we were in the tunnels and he looked at me and said, ‘Wow, what an opportunity to bring this place back to life. I think that’s what we need to do,” she recalled.
John Richardson said he was drawn to Over-the-Rhine by SugarCreek employees who lived and worked in the neighborhood. He was intrigued by its historic buildings, which reminded him of the European cities he had visited.
“There are not many cities left that have that opportunity,” he said. “Considering the location, height and views, this is not a problem. But then, when you get into the story… I thought it was quite fitting for the story. And you know the story is always the most fun part.”
A self-described “minder man,” Richardson said he got into restoration while working on cars with his father, who founded SugarCreek Packaging in 1966. Automobiles led to wooden speedboats, which led to furniture, then to homes and commercial buildings.
“I’ve built businesses, buildings, and equipment worth anywhere from $50 million to $200 million to $300 million,” he said. “Your hair will turn gray, but you just don’t give up. You just have to see it through and make it happen.”
That approach apparently worked for SugarCreek, which produced $50 million worth of bacon when Richardson took over, but had grown to $1 billion by the end of last year and had more than 3,000 employees. Among its innovations was the introduction of a European cooking process known as sous vide, which expanded the range of ready-to-eat foods for retail and foodservice customers.
Sous vide cooking involves preparing and vacuum-packing food so that it can be cooked slowly in a circulating water bath. SugarCreek purchased a 77,000-square-foot plant in Cambridge City, Indiana 10 years ago. By 2016, the largest sous-vide facility in North America opened at the site. New products the company is developing there and at a new culinary center it is currently developing in Butler County can be showcased at its Mohawk brewery complex and used in restaurants, banquet halls and a hotel on site.
“The goal is to go in and develop it, be a great partner in the community,” said Michael Richardson. “Hopefully it will be a place where we can showcase not only our drinks, but also our food, and make it a place for people in Cincinnati to enjoy.”
John Richardson has enough fun to double his Mohawk investment. Records show that on June 29, he paid $350,000 for 28 hillside houses one block west of the Jackson Brewery.
“So far I’m enjoying myself,” Richardson joked about his Mohawk investment. “He didn’t fall. So let’s have fun, rest assured.”